THAT'S LIFE: Best way to live is to begin with the end in mind

Saturday February 27 2016

The first time I asked a group of participants

The first time I asked a group of participants to write their own eulogies, I was totally unprepared for the reaction. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been, but in my defence, I was younger, naïve and idealistic. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The first time I asked a group of participants to write their own eulogies, I was totally unprepared for the reaction. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been, but in my defence, I was younger, naïve and idealistic.

The kind of combination that finds itself in the middle of a revolution, which I very nearly did. This was a group of older executive women leading busy lives and wondering if that was all there was to it.

That afternoon, we were to explore life, career and relationships. Being the first time I was leading the exercise, I had no idea how powerful and traumatic it was. One of the participants broke down and cried, another got very angry and questioned, “Just where

are we going with this?!” Another, declined to complete the exercise and as she sat with her arms crossed tightly across her chest, her stance declared, “And you can’t make me!” She was right.

 For the exercise to have any meaning, she would have to be willing to face the inevitable reality of her mortality. And no-one likes to do that. Least of all, we Africans who believe that to imagine one’s own death is surely to court it.

However, at the end of the day, through wads of tissue and in spite of my inexperience, those who had completed the exercise affirmed just how clarifying it had been.

They felt better equipped to prioritise, minimise the clutter or ‘noise’ in their life and act on what was most important. Years later, one of the more difficult participants wrote to me and said she had finally gathered the courage to do the exercise in another

forum. It was changing the way she lived her life, she told me. I pulled out my own notes from that afternoon and was surprised to find that I had slowly gotten off track.


You see, the vast majority of humans tend to live our days like rats on the treadmill in what Thoreau described as ‘quiet desperation’. We mistake busyness for progress and don’t stop long enough to ask what the point is.

Students of Plato’s ‘unexamined life not worth living’ school of thought, take on the self analysis.  Sadly, many are not prepared to take the difficult action steps that lead to lasting change.

However, the select few who examine life and stay with the programme of change, eventually reap the benefits of a more fulfilling existence.

There are several free templates on how to conduct this exercise online. All one really needs is a couple of hours, pen, paper and some tissue. Start by envisioning it. The. End. Hopefully, it is after a very, very long and satisfying life.

What’s your funeral going to be like? You need to ask yourself who is in attendance, what the order of service is. Next, choose one person to read your eulogy. Who would you choose and why? What will they say?

They will need to state the facts of your life, date and place of birth, schooling, career, key relationships and notable achievements. They will also need to tell others what you stood for, what your life meant to them and the world.

What were your most memorable moments and admired traits? What will they miss most about you?

Now begin to write what they say. In only 300 – 500 words. It will be tempting to want to go on and on, this is your funeral after all, but try and keep it brief. Don’t fight the programme.

That very act of brevity will help you distil what is truly important. Eventually, you will finish and declare that you will be dearly missed. After that is done, the next thing you need to do is write your eulogy if you died today.

How much of what is in the first eulogy is in the last one? What are the key points you need to act on to ensure that you live with the end in mind? Is your daily activity in alignment with your core values? Are you becoming the person you want to have become at the time of your exit?

Hopefully as you ask yourself tough questions and give yourself honest answers, you will be able to paint a picture of what your authentic journey will look like. What will your legacy be?

What’s your unique footprint on the sands of time. And then take steps towards making it a reality. While there’s still time.