What’s the story you want people to tell at your funeral? Do you realize you’re writing it today?
Who do you want to be when you’re dead?
Pretty morbid title for a podcast, huh?
I hope it got your attention.
Today’s post was inspired by two people who passed away in the past year: Maya Angelou and Paul Walker. Maya was an author, poet, actress, dancer, and singer. Paul was an actor who was famous for the SEVEN Fast & The Furious movies he starred in. Many people don’t know he was also the founder of Reach Out WorldWide, a network of skilled first-responders who act quickly when earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters strike.
Both are perhaps even more famous now than they were when they were alive. These were two people with a lot of talent, a ton of compassion, and a platform that they didn’t take lightly. They worked hard, made many friends, and chose to use their powers to help make the world a better place.
The reason I’m mentioning these two together is because they both showed up on my radar recently. And they both made me think about what kind of story I’m living…and what kind of story I might leave behind when I’m no longer walking the planet.
We spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to DO when we grow up. Heck, I’m 48 years old and I still think about what I want to do when/if I ever grow up. However we spend very little time crafting who we want to BE. I believe who we ARE is way more important than what we DO. And yet we get pretty wrapped up in the do part.
What you do can certainly be important. But people don’t tell stories at funerals about what you did. They tell stories about who you were. They speak about your character, your heart, your humor, your love, your generosity. If they happen to speak about your actions, it’s always because the action was an expression of your character.
I’ve been to funerals of people who were forgotten as soon as the casket was closed. I know of others who are still fondly spoken of decades after their passing. One big difference that I see is the ones who are remembered lived their lives on purpose. They spent their days loving, giving to, and enriching others…no matter what their job or profession was. And more often than not, they didn’t try to change the world, they simply touched one person at a time, consistently throughout their entire lives.
I joke that I make pancakes and bacon for my family every Saturday morning so they will have at least one good thing to say about me after I’m gone. “Remember how dad woke us up with the smell of bacon every weekend?” The truth is that I hope when they tell that story what they’re really saying is “Dad cared about us so much he wanted to fill our heads and hearts with good memories.”
The harsh truth is that, aside from a handful of uber-famous people (like Abe Lincoln for instance), most of us will fade from memory within two generations. But the story we leave for those two generations is more important than we realize. Because the story we create affects THEIR story, which effects the story they create for the next generation. And so on.
Our life stories are being written right now, no matter what. The wonderful news is that we can direct and edit almost all of the story as we go. If we don’t like the storyline, we can change it. As long as we’re still alive, we can write a more compelling story.
One of the most powerful realizations we can have is that we actually get to choose who we’ll be when we’re dead.
They key, though, is that you have to choose today.