So many of us dread thinking about our own mortality, but the ugly truth is: we are all eventually going to die. As humans, our time is limited on this planet and the earlier we realize this the more opportunity we have to make every moment count. By knowing what we want our own end-game to be we can live every moment with meaning.
But if we don’t ever take the time to define our true intentions in life then we can easily switch to auto-pilot, and perpetually be steered by external forces. By setting intentions for your life coupled with the understanding that our days are numbered, it becomes very easy to consciously choose to make every act we do meaningful, in other words: out of love and not fear. We can’t stop time, but we can make the time we have truly valuable.
All about that funeral exercise…
When architects take on a job there is always a finished model or sketch of what the building they will be working on will look like in the end. But for some reason, we tend to not design our own lives and certainly not our own deaths.
The concept of “Begin with the end in mind” is actually the second habit in Steven Covey’s highly successful cornerstone self-leadership book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey starts off the chapter devoted to this vital habit by asking his readers to do the “Funeral Exercise”, which is to envision what you want the people you love to say about you at your funeral. He breaks the speakers’ categories down into four different areas of life: family, friends, work and community and asks readers to stop reading and sit down right there and then and to write down how you want people to remember you.
While it takes mere minutes, this practice is honestly life-transforming. Through exhausting your mind to truly define what you want to achieve in your lifetime, you gain clarity of your values, your vision and mission. You understand where you are now in conjunction to where you want to go and suddenly like wheels in motion, you begin to make the right decisions and unforeseen opportunities that will take you where you want to go will begin to surface and you will have the vision to clearly see them for what they are.
Be your own leader and manager…
Covey states that it is a principle in life that everything is created twice. We as individuals are the first creation and the model of ourselves we aspire to is the second creation. The first creation, which is basically who we are, is in essence “leadership”, while the second creation is “management”. When these two factors are aligned this means that we act in accordance with our principles and everything we do in life has the right intentions and purpose.
For me, the funeral exercise was literally life-changing. While my professional career was at a personal peak at the time, I was going through challenging times in my personal and family life. I had a newborn when my mother passed away and then my grandmother a short time after. And then my wife Yurda was diagnosed with cancer. When I took the time to reevaluate my life, I realized that living close to Yurda’s family was the best decision I could make for all of us and especially my daughter.
I also realized that I have the capabilities and desire to provide even further value to people in ways that will positively affect the way they live their lives. So, I sold MaxCDN at its prime and as a family we moved from Los Angeles to a town along Turkey’s southern coast where I now live on a farm surrounded by nature and rescued animals and homes my healthy and wonderful wife has built. From this remote lifestyle, I am able to run a small portfolio of businesses, each of which are aligned with my vision and mission in life.
Why not write your 99th birthday speeches?
If addressing the concept of death and thinking about the loved ones you may leave behind is truly just too difficult to face then don’t fret. The same purpose can be achieved through thinking about what you would want people to say about you at your 99th birthday celebration or better yet write the article you would want published in The New York Times for your 100th birthday.
What matters most in this practice, whether it is your eulogy or accolades, is that it be written from the aspect of the different roles we play in life, which I like to call the self, the professional and our family and social role. When you know what you want the people you interact with in each area of life to say about you, it becomes easy to clearly define and live according to who you want to show up as in life in each of these roles.
Make every moment count, because everything is numbered…
Like I said, thinking about our mortality is tough, but trust me taking just five minutes to truly understand and clearly visualize what you want will be life-changing. I and many others have never been the same since. We all know that people who have undergone near-death experiences or illnesses such as cancer-survivors have a newfound understanding of life and place value on every moment they have. But all of us have the opportunity to begin to grasp what mark we want to make on the planet and what impression we want to leave to those we love.
By beginning with the end in mind, we can become that person instantly and stop living as if the people around us and nature and the planet and everything will just survive. When we act upon the wisdom that life is impermanent and nothing lasts forever, we have no choice but to choose to make every move we make and interaction we have count while we still have them.