“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
I recently lost another person I love to cancer and, once again, the time between diagnosis and death was very short and mostly unconscious. No chance of communicating any last words or wishes. No opportunity to change anything or put things ‘right’. No last chances. No say about what went into their epitaphs.
A morbid subject for a blog? Maybe, but spending time with my family and friends reminiscing about a life that connected with and touched our own got me thinking about what stories would be told about me. What will my epitaph sound like when it’s my turn? What legacy will I leave?
Are you brave enough to think about ‘the end’ and to make a difference to your legacy? Your future self will thank you for it!
Firstly, grab a pen and some paper or a voice recorder. You’re going to want to make some notes. Ready? Let’s go!
Imagine for a moment that you’re up next on the Grim Reaper’s list. Be brave and honest and think about the kind of epitaph that would be written by the people in your life; your partner, kids, parents, friends, neighbours, work colleagues etc. if you slipped away right now. What would people say to each other in private? Take a moment to be as honest with yourself as you can be and write down what might be said; the great things, the good things, the okay things, the not so great things and things you’d rather they didn’t say, but might just get said anyway. The more courage you write this list with, the better. Without worrying about spelling, grammar or over thinking it, write your epitaph in the third person. Put pen to paper and just write. When you’ve finished put it to one side.
Well done-it’s not as easy as it sounds, is it?
Mr. Reaper is feeling generous and grants you one last wish-the gift of hindsight; to go back in time, change things for the better and influence people’s memories and the stories they will tell after you’re gone. You can influence what your own epitaph will sound like.
Now that you have this gift, how clear are you about what your ideal life would actually look like? Answers these questions:
- Who were you as a person?
- What would you most like people to say about you (beyond how wonderful or successful you were of course)?
- What have you achieved?
- What added meaning, value and fulfillment to your life?
- What specific legacy do you really want to leave behind?
- What do you want people to value and remember most?
- How do you want people to feel about you?
- What are you most proud of?
- What has ‘success’ meant and looked like for you? If you won a prestigious award, what kind of award would you want that to be?
Take a moment to imagine being a fly on the wall watching the scene as your ‘ideal’ life is being discussed by others.
- What do you see and hear?
- Who is there?
- What are you feeling as you hear what they say?
- What demonstrates that you lived your life to your full potential?
- What makes you happiest and most proud to hear, see and feel?
Write your answers to the questions above and then, as before and without overthinking it, write your ideal epitaph and compare it to the first.
- How do you feel after this exercise?
- How much of a difference is there between the two versions of your epitaph?
- If anything were possible, what would you most like to change?
- What do you need more of?
- What do you need less of?
- What do you need to start or stop?
- What would you value and nurture more?
If you had a life coach, the opportunity and full support to develop one element of your life to its fullest potential, something that would most influence the outcome of your epitaph and your legacy, what would you choose?
Think of a role model for the thing you most want to change and what they do so well.
- What can you learn from them?
- What would you write on their epitaph if the responsibility fell to you?
You can go back and answer the same questions for every area of that epitaph you would like to work on. At the end, you should not only know what you want to do, but also have a plan and a teacher to help you along the way. Share your plan with the people you love and care about. Decide how to keep yourself responsible and accountable.
I offer you a gift; an awareness that many people come to too late in life-if at all. You have a chance to start afresh today and change your future, your epitaph and your legacy. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead! Decide what you want it to be, take responsibility for it, get support and create it one act and one day at a time starting with today and remember you are worth it!
“If somebody puts you on a road and you don’t feel comfortable on it and you look ahead and you don’t like the destination and you look behind and you don’t want to return to that place, step off the road.” – Maya Angelou