Tell your story, then live it.

Tell your story, then live it. (via Slow Your Home)

One of my favourite things to do on holiday is visit bookshops. I almost always buy a new book while away and have purchased countless Moleskins (unlined – all the better to doodle in!) before boarding a plane.

Last Christmas, while on holiday in Banff, I bought myself two game-changers. One was Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes, Please’ and the other was a squat little book called ‘642 Tiny Things to Write About’.

One of the first Tiny Things was to write the opening sentence of my own obituary.

It sounds a little macabre, a little morose, but it was truly one of the most inspiring and instructive things I’ve done.

Being a chronic over-writer, I couldn’t keep the exercise to just one sentence. Instead, I wrote four that summed up what I want to see, and more importantly, what I want others to see, when looking back.

Those four sentences have already had a huge impact on my life. They’ve made me reframe what is important, what is worth risking and what is central to my core. They’ve clarified my goals, my dreams and what I hope to see as my legacy. They’ve helped me hone in on what is important for me, but even moreso, for my family.

If we take a moment to imagine ourselves standing at the end of life, looking back at the journey we’ve taken, we get the beautiful benefit of hindsight and the incredible opportunity to act upon it. That never happens.

So often we lament, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and accept, rightly so, that we simply don’t know what we don’t know. And while we still can’t know what the future holds for us, we can imagine – in brilliant detail, no less – what we hope to see as we look back.

Having that benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to act upon it is like rewriting a history that hasn’t happened yet. And it gets to be the history you want.

I’m not talking about manifesting yourself a life of wealth, power and fame. But the things that matter – family, friends, love, compassion – can exist regardless of the circumstances of the life you live. And I’d wager that these feature heavily when looking back at a life fully lived.

Not the car we drove. Or the school we went to. Or the brand of jeans we bought.

Adventure. Willingness to try. Joy. Spirit. Compassion. Heart. Sense of humour. Fair-mindedness. Ambition. Tenacity. Unconditional love. 

Take a moment to ask yourself: what will I see when I look back?

And for what it’s worth, I hope my obituary will be delivered by my two children and given to a room full of friends and family. I hope the service is followed by one heck of a shindig in my honour, and I hope my remains are buried and allowed to grow into something beautiful, like a tree.

“Quick to laugh, creative, compassionate, with a wicked sense of humour, Mum was never without a new plan or adventure on the horizon. She was spontaneous, loyal, introspective and a little moody, and she made one hell of an Old Fashioned. Mum, we will miss you always. Thank you for our roots, but thank you even more for our wings.”

This post originally appeared on The Art of Simple.

8 Responses to Tell your story, then live it.

  1. This has really got me thinking – not an easy exercise. Very thought provoking and I can see why you found it so valuable Brooke. Gosh I don’t know what I’d want people to say – well not in the front of my mind, obviously I am making decisions everyday based on something even if I’m not fully conscious of it.
    I’ll always remember the reference by school wrote when I left – it was something about “independent in thought and mind” (stubborn!). I think that will hold true until the day I die.

  2. Hi, I loved this and especially the last sentence. I was a stay-at-home mom and I know my children really appreciated this but I never wanted them to cling and I have always kept my marriage alive as I wanted my children to fly away from the nest. We are all very close still, they are in their 30s and 40s and all have successful careers. I think I would want my children to say I always did my best and loved them to bits ( a family saying).

  3. I love the idea of what we want as our legacy to be the guiding principles that shape our daily choices. Now I have some thinking to do.

  4. Love this idea of looking at life through your rear view mirror and thinking about what you’d like to see behind you on the road. Brooke, you can be composted now in Sweden so check into that. I am older than you so I can be the guinea pig and let you know how it goes.

  5. This is very timely. A relative passed away and last week was his funeral. I didn’t know him that well, but the eulogy was inspiring. It was mentioned that he graduated second in his law school class, but instead of chasing money, he did work to help less fortunate people and then quit the profession altogether to teach at an inner city school with a two hour commute, because he wanted to make a difference. This really made me think this past week, that I want to be remembered for what I have added to this world, not for what I have accumulated.

  6. This is such a powerful post, I’m glad to read it again here. I’m sure my teenagers would have some insightful things to say about my character right now, if I asked! I would love my obituary to inspire others, as some have that I’ve heard recently.