Occasionally I suggest to my coaching clients that they should write their own epitaph. Now that may sound a bit morbid at first, but it is intended as a visionary exercise not a fatalistic one. If you can sum up, in other words, in just one short sentence or phrase what you would like to have said about you at the end of your life you have essentially written a vision statement, and a vision statement provides direction for your life. That’s the purpose of the exercise.
Several years ago our family became acquainted with a man named Max. Max had at one time been a prominent banker, rancher and successful businessman but had suffered a severe stroke which left him mostly paralyzed and in need of full time care. Always cheerful and outgoing, though, Max puttered around the facility where he resided in his motorized wheelchair visiting with fellow residents and greeting visitors when they arrived. That’s how we first met Max.
Max never forgot anything. He remembered everyone’s name, where they were from, and what they were up to. Having a conversation with Max was an absolutely delightful experience. He was inquisitive, interesting and funny. But Max did something I will never forget. At the end of every conversation before we parted ways he would always remind us in some way to go live our lives to the fullest. Then he’d look each one of us straight in the eye. “Remember,” he would say, “this is not dress rehearsal.”
At first I was puzzled by Max’s closing remarks, suspecting perhaps it had something to do with his confinement to a wheelchair, regrets about things he had done or failed to do. Maybe, but then Max didn’t seem much like the type to harbor regrets or disappointments. In fact, based on the stories we heard and the enthusiasm he continued to show I think Max had lived his life with the same vigor he was encouraging others to do. Max lived as if he had written his epitaph.
Let me ask you something. If you could sum up in just one short sentence or phrase what you would like to have said about you at the end of your life, what would that be? What will be your epitaph? Think about it. Remember, this is not dress rehearsal.