If you are in a major transition in your life — a career transition, or a change of phase, or an adjustment of your direction — you need objectivity about your deepest, most meaningful goals. You might want to consider writing your own eulogy to help clarify your direction.
This is not a morbid exercise in considering your death. Nor does it concern some secondhand desire for adulation. Rather, it is an opportunity to get clearer on what in fact gives meaning to your life by your own standards.
How to write your own eulogy
Here is a simple method adapted from Judy Carter’s book, The Message of You, which is written for public speakers. Ms. Carter recommends writing two eulogies: one from the point of view of a coworker and another from the point of view of a family member. These are two very different viewpoints, each of which will give you insight into your life.
To get a very rough draft of your eulogy, simply answer these five questions about yourself:
- What difference will they say you made in their lives?
- What skills will they say they learned from you?
- What stories will they tell about you?
- What will they say was the meaning of those stories?
- What will they want people to know about you?
To make this easy, I suggest you use my standard process for answering prepared questions: for each question, “think on paper” for three minutes, trying to answer it as best you can in full sentences and paragraphs. Then stop and go onto the next one. First answer all five questions from the point of view of a co-worker, then from the point of view of your beloved family member.
You do not have to have perfect answers or even accurate answers. You are using these questions to pick your own brain — to envision what stories you are proud to have lived — or want to have lived.
You may get all of the information you need by just answering these questions. You may not need to do any editing. When I did this exercise, I got clearer both on the meaning of my life and on what I want to achieve in my life.
By the way, I answered these questions with what I wanted to be said about me in the future, not necessarily what someone would write now. Either could be clarifying. You could do both!
The benefits of writing your own eulogy
Thinking about your life from someone else’s point of view helps you be more objective. For one thing, it ensures you put yourself into a value-orientation. Your family and friends would be celebrating the best within you, your most meaningful accomplishments, and your greatest beneficent impact on other people. This is the aspect of your life that you want to focus on.
If you were just to write what you wanted in life, you might get caught up in self-criticism or self-doubt. The third-party perspective helps you sidestep that.
Getting these ideas down on paper is what helps make it more real to you. You can see what they would say, or what you wish they would say, and then have an emotional reaction to that. How does it make you feel? If it makes you feel proud, you have put your finger on what is most meaningful to you.
If there is a significant difference between what you want said and what people would say now, that will leave you unsettled. But you will also have a real emotional experience you can investigate to pin down what is “not enough” with your life right now and turn that around. And it will help you see what shifts you want to make, sooner rather than later, to achieve the life of your dreams.
Finding the purpose of your life (or for your life) is not easy. This tactic makes it easier because it gives you an organized structure for envisioning the future.
Should you share it?
Sometimes another person can be a sounding board on your vision. This can help you get even more perspective on your life.
Before you share it, you will need to edit or rewrite your notes for each eulogy into a coherent narrative. You might want to do that anyway, especially if your eulogy is aspirational. You may want to reread it.
Judy Carter recommends that speakers write their own eulogy to figure out meaningful life stories they could share with their audiences. She recommends speakers share their eulogies with another speaker friend to get feedback on the themes, the meanings, and the power of the stories. This could help a speaker craft a signature speech. For this, choose speaker friends who understand the power of story and use stories effectively in their own keynote speeches.
If you are writing your own eulogy to understand your central purpose, choose carefully whom you share your eulogy with, especially if it’s aspirational. It should be someone you trust will support you in whatever you are envisioning for your life. This is not always people who have known you for a long time! They may have pigeon-holed you and have their own agenda for your future. This is one reason it can pay to hire a coach.
But you don’t need to share it with anyone. I’ve added this exercise to my self-study course on how to define a central purpose. If you are working on defining your central purpose, this exercise can give you one more exercise to chew your values and envision your future. Your eulogy is a chance to celebrate the most meaningful values in your life — so that you can feature them as your top priorities as long as you live.