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 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?
Oh, 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 turned 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.”