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Is Your Career Ready to Pass the Eulogy Test?

Is Your Career Ready to Pass the Eulogy Test?

Start a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management, American Public University

Executives have been introduced to a new exercise in thinking about the future of their careers. Daniel Harkavy, CEO and executive coach at Building Champions and co-author of Living Forward, suggests that executives write two different eulogies about themselves when looking into their future.

One eulogy would be written from the viewpoint of your life ending today and would list your current accomplishments. For this eulogy, Harkavy advises brutal honesty, because you’re determining how people close to you would describe “who you were, how you lived and what you had to give them.” This eulogy would help you “to identify the shortcomings and imbalances in your personal and professional life.”

The second eulogy would be written from the perspective of what you want your eulogy to say after you are gone and “how you would like to be remembered.” This type of eulogy helps you focus on what you want to leave behind and helps you create an action plan to close the gaps in your life.

According to Harkavy, this exercise of writing two eulogies will pull you forward by aiding your career development. They will help you see the gap between what you have done and what you still want to do personally and professionally.

Steve Jobs and His Perspectives on Life and Death

One of the guiding principles behind the foundation for the eulogy concept was Steve Jobs’ speech at a Stanford University graduation. His remarks made me think about how the finality of our lives can affect the way we live in the present.

When I heard Jobs’ speech, I thought about how his statements affected me personally. I also wondered about the types of experiences that he encountered to make him look at death differently. Jobs’ speech reinforced my beliefs that:

  • Some of us take life too seriously, and we are not enjoying the ride. We are continually striving for what is next without taking pleasure in our present successes.
  • Many people spend so much time striving for perfection that they forget to enjoy the moment. Life can become messy, and we cannot always make it tidy. Instead, we should embrace the flaws and learn from them.
  • Nothing lasts forever. At some point, we will all face death. We only get one life, so we need to enjoy it to the fullest.
  • Life is never stagnant. There will always be some changes. Change is the only way to grow and as humans, we crave growth.
  • Making a mistake is not the end of the world. If we are focused, we can bounce back and make the best of a bad situation.
  • Your time is finite, so do not waste time living someone else’s life. We have to be true to ourselves and live the life that was destined for us. Do not let the noise from others’ opinions drown out your inner voice.

If I had to draft a eulogy for myself, I would probably focus on those areas where I believe I excelled and those that are important to me. However, I think another perspective would come from allowing those around me to write my eulogy, so I could learn what I did to make a difference in the lives of others. Was there any growth? Did people make a change in their lives? What type of impact did my life have on those around me?

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. – Steve Jobs

Jobs and His Stanford Commencement Speech

Jobs’ commencement speech included three stories from his life and how he reflected on certain events.

The first story was about his college experience. The theme was how we “connect the dots.”

Jobs said that we cannot connect the dots looking forward; the dots only make sense when we reflect and look backward. He also noted that we have to believe that the dots will connect in the future. Our decisions and why we made them can be deciphered if we analyze the factors that influenced some of those decisions.

His second story dealt with love and loss. Jobs described how he was fired from Apple, started a new company and met his wife.

Although he loved what he was doing, being fired was probably the best thing to happen to him at that time because it allowed new things to come into his life. How often do we attempt to hold on to things or people that we should let go of? I have always said that timing is significant when we come to a crossroads where decisions have to be made that influence our “next step.”

The last story dealt with death. For the bulk of his life, Jobs asked himself the same question each day, “If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?” I have challenged people to ask themselves a similar question, such as “If I did not have to worry about money, would I stay with the job that I have?”

Both questions get to the same point. Are you doing what you love and are passionate about OR are you doing what you believe people expect you to do?

You have only one life, so you might as well live it.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.