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  • Writer's pictureMaria Wade

Postpone Your Funeral. Get Your Prize

One of my clients uses the practices in Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” as an additional assignment that she defined for herself. I’m happy to support her on this undertaking because I still remember the impact of this book on my life and the lives of many people I’ve been working with throughout the last six years. Needless to say that I deeply respect Stephen Covey and see his work as brilliant, and his humble personality as extremely admirable.

My client (let’s call her Linda) came to one of our sessions with a speech she penned that people “made” at her funeral. If you're not familiar with Covey’s book, in it he suggested beginning every day with the image of the end of your life, the point at which you examine and evaluate your life experience. The idea is to measure each day in terms of what really matters most to you. It means that you start with a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish; what is your “end in mind”.

Covey promised that if you figure out what you want to be said at your own funeral, “you will find your definition of success”. So, Covey offered an exercise in which you can imagine your own funeral three years from now and what your loved ones, friends, and colleagues will say about you and your role in their lives.

I recall did this exercise when I read the book. But, since then, I’ve never come back to that experience. Interestingly, I’d loved the idea of the exercise…

Until that session with Linda.

Linda is a leader who cares a lot about her team members’ performance, feelings, and wellbeing. She invests a lot of time and energy into the development of her team and each team member as an individual. She gets tremendously upset if any of the team members perform poorly or expresses dissatisfaction or a lack of motivation. She sees these occurrences as her personal failures.

Linda had an insight into a probable reason for considering herself as a failure in spite of all her accomplishments. She noticed that -- similar to many people -- she measured her success as a leader and a person against other people’s satisfaction or approval of her work and actions. We decided that this hypothesis was worth exploration.

Referring to Covey’s idea of imagining words that could be shared at Linda’s funeral was an attempt to find her own definition of success; Linda, excited to explore this idea of what would be said upon her departure, prepared the speech for her own funeral by our next session.

The speech, it must be said, was beautiful. In it, people said that Linda added value, did a lot for other people, sacrificed her own interests to make others happy and content with their lives and work experiences.She was a pleasure to deal with, and she impacted their lives and inspired them to change. At some point I realized that I had already heard this speech before, though, and that Linda had fallen back into her old habit of evaluating herself by other people’s experiences.

The very exercise intended to provide greater insight into Linda’s perception of herself had, by its very nature, created the same exact narrative: Linda through the eyes of others.

The format of the funeral speech definitely didn’t work for her. I wanted to hear her own voice, but dead people normally have no voice at all. We needed something else… But what? Inauguration? Oscar Ceremony? Nobel Prize? Prize!

That day, we established a prize for the Unstoppable Search for Meaning.

The results of this exercise proved that this format worked better for the purpose of finding a definition of success:

  1. You speak for yourself

  2. You evaluate yourself in accordance with your own value system, against your own standards

  3. Even at that point when you deliver your speech, your “end in mind”, it’s not the end. Nothing is too late. You still have a chance for change.

For our next session, Linda came with her old values, but what was new was how she measured her success.

Linda started: I’m a good leader if:

● I make sure that each member of my team is heard and encouraged to express their opinion in way that works best for the member;

● I guarantee psychological safety and inclusion for everyone on my team;

● I’m honest, and honesty is a desirable and valuable asset for me and my team;

● I invite my people to express disagreement because again it’s safe to do;

● I communicate clearly and have evidence that the members understand me.

“Now, I feel good,” finished Linda.

This is just a part of Linda’s measurement system. And I found it beautiful because Linda sees it this way, because Linda is shining.

What is the lesson learned for me? Don’t rush yourself to your own funeral. You may already be caught up in the perception of others. First, stop to get your prize for Unstoppable Search for Meaning.

As always, I invite you to comment and share your opinion and thoughts, as I appreciate your perspective. Though, with all respect to you, my dear reader, like Linda, I will go back to my values and measure the quality of this writing in a different way; not by the reactions or perceptions of others, but rather, by my level of honesty, writing about things and ideas I am passionate about, and through sharing something that makes my life, and perhaps the lives of others, a little easier and lighter.

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