While this might sound morbid, how do you want to be remembered? Granted, everyone says complimentary things at a funeral, but what do they really think? Were you a loving parent and partner, a good friend, someone that made a difference in this crazy world of ours?
Instead of focusing on the end, your conduct each day is what really matters. The rest will fall into place.
What Do Others Think of You?
Although you may not have really thought about it, each of us has a self image. If someone were to ask you, in what way would you describe yourself? How do you want to be remembered?
For most people, this is a little uncomfortable. Even to ourselves we’re not used to “tooting our own horns”. It’s hard to be objective and most of the time we're our own worst critics. As a result, we tend to under value our best traits.
Taking this one level deeper, what are your strengths and weaknesses? As an example, this is what I came up with for myself:
This was tougher to come up with than expected. And then, to expose myself to the whole world. As you can see, I’m far from perfect and there’s a bunch of things to improve upon.
What makes this exercise most interesting is when you ask your spouse, family member, or close friend in what manner would they describe you? Usually they’re going to be complimentary, although they may have a slightly different perspective.
In typical Shannon fashion, I waltzed into my wife’s office “Sweetie, how would you describe me?”. Yep, put her completely on the spot.
She gave me that quizzical look while collecting her thoughts. In her words:
Gotta love it and mostly matches my self perception.
Then came the question, what could I improve upon?
“Too tolerant and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt”. That surprised me and she proceeded to explain I’m too trusting. Other people have a tendency to take advantage of my good nature, especially family.
To “keep the peace”, it’s easier to overlook poor behaviors and actions. For me, I tend to bottle up my frustrations rather than dealing with them. I didn’t realize I had fallen into this pattern which partially explains a blow out I recently had with my brother and sister.
Constructive feedback can be invaluable. We all have blind spots and areas we can improve upon. This in turn improves our relationships and what others think of us.
How Do You Want to Be Remembered?
Code of Living published an insightful article on how do you want to be remembered. They suggest the top seven areas to live more positively include:
What I like most about their list is it’s all about becoming a better, kinder person. Making a difference and bringing greater joy and happiness to the world is really what's important.
Some comments from real people on Quora reinforce many of these points:
I found it very interesting the majority of responses were about people as opposed to things.
Also, of note, some folks stated that once you're dead and gone does it really matter?
What Happens When We Screw Up?
The human condition is such that we're all going to screw up sooner or later. Sometimes it’ll be one of those embarrassing moments and other times it’ll turn out really badly.
Many years ago, I made a comment thinking I was being clever and funny. As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized they were anything but with none of my co-workers responding.
One of those embarrassing moments.
What bothered me the most was my words could be interpreted as hurtful and dismissive to one individual. That certainly wasn’t my intention. My options, either pretend I didn’t say anything wrong or apologize. I chose the latter.
His response floored me!
First, he appreciated I came to him. Then he said my words were out of character and he knew there wasn’t evil intent behind them. I suspect if I’d chosen to gloss the matter over, his opinion of me might have lessened.
That was valuable lesson for me. I’m far from perfect, but try to understand the intent behind someone’s words or actions before reacting. Most people have good intentions even if we don’t agree with their actions.
What matters is in what manner we choose to deal (or not) with these situations. You can do ten good things, but the one not so good thing will probably be the one remembered. Read more about the human negativity bias at Happiness in Retirement is a Choice Not a Given.
The main takeaway is to live the way you want to be remembered. Make a difference and live purposefully. Being conscious and aware of what you want people to remember about you after you’re gone will help when hard decisions arise.
Memories last forever and it’s never too late to start making them. So, remember it’s up to you to choose what people will remember you for.