Entrepreneurs are often looking for new leadership and personal development methods, tools that will help us not only run our businesses more effectively but also help us live more enriched, fulfilling lives.
While plenty of courses, books, and mentorship programs will help you grow in these ways—and you should absolutely use all of those resources—sometimes the best approach is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I recently completed an exercise that I’ve found extremely helpful for my own personal growth as well as my growth as a leader, and it’s one that doesn’t take a lot of time or effort.
It may seem a little bit morbid, but here it is: write your own obituary. Imagine that it is the future, and you have died after living a fulfilling life, the life you’ve always dreamed about. What would you want to be included in that obituary? Get specific about it, but remember that obituaries are short and highlight the most important aspects of a person’s life.
In your dream scenario, what accomplishments would be listed? What sentiments would family members share? What adjectives would be used to describe you? How do you wish to be remembered?
This powerful visualization exercise allows you to identify what’s most important to you. It’s human nature to not think often about our own mortality, but when faced with it, we’re forced to acknowledge the fact that we have a limited time on this earth. When you stop to think about what you want out of the time you have, you’re likely to find clarity about your goals, values, and even your shortcomings. It also emphasizes the importance of maximizing the time you have and spending each moment in a meaningful way.
Here are five ways writing your own obituary will help you grow:
1. Identify your values
Many people don’t often stop to think about what their values are and how they may have changed over time. But looking through the lens of how you want to be remembered, it becomes much easier to figure out what you value. It emphasizes the importance of the human element of everything you do and gives you a clearer path to approach every situation in life. When you understand your values well, making decisions becomes much easier, and you’ll continue to build your life toward the kind of person you want to be and your business toward the type of impact you want to have on the world.
2. Find areas for personal growth
Visualizing your obituary is a helpful tool to evaluate areas where you’re not on track to meet the goals you have for your life, whether those are achievements, values, or character traits. It forces you to look at yourself with honesty and humility. Take an inventory. What kind of person do you want to be remembered as, and where do you currently need to grow to become that person?
3. Improve your leadership
By identifying your values and your shortcomings, you’ll have two important tools to help you become a better leader. Your values will help guide you through business decisions and interactions with your team. Understanding where you need to grow will allow you to approach others with humility and take steps to improve in those areas to become a better leader. Seeing personal growth and a strong set of values in a leader is inspiring to a team.
4. Show what you want to achieve
Entrepreneurs all have goals—sometimes far too many of them. It can be easy to get distracted by new ideas or forget our long-term goals when we’re focused on the here and now, often putting out fires or chasing a new business endeavor. Asking yourself what you really want to achieve by the time you die may result in different answers than you expected. You might remember something you’ve long forgotten or realize you want to achieve something you’d never thought much about before. It helps you focus on the long-term so you don’t get distracted by short-term goals that could derail what you ultimately want to accomplish.
5. Formulate a path to reach your goals
By identifying which long-term goals are most important to you, you’ll quickly be able to see whether you’re on the right path to achieving those goals. If you’ve always wanted to write a book but have never sat down to write a word of it, set some time aside in your schedule to do so, and make the schedule consistent. If you realize you really want to be able to step away from your business and let it run itself while you spend more time with your soon-to-be-out-of-the-house teenagers, you can begin strategizing how to make that happen.
As you complete this visualization exercise, remember to be specific about the life you envision living. Feel free to write as much as you like, but remember that obituaries are short, so once you’re done, create a version that is only about a paragraph long. This challenges you to narrow your focus to only the most important features of your life. Then, keep the short version somewhere easily accessible so you can revisit it and even rewrite it, as your answers may change over time. It will serve as a check-in to help keep you accountable to your most important goals and values and ensure you realize the life you want to live.