Why Obituary Writing?

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Introspective activities are my favorite form of emotional selfcare (hiking is my favorite form of physical self care whereas taking off at least one full day on the weekends (including no email) is my favorite form of professional selfcare). 


To this day, the most impactful introspective activity that I’ve ever done was writing my obituary as a way of celebrating my 40th birthday. When I turned 40, I decided I would make a big friggin’ deal for every birthday because tomorrow isn’t promised. Further, I wanted my annual shindigs to be about celebration, gratefulness, and becoming a better person. To this day, I don’t think I could have chosen a better personal growth activity to achieve all three. 


As a result of this activity, I made four major decisions:

  1. I consciously and intentionally decided to stop investing in a difficult relationship with my father;
  2. I reframed certain constants about myself as defining characteristics instead of as negatives (owning them translated into greater confidence because they heavily influence how I navigate the world);
  3. I owned an unhealthy pattern in my romantic relationships and began developing the temerity to stop it (it’s ova now!!!); and
  4. I doubled down on my personal values and my commitment to aligning every part of my life with them.

While I was working on my obituary, I cried over myself for three days. Literally. I am not kidding, and it was the ugly cry. Adding the pictures was gut-wrenching. It made it real


As I worked to get into the mindset of what it meant to write it, what it would mean to die, I realized something about death that I never realized before. Death means that everything stops, but not in the way that we think. It’s the end of any hope for something more or something else. It is the end of the opportunity to finish things that you haven’t completed (or started). It is the end of your ability to get better. It is the end of procrastination, excuse-making, and what could be. Death means that you deal with what is. 


I cried over myself because I realized that there was so much more that I wanted to do with my life. I realized that I wasn’t going after what I really wanted with my life because I’d given in to inertia and that part of me was waiting for something. I was saying that I wanted x, but my day-to-day routines weren’t going to get me there. I reaffirmed my desire for x and took quitting and lesser options off the table.


My obituary wasn’t just about what I wanted to do; it was also about how I wanted to navigate life. It was and is important to me to conduct myself in a particular way and to minimize the contradictions in my life. I needed to own many of my choices that I’d previously described as failures. Failures are mistakes that you would improve upon, if you could. Many of my choices were decisions that I’d made that I knew people close to me would not support or respect…..and I also knew that I wouldn’t change anything about those choices. 


In short, through my tears, I began truly owning the whole of who I had been up to that point, not who I wanted to be.


Thankfully, the beauty of obituary writing as a dress rehearsal, rather than as the real thing, is that I could reconsider who I wanted to be and began living toward that.


Periodically, I revise my obituary as a way of reconciling my day to day life with the vision and goals that I’ve set forth for my life. As sober as the exercise is, I look forward to it as an integrity focused tool for holding myself accountable. What do you do to hold yourself accountable for your life?


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