How Will You Choose to Live?
Today at a Glance
- David Brooks first proposed a distinction between Résumé Virtues and Eulogy Virtues. Résumé Virtues are the things you put on your resume. Eulogy Virtues are the things people talk about at your funeral.
- What I've resolved: We can build both, but only by focusing on the correct directionality. A purposeful focus on Eulogy Virtues will build Résumé Virtues, but a focus on Résumé Virtues will not build Eulogy Virtues.
- If there's one thing I learned last week, it's that life is so very fragile. But no matter how fragile it is, each day, we have a choice of how to live it. Each day is a fresh start, a fresh choice to make. How will you choose to live?
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If you could write your own eulogy, what would it say?
That piercing question has been on my mind over the last week.
It came to me as my wife and I drove home to attend her aunt's funeral, a seemingly healthy 63-year-old who had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in February.
It was reinforced when, one day later, I learned that one of my high school classmates had been taken by cancer just four months after his first child was born.
I've always believed that there are levels of sadness:
- Abstract Sadness: Sparked by events that you register as being sad, but that occur too far away from your life to impact you.
- "That Was Close" Sadness: Sparked by events that feel like a glancing blow, zipping by you just close enough for you to feel the impact, but not a direct hit.
- Painful Sadness: Sparked by events that create a direct impact on your daily life. The loss of a dear family member or close friend, for example.
In my mind, the Level 2 ("That Was Close") Sadness often has the most profound impact on how we live—it's close enough to force us to pause and think, but not so direct that we are knocked out of the game.
I spent much of the last week pausing, thinking, asking, and discussing with my loved ones:
- What really matters in the end?
- How do we want to live?
- What do we want to leave behind?
Life is so short. As Ferris Bueller famously cautioned, "If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Sometimes we need to pause and force a real reset, to consider the bigger picture and to make changes in how we are living today.
Resume Virtues vs. Eulogy Virtues
Author David Brooks once wrote about the distinction between what he called Résumé Virtues and Eulogy Virtues:
- Résumé Virtues are the things you put on your resume. Your professional accolades, education credentials, titles, status, net worth, and more.
- Eulogy Virtues are the things people talk about at your funeral. Whether you had a clear purpose and worked with meaning, whether you were curious and interested, whether you were kind, loving, and trustworthy, whether you were a loyal friend, partner, and parent, and more.
His basic contention was that most of us waste away focusing on Résumé Virtues, but that Eulogy Virtues are (a) more important, (b) more fulfilling, and (c) all that really matters in the end.
When I've wrestled with this idea in the past, I've always arrived at the same fundamental roadblock: Eulogy Virtues may be more important, but Résumé Virtues are not unimportant.
For example, I want people to remember me for being a loving human and protecting and supporting my family and friends, but I also want to push myself to fulfill my potential on the "Résumé Scorecard" along the way.
When it comes to Résumé Virtues and Eulogy Virtues, I believe we're suffering from what author Jim Collins calls the "Tyranny of the Or" (the falsely ingrained belief that it has to be one or the other).
Perhaps it doesn't have to be Résumé Virtues OR Eulogy Virtues. Perhaps it can be both.
What I've resolved: We can build both, but only by focusing on the correct directionality.
Beginning With The End In Mind
If you chase Résumé Virtues, you are reasonably likely to achieve them. You'll amass financial wealth, professional accolades, titles, promotions, and more.
But the chase for Résumé Virtues requires blinders. You miss the bigger picture. You win the battle, but lose the war.
If you lead with Eulogy Virtues, you are reasonably likely to build them. You'll work with meaning and purpose, cultivate deep bonds with family and friends, act with honorable intention, and more.
But most importantly, to lead with Eulogy Virtues requires no blinders. You begin with the end in mind. You can see everything on the map.
You win the battle, and the war.
The directionality matters: A purposeful focus on Eulogy Virtues will build Résumé Virtues, but a focus on Résumé Virtues will not build Eulogy Virtues.
My takeaway: Stop chasing Résumé Virtues at the expense of everything else in life. If we focus on working with purpose and meaning, following our curiosity and interest, and acting as a kind, loving, and loyal friend, partner, parent, family member, and colleague, the Résumé Virtues will take care of themselves.
How Will You Choose to Live?
In June 2022, I got an email from a 28-year-old newsletter subscriber that knocked me off my feet.
Rohan had recently battled through a terrible encounter with brain cancer. He had woken up one day in August 2021 filled with optimism for the life ahead of him. 24 hours later, after experiencing a strange feeling in his leg that led him to go to the hospital, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
The life ahead of him now looked terrifyingly uncertain. He endured the 6 weeks of radiation that threatened to drain the life out of him. He endured the period that followed as they awaited news on whether the treatment had halted the tumor's growth. He endured the months of rehabilitation that followed as he regained his mental and physical strength.
All while maintaining an inspiring optimism for a fresh lease on life.
Last Friday, I invited Rohan to my house to spend some time together.
While the tumor hasn't disappeared, his treatments appear to have it in a holding pattern.
We spoke about how he has learned to appreciate the simple joys of life and let go of the silly material worries that used to occupy his mind.
More than anything else, he loves to speak about CHOICE. The idea that he gets to CHOOSE what to focus on each morning.
He can choose to focus on things outside his control and drive himself crazy, or he can choose to focus on things within his control and let the rest fall into place.
To me, that's what this whole piece is really about: Choice.
If there's one thing I learned last week, it's that life is so very fragile. But no matter how fragile it is, each day, we have a choice of how to live it.
Each day is a fresh start, a fresh choice to make.
How will you choose to live?