Finding our why
In the face of some big dramas and decisions, I’ve done a lot of navel gazing, ahem, soul searching these last couple of months. Particularly, thinking about how I can embrace a simpler life filled with the important stuff, because life is precious and we don’t know how long we have, so we might as well make it count.The most useful of all the things rattling around in my head has been reflecting on a workshop exercise Brooke did when we ran the Slow Road workshops last year. She has a post on it here.
It’s a game changer. Life changing. Whatever you want to call it, it’s forking brilliant.It’s ridiculously useful, and yes, a touch morbid.
Basically, pretend you’re a foxy or dashing ninety-something-year old who died peacefully in your sleep and someone has written your ideal obituary, the one you would like someone to say about you.
It’s really interesting to see what comes up and I know this had a big impact on a lot of our workshop attendees. Yes, it’s all very self-helpy, because we may as well give ourselves a helping hand to get through this crazy fog called life.I’ve pondered on how to leave a beautiful legacy before, but this is more than that. It’s BIG.
It also helped me find my why and that’s a big kahuna, considering I’ve been asking why my entire life. In turn, understanding this why has made decisions easier and navigating through tricky situations, too.
In case it helps to hear another take on it, I stumbled on a university paper by Martin Seligman. He did a study using a very similar idea and called it a Positive Psychotherapy exercise and the results were really impressive. This is his version of the exercise:
‘Imagine that you have passed away after living a fruitful and satisfying life. What would you want your obituary to say? Write a 1–2 page essay summarizing what you would like to be remembered for the most.’Lisa Messenger also talked about a similar exercise where she sat next to a grave and thought about how she would like to look back on her life. Next time I’m loitering in a cemetery I’ll have to give it a try, but in the meantime, I’ve found the obituary exercise extremely useful.It feels weird sharing mine, but I know it can be useful to have an example:
Mum loved an adventure. Her adventures with Dad were the biggest and boldest, but mum even loved the ones that didn’t go anywhere. She could drive 150 kilometres in the wrong direction and find it fun.
Mum approached everything with this sense of adventure. From starting a new business or charity to planting a sprouting sweet potato to see what happened, only to forget about it and stumble on the bed full of sweet potatoes later, like she’d struck gold. She’d rave to anyone who’d listen about the wonders of nature. Eating, cooking, hearing other people’s stories and life in general were all fabulous adventures, as far as she was concerned.
She believed in a lot of things, many misguided, but no one could doubt her quiet passion and integrity. She believed in everyone’s right to a good life. A real life, not something manufactured to impress others.
She believed in us. She wanted all of us to believe in ourselves, too. Nothing would make her cranky quite like when we uttered the words, ‘But, I can’t do it.’ She’d shake her head, ‘just ask for help.’
The other thing that annoyed her was the pursuit of perfection, ‘It’s ridiculous,’ she would say. ‘Aim to be very, very good, the best you can be and leave perfect for the people who never want to get anything done.’
She certainly was far from perfect at telling a joke and managed to ruin the punch line of every single joke, but she was always good for a hug. Thanks for the love and laughter. We miss you, Mum.
Remember this is my ‘ideal’, the one I’d like to have written about me and this will change over time. However, I’ve found it really useful for making adjustments to how I live now. Both in terms of what is mentioned and what isn’t.The next step in the process, is to pull out the words, themes and ideas that are really important. For example: love, laughter, passion, integrity, belief, curiousity, hugs, good life and adventure.
These gems will make our shining light, our compass, our why. When life happens and decisions need to be made, we can scan our thoughts against our why.
It’s useful to write down these words on a small piece of paper and carry them with us, as a reminder.
And, always, always remember one of the best things we can do to help ourselves is find someone to chat to if we’re going through a tough time. The professionals are an excellent place to start. In Australia we have The Black Dog Institute, but I’m sure there are lots of other fantabulous options too.
How would you like to be remembered?