Would You Fall Asleep Reading Your Life’s Story?

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Nothing quite like the power of a good funeral…

My Valentine’s Day started with a funeral this year. My wife’s 93 year old great uncle left us. He was a lawyer, one of the good ones, passionate about the process and the people he served. He was at Normandy…and came home.

An inspiration. A beacon of quiet strength, he helped people without reservation. Sometimes with advice, other times with money or just the knowledge he was there should he be needed. He was married for 60 years and until the day his wife passed, they’d never be seen together without holding hands. And, he was a strong father. Always present, always sharing his passions.

Truth is, I didn’t know him that well. But, the stories that were shared at his ceremony reinforced what I’d always sensed. He was a good man.

And, it made me wonder, what story I want told about me when my time comes.

At only 44 years old, that may sound like a macabre question to ask.

But, really, it’s quite powerful. Life-affirming. Because it strips away the crust and exposes what matters.

I love marketing and entrepreneurship, but honestly, I don’t think the story I want told is “he was a great marketer.”

Part of the story I do know.

Others parts I won’t until I’m further into my journey. But, here are elements of book 1.

He was…

  • A legendary father, husband, brother, son and friend
  • Someone who left people better than he found them
  • Someone who believed in the potential for greatness within all
  • Someone who moved through life with a sense of awe, wonder and adventure
  • Someone who challenged others to come alive, then helped in the endeavor
  • Someone who was compassionate, even-handed
  • Someone who gave a damn with all his heart
  • Someone who owned up to being human
  • Someone who was deeply intuitive
  • Someone who knew how to laugh
  • Someone who built people up
  • Someone who loved deeply
  • Someone who was present
  • Someone who created
  • Someone who gave
  • Someone who led
  • Who truly lived

Those are the chapters. So far…

My task is to fill each with stories worth telling and retelling for generations to come.

Because, as George Bernard Shaw said:

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me.  It is a splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brithly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

Nothing is permanent. We have one shot at telling our story.

Owning up to that isn’t dark. It isn’t macabre.

It’s a gift…

I wonder…what story are you writing with the way you’re living your life?

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22 responses

22 responses to “Would You Fall Asleep Reading Your Life’s Story?”

  1. I just realised that I’ve spent much of my life writing a piece of fiction I wouldn’t bother to read.

    Still working on the table of contents for the biography I intend to create.

  2. Wow – Jonathan… what an incredible post! I felt every word as I was reading and was left speechless by the end of it.

    I’m on a similar journey of self-discovery and am hoping to have a more fulfilling and inspiring story told about me as well. This is a tranformative time for me personally and I’m doing my best to align my work with my personal passions as much as possible. I’m reading a lot and focusing on the present as never before. Reading posts like this one really underscores why.

    I’m so glad I’m following you on Twitter! I believe I connected with you through the #gamechangers call a couple of weeks back, which I found out about through Chris Guillebeau – another hero that’s truly inspiring me with every word I read.

    Keep up the great work, and THANKS for the inspiration!

  3. Jackie says:

    Beautifully put. It is always who you are, not what you do which will define your personal legacy. The lives you touch, the difference you make, the memories you create. Living in this level of conciousness can be hard as life and its demands get in the way, and its moments like these that cause you to reflect and redefine what is really important.

    I will be examining some of the chapters of my life that need work….thanks for the inspiration.

  4. I used to ask clients what they wanted on their tombstone (I’m a recovering psychotherapist) – and, after the initial freak-out (“What? Is there something I don’t know about in my file?”) they ALWAYS found core values/beliefs/passions that they hadn’t given much thought to before.

    It is SO time for me to revisit that little exercise for myself – thank you for the inspiration – and for sharing your own list — you’ve got great elements in your Book 1 and it’s always easier (for me) to play with ideas like this when I have examples in front of me.

  5. ami says:

    Thought provoking piece. I think you make an important point – thinking about your legacy now will ensure that you have one worth leaving.

    Perhaps, as a goal setting measure, we can write the scripts that we want to live – then all we have to do is follow the script.


  6. Jeanne says:

    I love Shaw. Thanks for putting his words in front of me.

    This approach to life is the highest high you can find. AND no crash. Only higher.

    Thanks for putting it so well, yourself :))

    Good one, J!


  7. Ivan Walsh says:

    If you’ve ever been seriously ill, you know that your time is counted.
    Everyone’s dying. It’s how you make use of the time that matters.
    Marcus Aurelius has some wonderful insights into this area…

  8. Mick Morris says:

    Death that great leveler of all mankind will come for us all, the best and the wisest of us know not when….so is it macabre to think about it..I don’t think so. To think about and use it for inspiration to spur you on to LIVE and to achieve…priceless.

  9. Mike Willner says:

    I, for one, subscribe to the Woody Allen school of thought,

    “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

    That’s why I’ll be donating my second billion (plan to have a ton ‘o fun with the first billion – no more mac & cheese – yeah!) to fund the work of Ray Kurzweil – recipient of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize, 1999 National Medal of Technology Award, inductee – Inventors Hall of Fame, invented first reading machine for the blind that could read any typeface (Stevie Wonder was his first customer), invented first electronic musical instrument to successfully emulate the complex sound response of a grand piano and virtually all other orchestral instruments, and author of a number of mind-bending books including Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Check out an article about him in Wired: http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/news/2005/02/66585. Hint… some say he’s crazy.


    Oh, and of course, in the meantime, I’ll do what I can to promote world peace.


  10. Alessio says:


    Thank you for this awesome post which I can very closely relate to.

    I lost my father to a heart attack on the morning of Christmas Eve last year. He was 78 years old and seemed to be in good health. Every single day since then has had me questioning my mortality and whether I’m truly *living* my life to the absolute fullest.

    Lately it has become more than that. I am searching for *MEANING* in my life. Something that goes deeper than having a great job, getting married and having a family. I want to give of myself.

    I hope to contribute, to squeeze the juice outta life and spend every day as if it were my last. As James Dean said, “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”

  11. I am at a workshop this weekend and the most valuable aspect of the workshop has been how it has affected my mindset.

    Reading this post, it reinforced with me and adapted my thinking to make me realize that when looking at my mindset, I as well don’t want to die and be known as “a great marketer.” I want to be known as a great husband, coach, and someone that left people better than I found them.

    Thank you Jonathan for the inspiring post.

  12. Hugh says:

    If I died tomorrow, I would be happy with my life summary. However, I’m 29 yrs and I have a lot more to create and make that life story more influential.

    I want this inscription on my grave stone: “While alive, he lived.” (I just read this somewhere but forget where). Simple. Powerful. Awesome.

    Great topic, Jonathan! Your inspiration is incredible…

  13. Jonathon – FANTASTIC post. This is a subject that has been rattling around in my mind for awhile now (since starting Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture), but you just cemented a plan. A plan to make sure I’m living life to the fullest and leaving a legacy.

    Great post – This is one I may have to print for a constant reminder.


  14. What a wonderful tribute to someone who sounds like he lived life to the fullest. Makes you remember there’s more to life than …

    Patricia Erickson, Career Management Expert

  15. Thinking about death has become a real source of personal and professional empowerment for me.

    It began when I first saw the Steve Jobs Stanford address video where he also talks about mortality and working (living) with passion.

    Great article thanks Jonathan.

    – Pete

  16. Fantastic question! And I loved reading your honest, reflective, heartfelt thoughts. Really, there is no question more important in life!

    In my work as a Professional Coach, this is one of the visualizations I lead my clients through–getting clear on their life purpose and what they want to be remembered for…so that they continue to live in accordance with what matters most to them. And as a blogger writing on “Joy” these last several months, this has helped me clarify my fundamental life story and what I want to be known for: “Following my joy and helping others do the same.” 🙂

    Thanks for asking. I’m going to share this now on my FB fan page!

  17. Eric says:

    Thank you, Jonathan, for a well-timed inspirational piece.

  18. […] it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” – G.B. Shaw (via this excellent article by Jonathan […]

  19. I’m up there with Mike Willner and his quote from Woody Allen.

    Just to play devil’s advocate, I’d like to point out that people mostly say good things about the dead at funerals. They tend to forget the bad times and the focus on the good times. While the truly evil probably don’t have anyone at all to speak well of them, most of us are a combination of good and bad. After all, we are all human (although I have my doubts about some politicians). So loved ones and friends will show up and remember the good times.

    So don’t stress too much about how much your legacy will hold up next to the person at that last funeral you attended. Chances are, he wasn’t nearly as good as he was made out to be (althought I’m sure he was a nice enough guy).

    As for me, I think I’ll be beyond caring what people say about me at my funeral!

  20. Megan says:

    That quote is one of my “life quotes” – something that sums up how I want to live my entire life. Interestingly enough there’s also a bible verse where St. Paul says he’s ok with passing on now because his “life has been fully poured out like a drink offering” – I love the imagery of both quotes.

    I also like your list; I particularly like that anyone could take those points and apply them to any life, not just to bein a “marketer” they don’t really have to do with your Job but with Who You Are while you do your job. Those are the kinds of things we should live for…


  21. JP says:

    Truly inspirational. Thanks for this.

  22. […] asks us Would You Fall Asleep Reading Your Life’s Story? at his site site Awake At The Wheel. This was a great thought-provoking article. I would hope that […]