Writing My Eulogy
My executive coach, Paul, recently gave me an interesting assignment. He asked me to write my eulogy.
The idea is that you think about the legacy you want to leave, and then you ask yourself if you’re living your life in a way that will lead to that. And if not, then you’ve got some major changes to make.
Writing my eulogy was a lot harder than I thought it would be. When I told Paul I was struggling with it, he laughed and said, “It shouldn’t be that hard—you’re dead, remember?” I had a good chuckle. But the reality is, these things are hard to think about. I actually cried as I wrote parts of it and realized that I am so not ready to die.
We only get one life. We should do everything in our power to make the most of it. To leave this world better than when we found it. What will your legacy be? How will you touch the lives of others?
I invite you to join me in this exercise. If you want to live a life of meaning, I believe it is the most powerful exercise you can do. It will be probably be hard to write, but don’t give up.
I’ve included mine below in case you want to see what I hope will be read at my funeral.
“Don’t die with your music inside of you.”
Kristen read that phrase in a book by Wayne Dyer, and it stuck with her. She read it over and over and wrote it in her journal so that she’d never forget it. And from that day forward, Kristen spent her life making sure she got her music out—and get it out she did.
Kristen dedicated every day of her life to helping people realize their potential.
She did it at home with her children. She was the kind of mom who believed in her kids before they were born. She taught them things they wouldn’t learn in the classroom—much like her own parents did for her—and inspired in each of them a deep-rooted curiosity for the world that they would carry with them forever. As she would describe it, it was her mission every day to help her kids find their “dancefloor”: the place where they could be themselves, do work that inspired them, and make their mark on the world. She was equal parts mom and teacher, and her kids would say they loved being in her “classroom” more than anyone else’s. Her children were her priority, and Kristen always made it very clear that being a mom was more important to her than being a CEO.
She did it at home with her husband. She was the kind of wife who encouraged her husband, Spiros, to reach for more and challenged him in all the best ways. If you ever saw them together, you probably got a good laugh: a by-the-book neurosurgeon paired with a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants entrepreneur. Spiros grounded her in important ways, and she helped him see that the difference he could make in the world went far beyond the operating room. Early-morning coffee conversations with his wife led him to groundbreaking research and changing the culture of academic medicine, and Spiros would be the first to tell you that it was Kristen who helped him discover his true calling—his dancefloor. As a couple, their love was contagious. It was no secret how madly Kristen loved Spiros and how madly he loved her. They were made for each other and they grew together, never leaving the other behind. They gave generously to their communities and to causes close to their hearts and inspired anyone who knew them to live a life of love, meaning, and philanthropy.
She did it with her friends and family. Kristen was the daughter, sister, cousin, niece, aunt, grandmother, and friend we would all wish to have. She would do anything for those she loved. No matter how busy she was, she would leave it all behind at the drop of a hat to help those close to her. Kristen served as a mirror for her family and friends. She helped them see what they knew to be true and helped them uncover their true desires and passions, no matter how crazy they seemed. When they needed a pep talk, she was the first person they’d call. But it was also fun to just “be” with Kristen. She was always present and made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room when she talked to you. She had a contagious laugh and could find humor and optimism in anything. She left nothing unsaid and lived without regrets. Those close to her know how much she loved them.
She did it in the companies she led. Kristen worked hard as an entrepreneur not because of the money but because of the extraordinary impact she could have on the lives of those she employed. She saw business as a vehicle to developing the leaders our world so badly needed. While she had different companies in different industries, she only had one goal in all of them: to equip her people with the skills and confidence they needed to discover their own gifts and music within them. As a leader, Kristen defined empowerment as “believing in the strengths and capabilities of others before they’ve proven themselves,” and that’s what she did and taught others to do every day. Many of the people who have worked with Kristen have gone on to start their own companies, to become changemakers and advocates for causes they believe in, to become educators and to pursue careers in which they serve others, to become elected officials and political figures, to become incredible parents and spouses. And some have gone on to lead Kristen’s companies and carry the torch, ensuring that her legacy lives on and continues to have a profound impact on people’s lives.
She did it in the courtroom, as a standard-bearer for education reform. Kristen helped us see a different way: a world in which educators felt empowered to teach their students skills that couldn’t be measured or graded but that meant everything to success later in life. A world in which students learned resilience, courage, confidence, and compassion while also learning algebra. A world in which a school’s primary role is to help its students find their dancefloors. It’s because of Kristen and her relentless advocacy that this world now exists. But you would never hear Kristen say that “she” did anything. To her, “we” did it together.
She did it as a thought leader on stage and on TV and in her books. Kristen never cared about fame. She was the essence of humility, of authenticity, of vulnerability. All over the world, she was a symbol of servant leadership, a champion for creating better workplaces, a hero in education and in business, and someone with a natural ability to transcend generations in her work. Whether you were watching her TV show, reading her book, or listening to one of her speeches, Kristen helped you believe in yourself. She inspired you to dig deep, find your music, and get it out.
Kristen wouldn’t have wanted any of us to be sad today. In fact, as is her style, she requested that we include an inspiring ending to her eulogy.
One of her favorite poems was “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. A mentor of hers shared it with her once and she read it often to remind herself what life is really all about.
by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.
To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?
Kristen’s dash was mighty.
Are you proud of how you are living yours?
There’s still time. Don't die with your music inside of you. Get it out. Kristen wants you to know that the world really needs it.