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Wake-Up Call: Write Your Obituary

Wake-Up Call: Write Your Obituary

    Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, was reading the newspaper one morning when, to his shock, he turned the page and discovered his obituary inside.  It turns out that his brother had died, and the newspaper had published Alfred’s obituary by mistake. The obituary read, “The merchant of death is dead”.  It went on to say the following:

    “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

    Needless to say, Nobel was taken aback by the way in which the world was going to remember him after his death.

    It’s believed that it was due to this shock that Nobel decided to set aside the bulk of his estate in order to establish the Nobel Foundation, which annually bestows international awards in recognition of cultural and scientific advances.  Today, Nobel is not remembered as the merchant of death, but as the creator of the Nobel Prizes, and, consequently, as a great humanitarian. Having read his obituary while he was still alive gave him the opportunity to change his legacy.

    Although it sounds a bit macabre, writing your own obituary—or asking a friend or a family member to do it for you—can be an excellent wake-up call that can help you make important changes in your life. There’s more on this below.

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    The Late Dr. Crane

    Yesterday I was watching a re-run of one of my favorite television shows: “Frasier”. It stars Kelsey Grammer as Seattle radio psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane.  One day, Frasier is in a minor car accident in which he hurts his nose; he goes to the hospital to get his nose looked at, but after a while he gets tired of waiting and leaves.  When the hospital nurse calls out Frasier’s name, a man who was also waiting to be treated pretends to be Frasier in order to cut to the front of the line. When this man suddenly dies of a heart attack in the hospital, the evening news reports that Frasier Crane had died.

    The next day, Frasier has an experience very similar to the one that Alfred Nobel went through: the newspaper mistakenly published his obituary.  This makes Frasier reflect on his life and everything that he has yet to achieve.  Here’s the exchange that took place between Frasier and his producer, Roz Doyle, when they were talking about Frasier’s obituary:

    • Roz: Well, there’s something for your scrapbook, huh?  Your own obituary.
    • Frasier: Yes, well.  You know, frankly, still it’s a little upsetting.
    • Roz: I don’t think they meant to be insulting, you are “lovably pompous.”
    • Frasier: Not that. It’s just, seeing all my life in black and white, it just all looks a little incomplete.
    • Roz: What do you mean?
    • Frasier: Well, I was going to do so much with my life.  I was going to write a novel, run for public office, I was gonna do my own translation of Freud…
    • Roz: Well, what’s stopping you?  You’re not actually dead.
    • Frasier: I guess you’re right. I’m not dead, am I? You know, maybe that’s a good way of looking at this actually, more of a wake-up call.

    After that exchange Frasier goes home and, as a self-actualizing exercise, he writes his obituary as he would like it to appear years later, at the time of his actual death.  Here’s part of what he wrote: “Dr. Crane came late to athletics, he became a fixture in the Seattle marathon, the America’s Cup yacht race, as well as the Kentucky Derby [as a stable owner].” In addition, he included in his aspire-to-obituary that he had started a website to teach children about psychiatry, that he had traveled to South America,  that he had taken up rafting, and that he spoke Russian.

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    As he contemplates what’s missing from his life, Frasier also decides to take a risk by grabbing a bottle of wine and heading over to knock on the door of an attractive woman who lives a few doors down from him.

    Write Your Obituary

    Do the following: write an obituary as a true account of your life to date.  As an alternative, if you want to be more objective, you can ask a friend or family member who knows you well to do it for you. When it’s ready, look over your obituary and ask yourself questions such as the following:

    • If I died today, would I die happy?
    • Am I satisfied with the direction in which my life is headed?
    • Am I happy with the legacy that I’m creating?
    • What’s missing from my life?
    • What do I need to do in order for my obituary to be “complete”?

    Then, write a fantasy obituary in which you write down all of the things you wish you had done with your life.  What does this exercise tell you? You’re not dead yet, so get out there and start making any changes that you need to so that you can “live up” to your fantasy obituary.

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    (Arlinton National Cementary is courtesy of Justo Ruiz)

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    Marelisa Fabrega

    Marelisa is a lawyer and entrepreneur who blogs about creativity, productivity, and getting the most out of life.

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    Last Updated on July 23, 2019

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

    Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

    How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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    • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
    • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
    • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
    • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
    • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
    • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

    When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

    1. Realize You’re Not Alone

    Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

    2. Find What Inspires You

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    Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

    On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

    3. Give Yourself a Break

    When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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    Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

    4. Shake up Your Routines

    Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

    Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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    When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

    5. Start with a Small Step

    Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

    Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

    More to Help You Stay Motivated

    Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

    Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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