Okay, not the most promising title to an article, but please bear with me. It’ll be worth it.
The most important thing I ever did in my life, was to imagine that I was dead. Or at least, about to be dead.
If you’ve ever heard me speak, or read my first book or the prologue to my second, you will have heard all about this already. Possibly multiple times. But I’d like to repeat it here for the sake of completeness, and for the benefit of newcomers. If a story’s worth telling, it’s worth re-telling ad nauseam.
I was in my early thirties, and I felt trapped. Superficially I had all the trappings of a “happy” life – a nice house, decent salary, good friends. But it just wasn’t working for me. I felt stressed yet de-motivated at work, and as my performance failed to meet my own standards, my self-esteem was nose-diving. Externally, all may have looked well. Internally, I was leading a life of quiet desperation.
Everything changed on the day that I wrote two versions of my own obituary. I imagined that I was at the end of my life, looking back and thinking about what I did with my time here on Earth. I wrote two versions – the one I wanted, and the one I was heading for if I carried on as I was.
I wrote the “fantasy obituary” first. My pen sped across the paper as I described this person who got out there and lived life to the full, who would try anything at least once, who might succeed or they might fail but they would always learn something from the experience, who really seemed to grab hold of life with both hands. That version of my life seemed so authentic to me that when I finished writing it I sat back with a sigh of satisfaction and thought, “wow, what a great life I’ve had”. It took me a moment to recall that this was just a fantasy.
By contrast, my actual life seemed like a half-life by comparison. Superficially satisfying though it looked, it clearly did not measure up to the new benchmark I had just created. The fantasy life felt like the one that I had actually been born to live, free from fear, free to flourish. Now that I had glimpsed what could be, I could no longer pretend that this half-life was enough for me.
I realised then that I needed to make a radical change of direction if I wasn’t going to end up disappointed with my life. Combine that with an environmental epiphany and a burning desire to spread the good green word, and you have the makings of a major life transformation. It was time for me to stop drifting, and start rowing.
If you want to do this exercise for yourself, I highly recommend it, but it does come with a government health warning that “This exercise may change your life”. But isn’t that the point?
Get a pen and a notebook – or if you really want to you can use your laptop or tablet, but I find using a pen and paper taps into a different and more creative part of my brain, so even though I’m a virtually paperless person I make an exception in this case. Carve out an hour or two from your busy life and find somewhere you can enjoy interrupted time to yourself. And start writing.
An important tip: I didn’t write about what I wanted to DO – that comes later. First of all, I needed to envisage the person I wanted to BE. What character traits would friends remember me for? What kind of life would they say I’d led?
If you’re still struggling to get started, here is a downloadable pdf with some questions that you might find useful. Questions for Obituary Exercise
Good luck! And don’t say I didn’t warn you!