Funerals are my favorite life event. I know it's counterintuitive, but I find this to be true of most profound concepts. At funerals we come together as community, family, and friends; fill a center of worship; and celebrate a person’s life. We commiserate with one another, highlight the memories and lessons we’ve learned, and express gratitude for the gift of this loved one’s presence in our lives. While loss of life is deeply sorrowful and sometimes unexpectedly jarring, I find the gift of celebrating one’s life to create an invigorating perspective shift in me.
A few years ago, I felt the impact of this shift as I was sitting at my desk watching tourists zip towards the High Line park in Manhattan. I realized that all of us spend the prime years of our lives at work, not with our families, friends, community or on our hobbies. My mind began to race as I realized, most of the people I knew were doing fine at work, myself included. We weren’t pumped to race into our offices every morning at 8, weren't particularly thrilled about the projects we were on, and most importantly, didn’t feel truly alive until we left work. Howard Thurman, civil rights leader, said:
“Don’t ask what the worlds needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
At funerals we celebrate the end of a life and in turn create new life in ourselves. Instead of focusing on what David Brooks calls the “resume virtues”: the skills we bring to the marketplace, we shift our gaze to our “eulogy virtues”. Am I becoming more kind, more honest, more brave, more loving? Brooks says,
“We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to build inner character.”
Living the eulogy virtues is what makes us come alive and feel so much more than fine at work. Our careers are a wonderful place to practice living our eulogy virtues daily. Ironic as it may sound, the un-ideal workplace environment is a quintessential petri dish for character development. Your drab, mediocre culture or toxic manager may in fact be your opportunity to make yourself strong in your weakest places. So if you’re feeling fine, perhaps resigned, or slightly bored at work, treat yourself to a metaphorical funeral by asking these questions:
What makes you come alive? Pick one thing that ignites you and do it this week.
If you were to leave the world today, what is your manifesto? Mull this over and bullet some ideas during lunch.
What are you proud of so far? Make a list and share it with someone you trust.
If tasked to create something on the planet, what would your contribution be? Research a first step; it could be buying a book or having a conversation.
What type of people inspire you and make you come alive? Go be with them, write down the qualities you notice and pick one to develop in you.
As you answer these questions watch the “funeral shift” start to occur. While things may be in the valley of fine at the moment, trust that fabulous is the peak on your horizon. Life is a process of commitment making. You’ll stumble along the way, but keep going because you understand as Brooks says, “that life’s not about being better than others, but about being better than you used to be.” And one day, a room full of people will be grateful for your commitment as they feel the shift occur in them.