On Friday, July 13, I had the honor of delivering the eulogy at my uncle Andy’s funeral. The way that he treated people and lived his life made it easy for me to communicate how he positively affected others’ lives. When I learned that I needed to keep the eulogy to approximately five minutes, I realized that I needed to focus on what he represented and stood for.  I chose the four words that I felt best described the type of person that he was. The four words I centered my message around were kind, generous, humble and fun.

What four words would you hope that people would choose to describe you? Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you arrive at your four words:

  • What are my best qualities, traits, strengths or attributes?
  • What qualities do I admire in others and want to strengthen or develop in myself?
  • What do I stand for or represent?

Spending time thinking about what people would say about you, how you live your life and what you contribute to the world can be a very useful exercise. In fact, in one the most widely known and acclaimed books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the brilliant Dr. Stephen R. Covey introduced us to the “funeral exercise.” Covey encourages us to use this exercise to help define our personal mission statement and identify our guiding principles. He writes:

In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.

As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.

As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended —children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you’ve been involved in service.

Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives? (p. 97)

Sadly, Dr. Covey passed away eight days after my uncle Andy. Fortunately, his messages of personal growth and identifying what’s most important in order to ensure that we spend our time wisely continue to live on in his numerous teachings and writings.

When we experience the loss of a loved one, we frequently reassess our priorities and may even start doing things differently because we are reminded of our own mortality and that of those we love. But, too often, as time passes, life takes over again and we shift back to our old ways. You can help prevent this from happening to you by completing the funeral exercise and/or identifying your four words. Set aside an uninterrupted block of time to complete your exercise. Then, document your results and keep a printed version somewhere where you will see it often. Let your “self-descriptors” be a guide for how you want to live your life and for the kind the example that you want to set for others. Please don’t worry if you take a look at your four words and start to doubt whether people would use them to describe you. It’s okay if you think they might not be accurate at this particular moment in time. They are meant to serve as a vision for how you want to live your life and how you will strive to be perceived by others. If you are having these kinds of thoughts, brainstorm ways to practice and demonstrate the qualities and traits that you identified.

I would love to hear what four words you choose. Please share them with us by commenting on this post.

Best regards,

Michelle Baca