The phone rang. I (Pete) was the only one in the office so I answered. A deep, gravelly man’s voice on the other end said, “I need to speak with the person in charge of your chapter at Princess Anne High School.” Uh-oh. These calls could be trouble. I was on staff with a non-profit organization that worked with high school students, and we never knew what to expect with these kinds of calls, because often, they were from parents worried about their kids.
“I am the one in charge,” I said. “How can I help?”
“We need to have a meeting,” the bellowing voice said.
“OK, may I ask what it is in reference to?” I asked.
“I want to know how I can help you.” he said.
That phone conversation felt like I had dodged a bullet, but the next week I would meet that man who would change my life forever. His name was Jack Birsch. When we met, he was well over 300 pounds and had a shiny, bald head and was smoking a big cigar. At noon. In a Holiday Inn restaurant (one of the few places left in Virginia Beach that allowed smoking.) Thus, a friendship began that would change me forever.
We started meeting once every couple of weeks, then every week for an hour, and then it became two hours. He had a twinkle in his eye and a way with words. Jack was big on grace. Jack was big on love. Jack had a big personality. After we had met several times, he asked me something I would never forget. It would become a splinter in my mind:
“Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul?”
“Of course you haven’t,” Jack said. “Because naked you come, and naked you go. So you better find out what matters in this life, and give yourself to it wholeheartedly.”
Jack continued to ask me that question every few weeks until it became engrained on my heart. As I got to know him, I realized the impact of his life was still echoing all over Virginia Beach and all over the world. It seemed like almost every day I would meet someone who would say, “Oh Jack? He was a huge influence in my life. He showed up when I needed him most.”
Begin with the end result in mind
Take a minute to think about your funeral. Pleasant, I know. But close your eyes and imagine what it would be like. Who will be there and what will they say? If you passed away tonight, how would you be remembered? Would people be sad or indifferent? Who would be there saying you made an impact on them? Have you made a difference in this world?
Unsettling, isn’t it? Morbid? Sobering? Yes, it is. We all think we are going to live forever. But here’s the reality: The death rate is holding steady at one per person. You will die. It’s just a matter of when and how. One of my mentors Ralph (I called him Rev) had people from many countries come to his funeral. They traveled from all over the world to honor and pay their respects to someone who had impacted their life. Rev found out what mattered during his life.
We are temporary stewards of everything in our lives. We are to responsibly manage what we have while we’re here, but none of it goes with us when we die. This may seem disappointing at first. But really, it’s good news. It is freeing. No possessions last forever, nor are they meant to. Dead people can’t enjoy their stuff.
If we figure out what matters, we can have a life well-lived. We can have an impact that lasts beyond us, maybe even forever. I will give you a hint: What matters isn’t what you have. Here is the reality: YOU MATTER. What you do matters. You were meant to make a difference in this world.
Stephen Covey says that we should begin with the end result in mind. He lists this principle in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Most people want to have a very meaningful life—but most don’t. Most people want to have a difference-making life—but most don’t. Most people want to make a huge impact during their life—but most don’t. What are you going after? Who do you want to be? A meaningful life will not just happen. You can’t achieve great things simply by binge watching Netflix. No one ever drifts into greatness. No one ever drifts into making a difference. You need to be intentional. You have to live with a purpose.
What is important to you? If you don’t quite know yet, that’s OK. You are at a discovery stage of life and trying to find out what matters and what’s important. Many things will try and coax you away from investing yourself in the important things. Some of them will even be “good” things. Some of them will seem urgent, but will not really matter in the grand scheme of life and of your existence. You must give yourself to the important. The vital. The things that matter. (See Chapter 15 #BigRocks on Time Management).
There may be a sense of loss, sadness, or disappointment when you graduate (or when you graduated) because you always hear people talking about college as the “good old days.” If this is true, then we are all in big trouble. That means the rest of your life is a depressing, downward spiral. You peaked when you were 21? Not a chance. I can assure you that every season of life brings the opportunity for more satisfaction, fulfillment and joy. College is an incredible time of life, and a special time, but the reality is the best years are yet to come.
Your deathbed regrets
As you think about your funeral, as you begin with YOUR end result in mind, what would you change? As you imagine this scenario, what regrets do you have? Have you ever been near someone when they are close to dying? It is a profound time when the divider between the temporal and the eternal becomes thin. When we’re witnesses to the finality of life, we reflect and maybe even regret, but whatever really matters to us crystalizes quickly. At the end of your life, what will stand the test of time?
Top 10 Life Regrets (compiled from numerous sources)
1. I wish I'd lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I wish I hadn’t compared myself to others.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so much and wish I made more time for my family.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings more. I wish I had allowed myself to love, be loved, and say I love you.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I had pursued my dreams and aspirations, persevered and kept going. I wish I discovered my purpose earlier.
6. I wish I had saved more money for retirement.
7. I wish I had taken more risks and taken more chances/traveled more/experienced more cultures.
8. I wish I had realized contentment and happiness are a choice. It’s all about your perspective and attitude.
9. I wish I had taken better care of myself. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
10. I wish I had touched more lives and inspired more people.
Sources: “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware (Author) and www.addicted2success.com study of residents in nursing homes
What is your mission statement?
“People with clearly defined missions have always led those who haven’t any. You are either living your mission, or you are living someone else’s.”
—Laurie Beth Jones, author
It was said during World War II if an unidentified soldier appeared in the dark and could not state his mission, he was automatically shot. (Source—The Path, Laurie Beth Jones). Mission in World War II was a matter of life and death.
It still is. Your mission is the most important thing you can do with your life. What are your life values? Could you name three? Could you name one? What are your unifying principles (over-arching, guiding principles that help you stay on purpose)? What do you want to accomplish in this world? You might not know and that’s OK. But the sooner you discover your purpose and figure out your mission, the sooner you will be able to accomplish it. The sooner you will have a lens through which to make decisions. Here are some questions to meditate and reflect on to craft your personal mission statement:
1.If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
2.If you could influence a cause ,what would you choose?
3.What are some issues that you are passionate about?
I had a professor in grad school that was recognized as the world's authority on his teaching topic. He had one PhD from Yale and one PhD from Harvard and his textbook was the gold standard. One of the students in my class asked “Prof, how do you keep learning? Haven’t you arrived?” He slowly walked closer to us and was silent for what seemed like minutes. Then he replied: “That is a good question, and a foundational one. As soon as you think you’ve arrived, it’s the beginning of the end. I always want my students drinking from a “raging river” and never a “stagnant stream.”
So how do you have a life well-lived? How do you avoid those top 10 regrets? You start today. You put the big rocks in first (see Big Rocks chapter!). You do the first right thing each day. You find your purpose and your mission and what gives meaning to life. If you want to make a difference, you are going to have to take risks. Let’s embark on this adventure together. Here’s to becoming “raging rivers.” Onward.
Top 3 Takeaways:
1.Find out what matters in this life, and give yourself to it.
2.Begin with the end result in mind.
3.Start crafting your life mission statement and unifying principles.