Want to Live a More Meaningful Life? This Book Says You Should Start By Writing Your Eulogy

Every January, if you’re like most people, you probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make this year better than the last. It’s a pretty common exercise, made more real considering the state of the world we’ve all lived through the past two years. 

The thing is, there are a lot of ways you could define “better.” You might be trying to figure out how to be more productive, or how to get more done. Or, perhaps you’re trying to figure out what to cut out of your life to make space for something you’re truly passionate about. New York Times Bestselling author, Donald Miller, suggests that what most people are really looking for is something else–meaning.

The key to living a more meaningful life, according to Miller’s latest book, Hero on a Mission, is that you start by writing your eulogy. Seriously. 

Yes, that sounds a little morbid at first, but when you think about it, it’s not that different than creating a goal and working your way backward. If it works for building a business, or a project, or anything else, it makes sense that it would work for creating a plan for your life. If you want your life to end up a certain way, you have to live it intentionally.

“If you start with the end in mind, then you can reverse engineer your life in such a way that you keep putting something on the plot to try to get to that place,” Miller told me in a conversation we had about his book. “So every morning, I read my eulogy, and I read my goal worksheets. Then I fill out this daily planner that really centers me. But, this reading my eulogy–it really helps me understand what my life is about.”

Look, there are a lot of books about finding meaning. Most of them are philosophical and spend a lot of time in an existential debate trying to define the meaning of life. Every time I read them, I find myself going back to a quote from none other than the wise philosopher, Charlie Brown: “The meaning of life is to go back to sleep and hope that tomorrow will be a better day.” 

The thing is, if you feel that way, it’s probably because you don’t have a plan for your life.  More importantly, you’re probably living your life not as a hero, but as a victim. Those are two of the roles at the center of Miller’s book (the other two are villain and guide).

We’ve all spent time feeling like the victim in the story–especially the past few years. The goal, however, is to understand that you’re supposed to be the hero in the story you’re writing of your life. If you find yourself in the role of victim or villain, it’s probably worth reconsidering where the story is headed.

Miller spent enough of his life in that role, and he draws on that experience to guide readers through the process of creating a better story. He doesn’t spend time trying to tell you what the meaning of your life should be, instead, he lays out a practical guide to finding it, and then living it. That’s where the eulogy comes in. 

Writing your eulogy is writing the story of your life looking back on it after you die. The thing is, if you want your life to end up a certain way, you have to be living it that way now. Once you’ve laid out the story of your life, it makes it a lot easier to be intentional about what you do each day. It also makes it easier to say no to everything that doesn’t align with the story. 

“It’s helped me so much in terms of basic practicality, to help me know what my story’s about so that I can actually get it done–or, at least die trying,” Miller told me. “The other thing has been even more beneficial. By processing my own death and thinking about it a little every day, it has increased two things: a sense of urgency in my life to get things done. And it’s been the number one tool in my life to give me the gift of presence.”

There’s a valuable lesson in there: Most of us spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with our lives, only to discover we have a lot less time than we thought. Recognizing that we only have a limited amount of time–and that we have no idea how much–creates a sense of urgency that can help us live more purposeful, and with more meaning. 

The book is extremely practical and walks you through how to develop a life plan that includes your goals for your family, your business, and anything else that truly matters to you. And, it all starts with something as unexpected as writing your eulogy.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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