I’m currently taking a class called Leadership and Ethics in Professional Practice. It’s one of the last classes I’ll take here in grad school, before they release me back into the World Wide World to wreak creative havoc on the profession.
This week, we were asked to write our own obituaries. This exercise is intended to get us thinking about what hopes and dreams we have for our lives. The teacher specifically challenged us to make this as ‘embarrassingly extreme’ as we can stand—in other words, to take this seriously. This is about as difficult as you might think. Imagining the context of your own death is brittle enough ice to wander on, but as someone who almost has an allergic reaction to self-aggrandizement, I had a really hard time getting started. The only thing that helped, in the end, was actually getting started.
But I did have to change who this was about. Meet… Someone.
Though impeccably practical to the very end, Someone was also an optimist and a dreamer, and her optimism was contagious. By the end of her career, she had empowered millions to realize their own tremendous human potential through the company she founded. Her tireless work has brought self-sufficiency and dignity to disadvantaged families around the world by matching economic opportunities with the knowledge and material support needed for anyone to answer to them. In doing so, she has made significant contributions to redefining what it means to do work in today’s society: her effort is one of the reasons that ordinary people today no longer speak of employment, but of entrepreneurship.
A lifetime of personal and familial struggles have given her the rare ability to rise above short-term setbacks; she tackled great obstacles with a positive, resilient attitude. Though far from perfect, she was known for her capacity for empathy. She insisted on treating even the staunchest of detractors with respect and compassion. But most of all, she was admired for her sense of humor, which often defused conflicts and created hope in even the bleakest of situations. Though her time with us was short, her life and actions serve as an inspiration to us all.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a charitable donation to the Someone Foundation, established to continue the work she has only just begun.
What did I learn from this assignment? I’m not immediately sure. But since I was raised in an environment where praise was hard-earned, not given, it makes sense that I’ve come to have ambitious aspirations. However, I am only human, so I also instinctively temper those aspirations with a healthy (hopefully non-lethal) dose of fear. This is probably why I had to write about Someone rather than myself, superficial as that may seem.
In the end, nobody is fooled: this obit is by me and for me. It does represent, in so many angelic words, the kind of person I want to be. It also represents the kind of tasks I want on my career to-do list. So for better or for worse, it will serve as a reminder of what I’m after. If I get lost, as 20-somethings are wont to do these days, I will have something to navigate by. And if I get bogged down in the day-to-day experience of being mortally small, I’ll always have someone impeccable to look up to, even if that person only exists in fiction.
… and really, I guess that’s not so bad for one little homework assignment.
EDIT: I feel like I should explain myself a bit here. After reading my obituary, some of my classmates were rather concerned about the “dying young” part. Trust me, I’m the last person here who plans to live fast and die young. I put that there mostly as a reminder to myself that the most precious thing in life (other than friends and family) is time. And it is never guaranteed. I just hope that I can make the most of every day, no matter how many of them I end up having. It’s not about being morbid, but about valuing that which we should never take for granted.