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Finding Purpose Begins at the End: The Tombstone Principle

We all long for purpose.  It’s hard-wired into us to desire a meaningful life:  A life that matters and has impact.  Our quest to find that purpose drives us.  Too often, however, our purpose eludes us and we spend endless time searching but never finding.  That is why I recommend The Tombstone Principle.

The Tombstone Principle

The Tombstone Principle is inspired by Dr. Jim Loehr, world-renowned performance psychologist and author.  At a recent leadership conference, Loehr shared the value of taking the time – potentially several hours – to seriously contemplate 6 words that you would want to have on your tombstone.

This may sound morbid, but far worse is wasting your life.  You don’t want to spend decades doing something that leaves you empty and unfulfilled.  Do something that matters.  To do this, consider how you want to be remembered.  That’s the beginning of finding your purpose.

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

Let’s start with your legacy.  Words that may come to mind as you consider leaving behind a legacy of value include: kind, loving, caring, generous, compassionate, dedicated, and wise.  Words you probably don’t want to be remembered by: hard-nosed, unavailable, cold, miserly, self-focused, workaholic, and unforgiving.

Today’s choices determine tomorrow’s character.  What choices are you making today and how are they shaping you as a person?  Will you be remembered fondly or callously?  Deciding how you want to be remembered will help you make wise choices today.  That will give you purpose.

Each of us has a unique personality and skill set.  We don’t want to waste our uniqueness by aimlessly drifting from one idea to another. Chasing accomplishments. Gathering accolades.  Accumulating plaques. Yet without a defined ‘why’, what are we after?  To what end are we working?  A tombstone is a clear end.  What will it say?

Fully Embracing the Tombstone Principle

You want to take your purpose seriously.  You don’t want to get to the end of your life and regret how you’ve spent your time.  Take control of your time, your ambitions, and your life path as much is humanly possible.

To take advantage of The Tombstone Principle beyond a 2-minute pause, follow these 5 steps.

  1. Write down the top 6 words you would want on your tombstone. Take the time to really think about this. What epitaph would mean the most to you?
  2. Set clear action items to live out those 6 words. Change doesn’t happen in “fuzzyland”.  Saying you want to exercise more doesn’t make it happen.  You have to take action. The same principle applies here.  Figure out how you will shape yourself into the person you want to be.  Write it down.
  3. Seek outside insight about your current character to discover what needs to change. We are blind to our flaws.  We may not see ourselves as others see us.  Find a trusted person who can be honest about your current character.
  4. Find a mentor that emulates the legacy you want to leave behind. Mentors are so valuable.  They have wisdom, practical tips and a way of life that can be a tremendous help to you.  Be on the lookout for someone who you would love to be compared to and then ask them to mentor you.
  5. Schedule check-ups to identify your progress. After going through the effort of developing a plan, be sure you are progressing. Schedule annual or quarterly check-ups with someone to hold you accountable.  If your purpose is wrapped into these 6 words, you don’t want to lose sight of your goal.

Leave a Legacy You’re Proud Of

We all have dreams and goals we want to achieve. The problem is, our goals are often to short-sighted and narrow.  We haven’t taken the time to consider our ultimate end goal; how we want to be remembered.  Each choice we make lays a brick in our legacy.  Choice by choice we are defining ourselves.  We are building the future version of ourselves.  What does that look like?  Define what success means to you.  What is it you are shooting for?

In conclusion, picture your tombstone; picture the inscription. Now, figure out how to make your current life lead to the tombstone you’re visualizing.  If it is purpose we seek it’s worth the time to discover it.