How do you want to be remembered when you're gone? What do you think those who truly love you will most remember about you? The jobs and titles you held? The big deals you closed? How much money you made? I don't think so, because to your family and real friends those things won't carry a lot of weight when they inventory who you are and what you're all about.
John Rau, formerly CEO of LaSalle National Bank in Chicago and now dean of the Indiana University School of Business, addressed this topic in a recent Wall Street Journal article titled "On Top of the World-and Afraid to Fall." He talks about the insecurity executives feel no matter how lofty their positions. As he puts it: "Regardless of how high you are in the corporation and how much power you possess, you can lose it overnight. Just as tension spoils the golf swing, the fear of losing your job becomes paralyzing and makes the loss more likely...The fact is that failure is not fatal, but most of us can't picture ourselves outside our current `comfort zone."' He then offers some exercises to "...relax the tension and reduce the fear."
The first one he suggests is to get paid at least once for a hobby or skill we possess. He says most of us have a variety of skills we could turn to if necessary to earn income. Skills like public speaking, writing, even selling. In other words, if worse came to worse, what options would we have? Most of us would have plenty.
Next he suggests that we live way below our income for at least three weeks. "What most people find is that the big expenses that have to be cut are the ones that you took on to prove to other people that you could afford them, not the ones that give you any particular joy."
Another exercise is to do a full liquidation drill. Rau contends that if we do this we'll see that we're much better off than we think we are and could survive very comfortably on what we already have. He believes our real worry is "What will I do, who will I be?"
To counter these fears Rau then proposes two additional drills. "Spend time with a couple of people who pursue satisfaction by constantly changing their possessions and status symbols." These are people who believe that the more material goods they accumulate the more meaningful their lives become. He hopes doing this will enable us to see just how superficial this kind of lifestyle can be. Coupled with this, Rau urges us to ask our families to write down what it is they like about us and how they would improve our relationships. "You'll find they won't mention your job or talk about money," Rau says. "They'll talk about being a partner, knowing more of what is going on with you, having more time, feeling more loved, and seeing you more happy and relaxed." He then suggests we keep these lists and read them whenever we feel anxious.
The final test is to write your own obituary. Rau suggests we make it long and write it for our parents or a favorite teacher. He claims most of us will tear up the first draft because it'll be about our jobs and how we've succeeded in various organizations. He then says we'll write another one because we all want to be remembered for "character, doing useful things, being a good partner, an exceptional friend." He says we should read that obituary every morning and have it handy for whenever we have that trapped feeling.
Rau finishes with this comment: "The trap is believing that your life is only your career. The solution is just a simple change of perspective. Understand that your career should be living your life your way."
Too many of us get caught up in the rat race and forget the really important things in life. All of them-love of family, love of friends, love of work-don't have a price tag. They're simply priceless.