While this might sound morbid, how do you want to be remembered?
This question is generally framed in retrospect and what will be written in an obituary. What most of us fail to realize is our daily social interactions greatly influence how others view us.
As a general rule, everyone wants to be remembered as a good person who was kind, caring and helpful. The majority of us will fall somewhat short. Without a conscious effort to rise above, we tend to become victims of daily busyness.
For example, were you a loving partner, a good friend or someone that made a difference to others? Even with the best of intentions, we probably all could’ve done better.
These qualities, more so than any accomplishments, will be how others view you.
How Will You Be Remembered When You Die?
Every funeral or celebration of life I’ve attended was filled with heartwarming reminisces of the person's life. Family and friends are grieving and it’s only appropriate to share the nice memories.
In fact, we’re conditioned to express our condolences and focus on their better attributes. We tend to push aside any negative aspects as a way to honor them in their final hour.
If you’re concerned what others will say, rest assured, when your time comes it’ll be complimentary. However, anyone who wasn’t a genuinely good person will likely soon be forgotten.
Instead of focusing on the end, each and every day is what really matters.
How Do You Want to Be Remembered?
A very insightful article was published by Code of Living. What I like most about their list is it’s all about becoming a better and kinder person.
Making a difference and bringing greater joy and happiness to the world is really what it's all about. They suggest the top seven areas to live more positively include:
Some comments from real people on Quora reinforce many of these points:
I found it very interesting the majority of responses were about people as opposed to things. Also, of note, some folks stated that once you're dead and gone does it really matter?
In a follow up article on how do you want to be remembered, we discuss What Will Be Your Legacy.
How Are You Remembered in Life?
Our self perceptions may or may not align with how others view us. Throughout my career I’ve had several bosses who were far from stellar. To the point, they had almost zero respect from any of their direct reports.
I suspect they were either oblivious to this or somehow justified their behaviors to themselves. And, how much did this carry through into their personal lives? Their egos and lack of empathy likely affected their relationships with friends and family.
If someone were to ask, how would you describe how others view you? For most of us, this is something we’ve never really thought about. In fact, it’s hard to be objective as it may not measure up with our own self image.
Aligning Self-Image with External Perceptions
One way to address this is to consider your strengths / weaknesses and, then, get an objective opinion. The interesting part is asking your spouse, family member or a close friend for feedback.
Be aware this’ll likely catch them off guard, so let them know you value their honest insights.
In most situations they’re going to be complimentary and skirt any perceived shortcomings. They’ll also likely have some different perspectives you may not have considered.
To be completely honest, this exercise was more difficult than I expected. It took considerable effort to nail down the areas I pride myself on and my weaknesses. As you can see, I’m certainly not perfect.
So, in typical Shannon fashion, I waltzed over to my wife and said “Sweetie, can you describe me in a few words?”. Yep, put her completely on the spot. In hindsight, I should’ve explained what I was doing.
I realized that after her quizzical look. She wasn’t even sure where to start and it took her a couple of minutes to understand. In her own words she described me as:
Gotta love her complimentary tone and validating my perceived strengths. Then I probed deeper into what I could improve upon.
“Too tolerant and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt”. That surprised me and she proceeded to explain I’m too trusting. Other people have a tendency to take advantage of my good nature, especially family.
To “keep the peace”, it’s easier to overlook poor behaviors and actions. For me, I tend to bottle up my frustrations rather than dealing with them.
I didn’t realize I had fallen into this pattern which partially explains a blow out I had with my brother.
We all have blind spots and open honest feedback can be invaluable. This in turn can help us improve our relationships and how others think of us.
What Happens When We Screw Up?
The human condition is such that we're all going to screw up sooner or later. Sometimes it’ll be one of those embarrassing moments and other times it’ll turn out much worse.
An invaluable lesson I learned many years ago is to try to understand the intent behind the words or actions.
As an example, I once made a comment directed at one of my co-workers. I thought I was being clever and funny. Even as the words left my mouth, I realized they could be interpreted as dismissive and potentially hurtful.
No one laughed or said anything at all! One of those embarrassing moments. I wished I’d never said anything and proceeded to pretend it was no big deal. But it bothered me, and to my credit, shortly afterwards I apologized to him.
He appreciated I came to him. What he then said absolutely floored me! “Shannon, your words were out of character and I know you didn’t mean them”. In hindsight, I’m so glad I cleared the air and his response has stuck with me ever since.
The truth of the matter is we all screw up from time to time. How we choose to deal (or not) with these situations will affect what others think of us. You can do ten good things, but one not so good experience is likely what will be remembered.
Part of the reason is a human negativity bias which we discuss in Happiness in Retirement is a Choice Not a Given. Instead of focusing on happiness, we tend to get sucked in by negativity.
Closing Thoughts on How Do You Want to Be Remembered
The main takeaway is to treat others as you want to be treated. This isn’t about the service and platitudes expressed after you’re gone. Rather this should be about how others view you right now.
Our article, Ways to Make Friends in Retirement, focuses on how to make and strengthen your connections. People matter and others will gravitate to you when you’re kind, caring and make a difference.
There’s no better time than the present to get started on the new you.