Thursday, September 03, 2009

Your life in 400 words

Over a decade ago when my father passed away, we quickly discovered that trying to summarize a great life in a few paragraphs was a real challenge. What were his job titles? What books did he write, and awards did he win? Above all, what mattered the most to him? It was kind of like arranging a wedding on 24 hours notice.

When he died I promised myself two things. First, that I would never waste another day doing things I didn't enjoy, chasing a retirement that in his case never happened. I've honored that promise ever since. The second promise was that I would maintain a running one-page summary of my own life. My obituary, if you will - but more accurately, a life story that continues to evolve.

The latter promise proved to be almost harder than the first. My dad, like many of his generation, basically had a linear career: from engineer, to engineering professor, to dean, provost, and university president. By comparison, I am a mutt. After a fairly traditional career path as a software engineer and manager, I've been self-employed for much of the last 15 years doing a delicious mix of things I really enjoy: author, ghostwriter, public speaker, trainer, and (as of recently) psychotherapist.

But that led to one small problem. Two, actually. First, if someone I hadn't seen in a while would ask "Hi Rich - what do you do for a living nowadays?", I'd get tongue tied and mutter something about "writer and speaker." Except I'm also leading training courses, running a therapy group, developing a new business fable, editing a monograph series, doing a webinar Tuesday for clients in India, etc. And I didn't want to bore them with the details. The second problem was that if, God forbid, I were ever run over by a beer truck, my survivors would have gotten a splitting headache trying to summarize my life.

But this begs a much larger question. What is the purpose of your life? The North Star that shines as your beacon? The things that I would want people to remember me for if, God willing, I live to be 97 someday? That, in my view, is the real reason to keep a running summary of your life: to know who you are and where you are headed.

Nowadays I have a lot more clarity about who I am. I help people communicate - as a writer, a speaker, and a therapist. Over the years I've been building a national platform teaching people what to say in their most difficult situations. And I've been having more fun than I've had in a long time. If you're curious what my life looks like in 400 words, it's here. So what would your 400 words look like?

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