In business and life, resolve to live like you're dying

Did you create any New Year’s resolutions? For yourself? For your company? I’d like to invite you to go deeper than you usually go, and do things differently this year. I want you to make your plan as if you are dying.

Lacking roots

The majority of us don’t follow through with our New Year’s resolutions. Gym memberships skyrocket in January and attendance tanks by March. Business plans get set in motion, but continuous engagement is challenging. Interesting, isn’t it?

The word resolution means a firm decision. And to be resolute means to be unwavering in our decision. It means that we’ve not only decided to do something, but that decision is rooted in something deeper that makes it unmovable. In fact, we could even say being resolute is the same as being headstrong, willful, strong-willed, uncompromising, persistent, tenacious, and stubborn. Our decision is what is going to happen. Period. End of story.

Now think of our typical New Year’s resolutions. Are you (or most of us) resolute in doing or achieving them? Not usually, right? Saying something loosely like, “I want to lose weight,” doesn’t have any roots. There is no grounding there. There is no personal deeper meaning.

The physical illusion

As a culture, we tend to focus on the physical — physical bodies and physical things. We think we want to or should do things that affect the physical like get in shape, have nicer things, perform in ways we can quantitatively measure, have more business or monetary success, and so on. But the pursuit of these physically based goals tends to be exhaustive, not motivating. We do them at first, but after a while we get tired. We may even ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?”

In order for engagement and evolution to occur, personally or professionally, we need our plans and actions to be deeply, intrinsically meaningful. Even if they have extrinsic components or outcomes, we still need the intrinsic reasons to “ignite” us and “keep the engine running.” This means even if you want to do something that is extrinsic, like losing weight or making money, you can. But you need to have reasons why if you want to be successful at it. You need to know why this is important to you, who it will help you be, or what it will help you do. Otherwise, it will feel like you are running on a hamster wheel in your efforts to achieve it.

Our reasons also need to transcend the physical. While the physical provides us with the material proof that we are doing or achieving something, the reasons that inspire us are emotional, spiritual, relational, social, and cultural.

We need to feel like:

  • We are inspired by something about it;
  • It is representative of who we are or who we want to be;
  • It connects us with others, or helps others;
  • It is important, personally meaningful, or socially meaningful; and
  • It is positive, making a difference, and by doing so, I am making an impact.

Interestingly, do you know the time of our life that we start thinking this way and planning our future accordingly to these guides? When we are dying or losing a loved one.

Death and grieving lessons

This topic is coming up for me right now (and I’m seeing the connection to resolutions) because my family lost a loved one this past holiday season. The loss brought my thoughts to living — truly living — as if we were dying.

From my education on grieving, death and dying, and working with people who have lost loved ones and/or who are dying themselves, there are common lessons. After the pain of loss or fear of losing life, most say that the situation has provided them with the opportunity to let go of trivial worries and frustrations. They choose instead to pay attention to things that matter to them.

According to the book, Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware, there are five common regrets that seem to come up at the end of life. Those are:

  1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me;
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard;
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings;
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends; and
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.



Use dying lessons for yourself

We can use these regrets to assess our lives, and ourselves and to help us decide about our plans for the future. From the five regrets of the dying, we can think of the following five themes and related questions:

  1. Be uniquely you: Is there anything you’d like to do or be, that you haven’t allowed yourself due to fear of what others might think, expectations, or social norms? Do you have a passion that you’ve been procrastinating or ignoring? Do you want to express yourself in a way that you haven’t yet? Do you want to create or explore or try something you’ve never tried? Or is there something (or many things) that you can let go of (stop being or stop doing) that are not you?
  2. Balance work and life: Is your work-life balance okay? Are you taking breaks and lunch? Are you taking vacation time? Can you let go of the stress of work? If work is too stressful (or not aligned with who you are), can you make any changes to help yourself?
  3. Express yourself: Is there anyone you can say (or write) “I love you,” or “thank you,” or “you’ve taught me so much,” or “because of you I,” or even “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” to? What words would bring love or peace to you or others? Equally, is there someone you need to stand up to, separate yourself from, express your boundaries with, or say “goodbye” to? What do you need to provide you with more peace?
  4. Connect: Is there anyone you’ve lost touch with who you’d like to reconnect with? Is there anyone in your life currently that you’d like to spend more quality time with? Can you choose to connect casually with others during your day that you would normally pass by or not stop to spend time with (e.g., say hello, give a compliment, ask how someone is, listen, share, show compassion, smile, hug, give encouragement, etc.)?
  5. Let go: What worries, fears, anxieties, or frustrations can you let go of? What can you notice that would bring your joy, peace, love, and a sense of appreciation?

Using dying lessons for work

Interestingly, businesses can do this, too. Even though a business is not a person, we can consider the company as an identity.

  1. Be uniquely you: What is the company’s identity? Who are you? What do you stand for? Are you being true to that? Have you been courageous with who you want to be and how you want to be different from your competitors?
  2. Balance work-life: What is the stress level at the company? What is the workload? Is work-life balance a value, and is it encouraged and supported? What about work and play while at work? Is the workplace also fun? What is the atmosphere like at work? Is everyone in back-to-back meetings, or is there room to breathe, take a break, or connect with others?
  3. Express yourself: How open, vulnerable, and honest are communications? Does the company value communication, both from management to staff and staff to management? Are there things left unsaid? Is it safe to speak out or speak up? Are employees seen, heard, and valued? What hasn’t been said that could be said?
  4. Connect: How are relationships at work? Positive or negative? Collaborative or competitive? What could you do to help employees connect, share, and work together better?
  5. Let go: What does the company focus on? Positives or negatives? What things can be let go of? What could the company do to bring more joy to the workplace?

Write your own obituary and eulogy

One more exercise that is powerful to help you with your direction is writing your own obituary and/or eulogy. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s really life changing.

For you personally, think about it this way: What would people know about you, say about you, and love about you? What would they say you were passionate about? What would they say you provided, gave, created, or helped with? What would make them laugh or cry with appreciation that they experienced with you? If you were leaving a personal legacy, what would it be?

If you are thinking about this for your company, consider if your company dissolved one day, what would your company’s obituary say (if there was such a thing)? If someone were to write or speak about it, what would they express? Who was the company? What did the company represent or stand for? What did it do or give? What did it accomplish? How did it help people like employees, customers, and the community?

Live like you were dying

This blog post isn’t meant to be morbid. It’s meant to be inspiring. It’s meant to help you create meaningful New Year’s resolutions for yourself and your company. It’s meant to wake you up to stop doing things just because you think you should, or to “keep up with the Joneses,” or to check boxes.

Life is short, and sometimes it’s taken from us sooner than we expected (our own life or a loved one’s). I’ll leave you with this one final question: How would you live differently if you knew this was your last year?

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