I started Stephen Covey’s“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” about two months ago, and to date I still haven’t finished mulling over Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. I have resolved not to rush through this book and to pick up as much from it as I can; I already waited decades anyway before finally getting to read it.
One particular exercise, in the beginning of the chapter on Habit 2, got to me. I had to visualize my own funeral and do two things: (1) Imagine how family members, friends, colleagues and church mates/community members would speak about me and my life; and (2) make a list of what I would desire for these people to remember about me. Covey asks, “What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”
Seriously undertaking this visualization exercise, as the book says, causes one to touch some of his/her “deep, fundamental values.” Looking at the end can impact one’s entire perspective of his life. I believe it’s worth pasting here a whole chunk of what Covey says about Habit 2:
Although Habit 2 applies to many different circumstances and levels of life, the most fundamental application of “Begin with the End in Mind” is to begin today with the image, picture, or paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined. Each part of your life — today’s behavior, tomorrow’s behavior, next week’s behavior, next month’s behavior — can be examined in the context of the whole, of what really matters most to you. By keeping that end clearly in mind, you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole.
It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy — very busy — without being very effective. People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of things they suddenly realize were far more valuable to them. People from every walk of life — doctors, academicians, actors, politicians, business professionals, athletes, and plumbers — often struggle to achieve a higher income, more recognition or a certain degree of professional competence, only to find that their drive to achieve their goal blinded them to the things that really mattered most and now are gone.
After a long, hard look at my life and at the people in it, a dialogue with my God and a vision of the people I am yet to encounter and the circumstances that are still up ahead, I came up with this list of…I don’t know exactly what to call these, um, things — actions? accomplishments? elements of my life witness? — that I am praying will have been realized before I say farewell to this world:
I wrote the list down on a nice sheet of stationery, posted the sheet on my cubicle wall. I refer to it once in a while, as a reminder of what my life’s bottomlines are. These days when I catch myself dwelling on the mundane, “The List” convicts me and pulls my heart and my mind back to the things that really matter.
I just pray that I don’t ever lose sight of this end.