If I Die Tomorrow

I sometimes pose the following scenario to new coaching clients as a way to get to know them: 

"You're the guest of honor at a large gathering. Friends, family, colleagues, former clients gather to pay tribute and share their memories of you. What would they say?"

This question isn't comfortable. It forces the client to look at the life she's leading now and how that's different from the life she wants to lead. Maybe it isn't much different. But when it is, she and I have another interesting opening for our work together.

Maybe she wants people to say that she helped strangers. Or mentored young women. Or who was a good mother or active in her church. That she brought people together and that she took a risk once and asked the person in line next to her if they were okay. That she's someone who sent prayers and white light to people in trouble. Someone who shared a struggle in hopes it would help the listener. That she was brave.

Everyone knew Diana was a princess but we remember her as someone who was kind to people she met and that she dedicated her to time to causes bigger than she was. She learned sign language for her work with the British Deaf Association, had contact with leprosy patients and helped de-stigmatize AIDS at the height of its crisis. Her actions and words more than her crown continue to tell her story almost 20 years later.

Everyone knew Diana was a princess but we remember her as someone who was kind to people she met and that she dedicated her to time to causes bigger than she was. She learned sign language for her work with the British Deaf Association, had contact with leprosy patients and helped de-stigmatize AIDS at the height of its crisis. Her actions and words more than her crown continue to tell her story almost 20 years later.

What you do and how you talk about yourself gives those friends, family, colleagues the story that they will share about you. Whether it is at your funeral, your IPO or when someone introduces you to a mutual friend. Changing the action and the talk are both simple pieces the client and I work on together to close the difference between the life she leads and the one she wants to. Let's break that down a bit:

Take action in ways that show people who you are. Let us know hear how you stand up for someone else or chime in to offer support on a Facebook conversation. Drop off a meal for a new mom and, if you can manage, ask some of her friends to do the same. Instead of "leaning in" at work, donate some time to something bigger than yourself or and your family. Make sure it feeds your heart or it's not worth your time.

Talk about what you want people to know about you. My Facebook posts, Tweets and in-person conversations often include mentions of abuse. It's important to me that people know both what I do and what I am passionate about. And it's also become important to me that people know that I am a survivor too. So, when appropriate that also gets tossed into the conversation. All the better for them to know I'm a source of support to them or someone else they know.

It's never too late to be what you might have been, said George Eliot. And she knew. A lover of reading and writing, she published her first novel, Adam Bede, when she was almost 40. But she wrote all her life and talked about herself as a writer. When you show us what you believe in and talk about who you are, you give us your story. With your story, we can better describe you, refer out to you, even learn to love you. You help us understand you beyond the limited connotations of "mom" or "baker", "website designer" and "professor".

So I'll ask you this: You're the guest of honor at a large gathering. Friends, family, colleagues, former clients are all gathered to pay tribute and share their memories of you. What would they say?