In 1888, Alfred Nobel had the most shocking experience of his life.
He read his own obituary.
Apparently, Alfred’s brother, Ludwig, was the one who had died, but a French newspaper mistakenly thought it was Alfred and published his obituary instead. A prominent armaments manufacturer, Alfred had amassed a fortune after he invented dynamite. However, he was shocked to read that, in describing his life, the newspaper named Alfred the “merchant of death” in attributing the destruction and dismemberment of hundreds of thousands of men to his invention.
After reading his own obituary, Alfred was stunned into action at the thought of the horrific legacy he would one day leave behind. Resolving to, in essence, rewrite his life story, he decided to leave the majority of his considerable fortune to create what became known as the Nobel Prizes, awards for those who “confer the greatest benefit on mankind,” as stated in his will. Today, the Nobel Prizes are the highest honor that can be attained in literature, medicine, science, chemistry, and, the most famous of all Nobel Prizes, peace.
In retrospect, Nobel’s unpleasant experience reading his own obituary turned out to be the greatest blessing of his life, propelling him to action and creating a legacy that, 128 years later, continues to challenge and inspire generations of great minds.
Think about that: Consider how this unfortunate mistake by a newspaper turned into an amazing blessing.
Now think about yourself: If you could write your own highlight reel for your life, where would you begin? What would you emphasize? How would you envision the rest of your life in terms of meaningful accomplishment?
Months ago, I ran across an excellent podcast episode on legacy by author and marketing expert Lewis Howes called The School of Greatness. He proposed asking yourself three provocative questions in considering your own legacy:
1) What am I creating with my life? What am I currently creating? What do I want to create? Are they aligned? If not, why not?
2) Who am I impacting by my way of being and how am I impacting them? As Howes asserted in his podcast, if your life’s vision doesn’t go beyond you, you’re living a shallow life. Look at most of history’s greatest people and you’ll notice that their work is like fertile seeds planted into the lives of countless others, continuing to bear fruit generations after they left the earth.
3) How will the world be different because I was here? If you are perfectly happy with maintaining the status quo in your life, chances are you won’t leave much of a legacy. But what if you could identify a noble cause that energized you–something bigger than yourself that inspired you to rely on God, work closely with others and require more of yourself than you imagined?
I love questions like these because they push you to examine your deepest assumptions about your life. And as you prepare to celebrate the upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend, I encourage you to take some time to think these through. Chances are, none of us will ever get the chance to read our own obituary in the local paper, but we all have the chance to, like Alfred Nobel, ensure that we leave something of value behind when we’re gone.