Begin with the End in Mind is Habit 2 in Stephen R. Covey‘s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. About Habit 2 he wrote: “All things are created twice – first mentally, second physically. Individuals, families, teams, and organizations shape their own future by creating a mental vision and purpose for any project. They don’t just live day to day without a clear purpose in mind. They mentally identify and commit themselves to the principles, values, relationships, and purposes that matter most to them. A mission statement is the highest form of mental creation for an individual, a family, or an organization. It is the primary decision because it governs all other decisions. Creating a culture behind a shared mission, vision, and values is the essence of leadership.”
Habit 2 is my favorite because it reminds me of a course I took in graduate school entitled Death and Dying. During the course, my classmates and I participated in a fantastic exercise, which was to write our own obituaries. In my obituary, I celebrated my life’s achievements. I didn’t think about when I would die or how it would happen. I wrote about my family and friends who had survived me. I wrote about reaching my ultimate professional goal which, at the time, was to become the director of a career center at a small liberal arts college. What I liked best about my obituary was the part about my personal interests and how this would provide a space for my final celebration. My obituary included the location where I would be waked, however, the location was a bit nontraditional for my Catholic upbringing. I chose to invite friends and family to honor my passing at a local gallery, where they would be surrounded by my artwork, specifically, my photographs. One of my greatest achievements was that I was a photographer and had been able to exhibit my work. I closed my obituary with a common request: in lieu of flowers, please send donations to the charitable organization of my choice.
Can you understand how my obituary, Covey’s Habit 2, and career development are linked? I don’t mean to get all existential here, but for me, there is more to career counseling than writing resumes and preparing for interviews. In fact, I have dedicated my life to helping students figure out theirs.
An obituary is a celebration of one’s life. During the class we also learned about the various rituals that people practice when someone dies. We looked at the role of a funeral home director, and we learned that some people in the field believe that their work is as much about grief counseling as it is event planning. They help you celebrate your loved one’s life by creating a space where that person and their achievements can be honored. It’s a critical role that funeral home directors play.
What’s the more important question: ’who do you want to be like?’ or ‘what is your legacy?’ Your answer will change over time, but its important to keep asking. Your achievements will be personal as well as academic and professional, as Covey underscores the importance of individuals and families as well as vision and values in the making of oneself.
Your personal brand is not just about you in the present moment, it is about anticipating who you will become. Covey writes that “a mission statement is the highest form of creation.” You can take control of what you want your life to look like. If you have the courage and the will, take a moment to write your obituary, or a mission statement, in which you celebrate your mission in life and the goals you have achieved.
Nicole Anderson is an Assistant Director/Career Counselor for Tufts University Career Services. With fourteen years of experience in college career services, Nicole’s expertise includes career counseling undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from liberal arts, science, engineering, business, and education.