Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.- Robert Louis Stevenson
Tuesday, May 11th, 2021 was a great day. I was honored to be selected as one of the TEDxDes Moines speakers. The theme was “Through a Different Lens” so every talk integrated looking at an idea from a different perspective. The outstanding musical acts and artists also demonstrated in creative ways how to see life differently.
I learned so much from everyone involved. Each speaker was provided a coach ( 3-30 minute sessions) from a local agency that coaches CEOs, leaders at all levels, and speakers of all kinds. This was a gift! But the friendships I developed among this team of 12 were even more valuable. While the talks were only 12 minutes, that is a long time when you are the person on the spot.
Since the messages were so powerful, I wanted to briefly share what I learned.
- Diana Kautzky: Educated us on the deaf community. Her first language was sign language because her parents were both deaf. Her messages were reinforced in the recent movie Sound of Metal. In fact, Diana knows Paul Raci who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. And his brother works for Diana’s business.
- Efrem Jackson: Talked about how to address wealth inequality. Black people tend to be unbanked or underbanked which means they don’t have the financial connections to home mortgages. Efrem helps educate people make connections to reduce the gap in wealth.
- Triniti Krauss: Told how to have healthy political conversations. Triniti will be a senior at Simpson College, but she has been in debate for years. Harvard hired her as a debate coach this summer. Her talked educated us on the value of listening to both sides of the political debate.
- Becky Naderman: Shared what she learned from having a friend in prison. Becky made a friend with a prisoner who has been incarcerated for years and for years to come because of a crime for which he maintains his innocence. She shared all that she has learned from him that resulted in a book the two of them wrote together.
- Seth Watkins: Explained how we need to change farming to be healthier for us and the land. After having two children with disabilities, Seth was determined to use organic farming methods. While Seth can’t prove the connection between the disabilities and chemicals used, Seth has concluded organic farming is better for people, animals, and the land.
- Abena Imhotep: Described how “Iowa Nice” may not be so nice. Abena talked about what it feels like to be in the margins of life. When we think we are being nice, we may not be nice at all. She shared specific actions we need to take to open the road and make it safe for all people.
- Jack Clarke: Showed how he had overcome obstacles in order to live life to its fullest. Jack experienced a serious infection as a young boy which caused him to have several strokes and too many surgeries to mention at a young age. Doctors said he would not live past 10. He would not walk or talk. Jack walked on stage and told us all about it.
- Scott Bruxvoort: Educated us on the damages of toxic masculinity. Most men are raised to be tough, play sports, compete and be aggressive. Scott explained how trying to be masculine led him down a dark path. When he saw the light, it changed his life and his story changed those of us who heard it.
- Sara Maniscalco Robinson: Shared the lessons learned from interviewing veterans. Since I am writing a book on legacy, Sara’s talk resonated with me. She interviews veterans to make sure their stories live on into the future. This is all about preserving their legacy.
- Julie Larson: Described the disadvantages of toxic positivity. Julie explained how life includes both ups and downs and always trying to be positive does not always help or heal. Denial does not help. When we are honest and authentic with what we are feeling, then we can address it and move on in a healthy way.
- Lee Towe: Explained how to develop a grower mindset. Based on Lee’s work experience, he described how some people are grabbers–out for themselves–and others are growers–they want to grow the pie because they have a mindset of abundance.
My talk was titled “Embrace Death: Find Meaning in Life.” One of the themes that emerged when I was doing research for Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts was that I should teach students and leaders about death, dying, and grief. I started my research about 2008 and this was the financial crisis. At first, I did not understand what this had to do with leadership. But these experts explained that industries were dying, companies were disappearing, and jobs were evaporating and people were experiencing a lot of loss and grief. And these losses are “mini-deaths.”
Fast forward to the pandemic and the same thing is happening except now death is up close and personal. Research says 1 out of 5 of us have lost someone we love to COVID. Many of us are thinking more about death and the meaning of life when we are receiving death counts on a daily basis by country, by state, by county, and by city.
So I explained how I have been teaching about death, dying, and grief since 2008. David Brooks in his book The Road to Character talks about resume virtues versus eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are focused on doing —those things we do that we put on our resume. Eulogy virtues are focused on being —our character and who we are. School systems, workplaces, and society tend to reward resume virtues.
But I want to teach eulogy virtues so I created –The Eulogy Assignment. I have students write their own eulogy. There are no rules except that it is mandatory and they know they have to share it with the class at the end of the course. No right or wrong. It is not graded. They can write it in the first person or third. They can write is as if they die tomorrow or live to be 85 and beyond.
The purpose of the exercise is to have them focus on how they want to be remembered. And then ask themselves, “Am I living in the way that I want to be remembered?” It is not a morbid exercise because the sooner we all figure this out –the better.
How do you want to be remembered?
Are you living a life worth remembering?
Only you know the answers to these questions.
It is not too late to make changes.