A few years ago, David Brooks wrote an eloquent piece, The Moral Bucket List, in which he made the case that there are resume virtues and eulogy virtues; the former are skills you sell, while the latter are those that your family, friends and colleagues celebrate at your funeral.
Few of us want to be praised at our funeral as a "darn good product manager," but most of us lead our lives as though that outcome would be good enough.
My headline may be a bit inaccurate. The question isn't what will others say at your funeral? It's...
Where should I focus my efforts, for all my remaining days?
David's piece outlined six ways that some make the leap to eulogy virtues. In truth, all seemed a bit intimidating to me. It occurred to me that I could share a simpler formula for acquiring eulogy virtues. I didn't invent it, but rather pieced it together from the work of others.
1.) Growth: You start by recognizing what Carol Dweck wrote about in Mindset, which is that people with a growth mindset tend to outperform those with a fixed mindset. That is, if you think your abilities are fixed, you won’t do as well as people who believe that with enough effort, they can expand their capabilities.
But it's not enough to simply understand this. Doing so won't change the quality of your life.
You have to.. make growth your #1 goal, in both your career and personal life.
To be clear, if you embrace this mindset, your number one goal will no longer be "become a CEO" or "take my startup public." It will be growth as a long-term, unrelenting goal.
Once you adopt this mindset, you will never be content to plateau.
2.) Grit: Next, you apply grit behind your long-term goal of growth.
As University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor Angela Duckworth explains, grit is “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”
Duckworth, like Dweck, believes that effort is more important than talent. Her research suggests that the longer the time period you consider, the greater the advantage of effort over talent.
For example, if you are betting on a impromptu race between two teenagers on a football field, bet on talent. But if you are betting on which teenager will have the most rewarding life, bet on effort.
3.) Giving: Focus on the needs of other people, not just on your own needs. As Adam Grant - also at UPenn - pointed out in Give and Take, the most successful professionals in the world have a giving mindset; they are primarily focused on the needs of others.
A giving mindset brings purpose to your life. It gives your life a massive nudge in the direction of eulogy virtues. It is what transforms a great career into a stellar life.
I'd argue that a giving mindset is both altruistic and selfish. On the one hand, it vastly increases the odds that you will help others and make our world a significantly better place. On the other, helping others has a way of coming back your way with numerous personal and career benefits. I can't fully explain how this works, but have experienced firsthand that this is true.