I offer a few extra credit assignments in my undergraduate Introduction to Psychology class, including one that prompts the student to write his or her own obituary.
Students react in a variety of ways to this one – horrified, amused, bemused – but it’s a great way to think about your life before it’s too late. (Think Scrooge).
I urge the students to be creative and fabricate their tale as well, including their future accomplishments - a bucket list of sorts but without the pressure of imminent death - and to think about those left behind.
I want them to get perspective and think about how others will remember them.
One of our pastors recently related the story of Alfred Nobel:
Alfred Nobel became famous and successful as a chemist. He invented a handy product called dynamite. He envisioned that his explosive would be a boon to construction and mining – which it was. Although his discovery brought him wealth and fame, he was horrified to also see others use his invention extensively for warfare. Years later, Nobel picked up the newspaper and was shocked to read his own obituary. It seems that a relative of his had died, and the press confused the deceased with the famous Alfred Nobel. The obituary mentioned the usual things and gave Nobel credit for the invention of dynamite, which, it said, was used in bombs. Nothing much good was printed about Alfred Nobel, and this forced him to realize that for all his work and wealth, he had done little worthwhile. Thus, Nobel took all his wealth and set up a trust fund and a perpetual committee, which ensured that great achievements throughout history would be encouraged and marked by the Nobel Prize. (Lance Moore, Abingdon Preaching Annual 2004, p. 148)"
Our Pastor punctuated her sermon with a great statement in regard to this story. There is more power and purpose in a godly plan than in dynamite!
I shared this story with my son, who is now in the throes of puberty and asked him about his life to date. It was intriguing but it really got him thinking.
James Marcia (1994) presents four identity statuses that adolescents can go through on their way to establishing their identity.
Some of us may still be working on this even though sweet 16 is in the rear view mirror. These stages include: Identity Diffusion, Identity Moratorium, Identity Foreclosure and finally Identity achievement.
Marcia calls Identity Diffusion a sort of rudderless apathy in which there is no real commitment to, well, anything. In the moratorium stage, the individual delays committing to anything and may actually experiment for a while in regard to career or belief system.
Foreclosure implies a premature commitment to whatever someone’s parents may have invested or believed in. The individual becomes a conformist and remains closed to new and perhaps inviting experiences.
And finally, after a prolonged period, identity is achieved. The individual arrives at a real sense of self and purpose and has forward momentum.
Of course, this is after much consideration of all the stuff that life can either offer or thrust upon you. These individuals possess a stronger self-image and are generally more secure in their overall life experiences including relationships, motivation and life path.
This is a great way to challenge your young person to plan for the future and to make those amazing inroads for their life. Take account of where they are and get them thinking about the road ahead. There really is power in acquiring purpose. Wrap your eulogy around that!