The Funeral Test

Unlikely test for making likely decisions

I get asked for advice often, which I’m definitely not qualified to give — and which I’m also terrible at following myself, but that’s a whole different story. Decision-making is all about framing, and I find that these two questions always do the trick:

  1. What’s the worst that can happen?
  2. When you’re on your deathbed, what will you regret most not doing?

It’s time to add another:

3. Which experience can help you be the person that you need to be to reach your full potential — to be the kind of person whom people will remember after you’re gone? (Somebody’s been watching too much “Six Feet Under,” huh…).

We face decisions every day. Should I date this person? Should I take this job? Should I write this blogpost? Should I travel to this place? Should I help this person?

Making decisions can be so daunting that we choose not to make them or take the safer bet. But what if we chose them based on how much it will change us, and on how much discomfort they will cause is? Because it’s only when we’re feeling discomfort that we can grow into the kind of person that can leave a powerful legacy.

These decisions are hard because they always mean a tradeoff. If you date this person, you have to break up with someone else. If you take this job, you have to leave the one you have. If you help someone, you won’t have time to do something else for yourself.

These decisions are also difficult because we are programmed to fear the unknown, and brain research shows that the fear of losing far exceeds the satisfaction of winning.

We are also programmed to fear the wrong outcome. Most of our educational systems emphasize the binary nature of outcomes — there’s always the right one and the wrong one. And if we don’t pick the right decision, that means we are picking the wrong one.

Stressful, huh?

Fear paralyzes us into inaction. We are so afraid of choosing the wrong thing we don’t choose anything at all, and by doing so, we miss out. We miss out not only on that opportunity, but also on preparing ourselves to be ready for all the other opportunities that come after.

BTW, choosing to not do anything differently is also a choice — and a good one at times! What I’m talking about is not the choice between your current state and some other state — rather, I’m talking about the default of not making the choice for the fear of being wrong.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that there isn’t such a thing as the wrong decision. There are just things that don’t work out. And when they don’t work out, you just move onto the next thing.

Moving to the next thing can be disheartening because it can feel like admitting failure. But it’s not. It’s not like you ever backtrack to the beginning and making the same decision over and over. You are different, and your choice is different the second time around. This next set of choices you make could be even cooler, but you’d never even get there if you don’t make a decision now. You will learn something new along the way, and whatever the experience is, you will be different at the end of it.

The only thing that I know for sure is one day I won’t have an opportunity to make any more choices. And my fear is not that I’ll make mistakes that I won’t be able to fix — it’s that none of it will have mattered. The one thing that scares me the most is that people won’t care enough to come to my funeral. Because really, it’s not about the things I did or didn’t do — it’s about the kind of person I had become as a result. And if I ever can feel myself becoming the kind of person whose funeral I wouldn’t go to, that always means change is in order. At my funeral, people won’t be thinking about this crappy blogpost or a bad choice I made — they will be remembering that I always followed my heart and inspired them.

When you think about it in these terms, things become pretty clear.


“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
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