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Resume or Eulogy: Some Thoughts on the Rest of Our Lives

Many of us have spent the past 20, 30, 40 years even amassing accomplishments, going for the next promotion or rung on the success ladder, accumulating achievements and gaining recognition along the way. Most often, it was the path we started upon college graduation when we were off to “make our mark” in the world. We were building our resume.

Not a thing wrong with that but what now? We can most clearly view the last chapters of our careers rather than their introduction. Is it time to look at life differently, to take stock of who we truly are and who we might want to be? These are the questions David Brooks, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, asks in his essay “The Moral Bucket List.”

David Brooks breaks it down this way, that there are two sets of virtues – the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. “The resume virtues,” he writes, “are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral – whether you were kind, brave, honest, or faithful.” The problem, he says, is that our society seems to focus more and reward the resume virtues with much less attention payed to the eulogy ones.

In his own quest to become a better person, Brooks remembers people he has met who seem “deeply good,” people who have a “generosity of spirit” and “depth of character,” which he claims not to have yet achieved. What can we learn from people like this, he asks? He came up with a list – a moral bucket list – of what one should encounter on their journey “toward the richest possible inner life.” Here are a few of them:

The Humility Shift. This calls for a candid appraisal of your weaknesses and, no matter what they are, to face them and recognize them so that you emerge with “intense self-awareness” – a humility that is not focused on self but on others. It can make you strong in your weakest places.

The Dependency Leap. Here Brooks says that people “on the road to character” do not do it independently but through and with the help of others. It all stems from our most deeply held convictions. In times of struggle, what prompts us to do good? What is our basic philosophy of life? Do we understand and exhibit unconditional love?

The Call Within the Call. When do careers become callings? Brooks says, when they cause you to “live up to” and go beyond the calling of your career – a quest to approach the highest standards of your career and, sometimes, to do the most difficult because of a deeper moral sense to do so. Brooks suggests that we all, but especially young people, ask themselves where their talents can be best used to address the world’s deep needs, rather than simply “what do I want from life?”

This is not an easy journey – this search for “inner light,” for a “life of integrity.” Brooks calls it a “philosophy for stumblers” for those who don’t know all the answers, who are open to offer and receive help, who are not “hail fellows well met” but those who are sincere, who go far deeper than perfunctory greetings, who can routinely offer comfort and advice.

I have met people like this and am truly humbled by the depth of their humanity, their kindness, their sincere concern for the struggles and heartbreak of others. Always, always, I wonder if I could ever be that good, that selfless, that humane and charitable. Brooks gives us some guideposts and inspiration. He believes it is achievable for everyone.  

David Brooks’s essay, “The Moral Bucket List” is adapted from his book, The Road to Character.

Here is a link to his entire essay: http://nyti.ms/2b1sk2z

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