If you have ever read Stephen Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, then you are familiar with the funeral exercise. In this exercise, Covey asks us, the readers, to close our eyes and imagine our own funeral. What would we want others to say about us and the lives we lived? This is a truly effective exercise, but I think we can put a slightly different twist on it.
His point is to get the reader to imagine what they want the end of their life to look like so that they can map out a path to that end. Like I said, it is a powerful exercise if done well. At the same time, maybe looking that far into the future is a little difficult for some of us. Maybe it can even give us the feeling that we have more time than we might actually have, resulting in a less urgent call to action.
In an effort to take smaller bites to eat this elephant and to turn up the heat on ourselves, I would propose we look at a picture five years from now. To do this, I want you to imagine that you have just received a letter in the mail. The handwriting on the envelope looks familiar to you, but you cannot place it until you open and begin reading the letter inside.
The handwriting is actually your own, because the letter is from you - five years from now! Somehow, even without the aid of a DeLorean or a flux capacitor, your future self has written to you about the status of your current life and how you need to start working right now to correct it!
As you read over it several times, you are blown away. You have never really given much thought to what your life will look like in the future. Now that you read this letter from yourself, you realize that a lot can happen in that short period of time. In other areas, you recognize that very little will change unless you get intentional to do something about it!
I think a real example of this kind of letter could be very powerful in the hands of someone determined to make necessary changes in their lives. However, since I have no idea what your letter might look like or include, I will have to share with you what mine might say.
As you read this excerpt from what I think my own letter might look like, I want you to notice the various areas of my life (Covey’s “roles”) that I address. While I do not touch on every “role” in this excerpt, it is important that you do when you complete this exercise on your own. You should work through every role you play so that no part of your life is overlooked.
March 15, 2019
Did you notice the date above? Bet you are shocked to receive this letter, huh? Especially since it is from me (you)! I wish I could take the time to explain the science involved in me getting this letter to you right now. Unfortunately, I simply do not have the time or ability to do so. You are simply going to have to trust that this really is from me (you) and I am writing it five years into your future (my present).
I hope you will also forgive my lack of pleasantries and chit-chat. I would love to go into detail about a number of areas in our life, but I am afraid that would only serve to dilute the urgency involved in the rest of what I have to tell you. Plus, knowing you as well as I do, you might use some of what I tell you to take actions that could interrupt the space-time continuum!
Now that I have your attention, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. You need help! No kidding! You and I have some serious problems in our life. Yours are in the future, but unfortunately are affecting me right now! Fortunately, there is nothing going on right now (for me) that you cannot change dramatically for the better with some action on your part.
The good news is that you are totally and completely capable of making these changes right now. No, I don’t mean you can completely correct the future problems right now. Nor do I mean you can totally change yourself for the better overnight.
What I mean is that right now, when and where you are currently, you are fully capable of doing everything I will ask you to do. I will not ask you to do anything like adding four inches to your height or become fluent in Mandarin Chinese and three other languages over the next five years.
All you need to do is change some small habits and add or eliminate some others. I promise that none of this will be rocket science or ask anything of you that is unreasonable. Are you game? Of course you are…I already know all that you are thinking!
Let’s start with the most important - your relationship with God. I will not beat around the bush here. You think you have faced challenges up to this point in your life, but I promise tougher ones are coming. Without a much stronger relationship with Him, you will struggle more than ever.
Not only that, but I think even more importantly is the depth of relationship with God that you are missing. There is so much more fulfillment available to you if you will start spending more time with Him on a daily basis. You know that book you are reading that talks about getting to a conversational relationship with God? Apply it! You need it more than you know!
Specifically, you need to increase your morning prayer time and Bible study in the mornings. You need to increase the importance you place on memorizing Scripture, because there will be many days you will be glad you can call it to mind for the peace you will need. There are other things you can do in this area, but you already know that. Just focus harder on the habits I mentioned above!
The next problem area is your marriage and your family. I know you want me to get to the details about your work, but that is part of your problem. You are too focused on what you think God wants you to do through your job, and you are missing some significant problem indicators in your family.
I will tell you that you are not completely failing here. You are not divorced in five years and none of your children are in jail.
However, don’t get puffed up, because the next five years after that could look very different if you do not change now.
Your wife loves you and still wants to spend time with you, but since all of your kids have headed off to college last year, you two don’t have anything you like to do together. She wants attention from you, but it seems you two are not seeing eye to eye. You have grown apart.
Your kids are another story. Because you were so determined to “keep them in line” rather than just spending time with them, they are not as interested in being with you now. In fact, they only come home from college when absolutely necessary. They don’t ask you for money very often, but that is only because it would mean more interaction with you.
They don’t hate you at all, but they are just more…detached? There is no real relationship between you and them. They have not strayed from the church necessarily, but they are certainly not engaged there. Now that you are not “making” them go, they seldom do. Find a way to engage them spiritually. Mission trip, volunteering, don’t just speak the word to them, show them the word now.
Fortunately, they are not too far gone yet. Seriously, all you need to do with them AND with your wife is to reallocate your resources. You know what that means, right? Spend time with them. Take some time from work and invest it in them. The business will not go away if you do, but they might if you don’t!
You don’t have to quit your job or take 5 weeks of vacation. You only need to make some minor, but consistent changes to your schedule. When you do, be intentional about how you are investing the time. Focus on what they enjoy…you will find that you will enjoy it as well.
Do it now! Don’t wait until…you hire the COO…or finish the new facility…or make the change in the accounting system…or any other delay you can find. Start today. You can solve both of these issues (marriage and family) with the same solution, and it is so cheap and easy, you are an idiot if you don’t do it!
Now, let’s move on to your work...
I will tell you honestly, I got emotional as I put this together. If you are doing it right and taking a brutally honest look at your life, the same will likely happen to you.
Folks, as I stated in the letter, there is nothing our future selves would ask of us that is impossible for us to accomplish. The changes we need to make in order for us to be the person we want to be in five years are not that difficult. They simply require dedication and commitment on our part. We must fix our eyes on the prize and run the race laid out for us.
If we will do this, I am sure we will be amazed at what God will add to the picture. His part is much more fantastic than ours! Together, the results will be worthy of hearing, “Well done.”
"There is nothing our future selves would ask of us that is impossible for us to accomplish.” Chris Patton
By: Chris Patton
Chris Patton is President of the Mike Patton Auto Family in LaGrange, Georgia. Along with his brother (and partner) Brian, Chris is a third-generation owner and grew up working in every department in the business, beginning at the age of 10. Chris also writes a blog called Christian Faith At Work (ChristianFaithAtWork.com). He is writing it to business owners and leaders who are trying to figure out how to integrate their Christian faith into their businesses. Chris and his wife Kim live in LaGrange, GA with their three children.Read More Articles by Chris Patton