It was the first semester of my senior year in college at Eastern Illinois University. One of my classes that semester was Foundations of Entrepreneurship. This is a story that will stick with me for the rest of my life:
It was my first day of class and I didn’t know many of the other students in my class. My teacher paired us up with strangers and began passing around a Wal-mart sack. I watched as each group pulled out a newspaper clipping.
When the old sack finally came to my group, my partner pulled out a clipping and set it before us.
It was an obituary.
A weird feeling settled in my stomach as I realized all the newspaper clippings for the 25 other groups were obituaries too. “Why is he having us read these?” I wondered.
After telling everyone to read the obituaries in front of them, he asked what we discovered about the person. Random students answered: name, age, existing family, their job, their character, what they accomplished, etc.
He then asked what wasn’t in the obituary. We were all stumped.
“Their net worth. How much they had in the bank,” my professor said.
You could hear a pin drop.
He went on to say this: “Money is important, but it’s not everything. If you don’t have your priorities straight, what do you think that piece of paper will say about you one day? The relationships you have on this earth mean everything and what you make or how much you are worth means nothing in the end. I want you all to strive for true happiness. Not money.”
Chills covered my arms as I realized how much I needed to hear that. I will never forget that day or this professor.
Now, a few years later, I think back to that late August day where my view of life and money were challenged. Being in the work force, having ambition, and big dreams, obviously I think about money. A lot. I think about how I don’t have enough of it, what I would buy/have if I had more of it, and how to grow/manage my wealth.
Money in America is power. Money everywhere is power. Our culture tells us we need the biggest house, nicest car, and perfect clothes. But what about our relationships? Why aren’t we talking about this more? Why don’t we have a societal bar raised for how we treat each other?
When I get wrapped up in the idea of making money, being successful, and materialistic things I remind myself that I’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch. When we inevitably die (harsh, but true), what we have in our banks and in our closets won’t matter. Our relationships will. How we treated each other will. What we did to make this world a better place will.
What will your obituary say about the life you lived?