13 years after Steve Jobs said his mortality was a crucial tool for decision-making, people are writing their own eulogies as a career exercise

Steve Jobs

  • Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivered a memorable speech in 2005 about his struggle with cancer and facing his own mortality.
  • Thirteen years later, business executives are trying to attain similar clarity by writing their own eulogies.
  • Some leadership coaches say writing your own eulogy can help you realize what kind of person you want to be and what changes you need to make.

In 2005, Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivered a memorable commencement speech to graduates of Stanford University.

In the 14-minute speech, Jobs detailed his battle with pancreatic cancer and explained how facing his own mortality helped him recognize what was important in life.

"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life," said Jobs, who succumbed to his illness in 2011.

"Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

Thirteen years after Jobs delivered that speech, business executives are finding a way to reach a similar epiphany: by writing their own eulogies. According to Fast Company, the exercise is becoming increasingly common in the business world, both in the US and in China.

The reasoning behind the exercise is that by imagining what might be said about you at your funeral, you’ll gain clarity on what kind of person you want to be and what changes you’ll need to make to achieve that.

The practice dates back decades, and has been recommended by therapists, psychologists, and business coaches.

"When we take the time to write our eulogies, it creates this magnetic pull power that draws us forward," executive coach Daniel Harkavy told Fast Company. "Our priorities and our vision for where we want to be as leaders and how we’ll get there come into sharp focus. This clarity enables us to make the best decisions, get up out of our comfortable patterns, create new habits, and start moving us toward a better future."

Read more: Obituary writers reveal the surprising things they learn by writing about the dead

Science seems to support the benefits of the eulogy technique, too. A 2012 study from the University of Missouri found that thinking about death can lead to positive changes in a person such as exercising, quitting smoking, and using sunscreen. It also found that thoughts of mortality "can lead to decreased militaristic attitudes, better health decisions, increased altruism and helpfulness, and reduced divorce rates."

Another paper from 2015 found that when people were reminded of death, it made them less likely to waste money in the present.

The research suggests why people stand to benefit from writing their own eulogies, and it’s something Jobs alluded to in his famous speech:

"Death is very likely the single best invention of life," Jobs said. "It is life’s change agent."

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