Begin With the End in Mind

February 22, 2013

The late Stephen R. Covey authored a wonderful book titled, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I read the book many years ago and gleaned much from its pages. Not too long ago, I attended a 6-month course titled, Leadership in Life Institute. Dr. Covey’s book was slated as part of the materials. 20 years had passed since I had first read his book so I welcomed the review. Back then I was a young father and now my two oldest are married and pursuing their own careers. My third son is serving a two-year mission in Guatemala and my youngest is ready to graduate from high school. Times have changed…

The last half of the course focused on entrepreneurial leadership. The assignment was to write our own business plan. This would be easy, I thought. Early in my career as a business consultant, I collaborated on many business plans for clients in the healthcare industry and later found myself teaching business planning principles in many venues. Years later in a management role, I helped dozens of agents not only develop their own business plans, but coached and mentored them toward attainment.

As the instructor was laying out the assignment, a unique component in the syllabus caught my eye. A personal eulogy was to be our first step in completing our individual plans. Additionally, we were to read our eulogy in front of the group at our next class, as if at our own memorial service. I must say I was taken back having never attempted such an assignment. We were also asked to write the speech from the perspective of who would be delivering it. I immediately thought of my oldest son Adam, who I thought would likely give the address at my funeral.

The rest of that day’s 8-hour session we talked about Dr. Covey’s second habit, “Begin with the end in mind.” His chapter starts with an assignment to mentally attend your own funeral. He states, “In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there. As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today!”

I challenge each of you to visualize for yourself this experience. Who will speak? What would you like them to say about you? What kind of husband, wife, father or mother would you like the words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter, aunt or uncle? What kind of friend? What kind of business associate? What character would you like them to have observed in you? What difference would you like to have made in their lives?

Completing this assignment was an emotional one for me. My eyes welled with tears as I delivered the speech at our next session. Covey says, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”

As I engage with seniors every day, I am reminded that our financial decisions touch every part of our earthly experience. Our feelings, hopes, desires and aspirations often entail a financial component. In this effort, if we don’t have a clear sense of where we are going, the risks we face or the potential pitfalls along the way, we will not make the best decisions.

Of course none of us has a crystal ball, but projecting ourselves into the future is an essential element to sound decision-making. As we better consider the longer-term impact of our decisions and take action, we will feel an added measure of financial peace. Starting with the end in mind in our financial lives is certainly wise counsel.