One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, the man who had spent his life amassing a fortune from the manufacture and sale of weapons, awoke to read his own obituary.
The obituary was printed as a result of a simple journalistic error. Alfred’s brother had died, and a French reporter carelessly reported the death of the wrong brother. Any man would be disturbed under the circumstances, but to Alfred the shock was overwhelming because he saw himself as the world saw him – “the dynamite King (the weapon maker),” the great industrialist who had made an immense fortune from explosives.
It went on to say:
“Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
This – as far as the general public was concerned – was the entire purpose of his life (so said the obituary). None of his true intentions – to break down the barriers that separated men and ideas – were recognized or given serious consideration.
He was quite simply in the eyes of the public a merchant of death, and for that alone he would be remembered…
As he read his obituary with shocking horror, he resolved to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. This could be done through the disposition of his fortune. His last will and testament would be the expression of his life’s ideas. And the result was the most valued of prizes given to this day to those who have done most for the cause of world peace – the Nobel Peace Prize.
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Today, Nobel is not remembered as the merchant of death, but as the creator of the Nobel Prizes, and, consequently, as a great humanitarian. Having read his obituary while he was still alive gave him the opportunity to change his legacy.
That caught my eye because I at times wonder how it would read if my obituary suddenly appeared. What would it say? Would it read the way I want it to read?
And I ask you to entertain that frightful thought for a moment. Although it sounds a bit morbid, writing your own obituary—or asking a friend or a family member to do it for you—can be an excellent wake-up call that can help you live a purpose-driven life.