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The Right Kind of Virtues

“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” — David Brooks, “The Moral Bucket List” The New York Times

Do you ever wonder, what people say about us when we pass? Isn’t it directly related to how much we lean into the right virtue? We might work hard all of our life, focused and disciplined, and successful by most any measure of that word, and still not live a life that is fulfilling and meaningful to others.

Is striving to be virtuous about resume building or character building? Are we building a list of career highlights and an office in the C-suite or are we building a moral foundation that others will point to as a model for living? Just what do we want to be remembered for anyway? A life of meaning and purpose is a life of service to others.

How is someone developed in such a way that they’re a contributor and builder instead of a corrosive sapper of joy and trust? It begins with flipping attention from ego to empathy. Easier said than done in a world where the self is so celebrated, but absolutely essential to growing into a person who is reliable, trustworthy and willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work.

There is a recipe for building a strong character. It begins with the way we’re raised and the social network around us. In the way others perceive the world and how they in turn influence how we perceive it. Stir in a proper informal education: being well-traveled and worldly, and well-read and articulate surely help build empathy and understanding. Developing strong listening skills and the inclination and moral courage to rise to the moment when nobody else will.

When someday we pass from this world, what do we want people to say about us? Will anyone remember the extra work we put in to finish that project, or will the memory be about being fully present for our children and significant other at the most important events in their lives? Will we be remembered as being a good friend or sibling, a great neighbor who looked out for others, or as that person who was never really there when it really mattered?

A life of service to others isn’t always easy, but it matters a great deal. These moments add up, and will create a ripple that will be felt by others. The person with the most toys in the end doesn’t win, they’ve simply gathered a bunch of stuff that will end up in an estate plan for someone else. Isn’t the real goal to have our lives resonate for those around us, that we’ll be deeply missed when our time comes to an end?

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