Resumé virtues vs. eulogy virtues

Have you noticed that when people die, their eulogies celebrate the person very differently from the way we define success in our everyday life? It’s as though, at the end, we realise what really matters. Kindness, contribution to others, the quality of connection to others. Love. Wisdom. Joy. Fun.

But much of our daily lives are spent in pursuit of what we might call resumé virtues – achievements, popularity, accolades, job titles, material possessions, impressive salaries and so on. While these things are great goals to have, if we want to find more meaning in our lives, research shows we should pursue our focus on ‘eulogy virtues’ as well.

In this episode of Mentally Stronger, I explore the difference between resumé and eulogy virtues, and how the latter can help us live a life of greater meaning.

What are resumé and eulogy virtues?

A couple of years ago, the writer David Brooks wrote a very popular New York Times article about these different sets of virtues. He said that resumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. 

Our everyday lives tend to be focused on resumé virtues, which are external measures of success that our culture promotes. They’re often related to our job titles, achievements, salaries, social standing or education.

If we were to describe someone with resumé virtues, it would look something like this…

  • They graduated from a prestigious school with a high-distinction degree
  • They held a prestigious job at (X company)
  • They were an extremely hard worker
  • They achieved X award/medal
  • They successfully launched and grew a company before selling it for millions of dollars

These are all great achievements, but they don’t describe a person entirely. 

Eulogy virtues are the things that are spoken about at funerals. Instead of focusing on external successes, jobs, and educational achievements, eulogy virtues sound like…

  • They were a loving partner/parent/friend
  • They always went out of their way to help others
  • They were kind, courageous, compassionate, adventurous, honest, wise
  • They sacrificed a promotion to spend more time with family
  • They consistently put the interests of staff above their own interests
  • They cared deeply about a particular cause and volunteered time

These eulogy virtues are more closely tied to the person behind the material achievements. 

Research shows why we shouldn’t overlook our eulogy virtues

Eulogy virtues focus on living with virtue, being our best selves and aiming to be of benefit to others, rather than focusing solely on material success and individual achievement. 

Unlike resumé virtues, those who have cultivated eulogy virtues are able to engage in life with a greater sense of purpose, wisdom, courage and integrity. This, in turn, positively impacts those around them in a deep way. 

Research from Tim Kasser and Martin Seligman (both of whom have done extensive research into the causes of true human fulfilment) shows that instead of solely focusing on external achievements and material success, we should focus on developing meaning and purpose in our lives. 

This will help us find true, deep, and lasting fulfilment. 

Why don’t more of us focus on eulogy virtues?

Here’s the thing. It’s easy to let ourselves get consumed by work. It’s easy to forget the things and the people that really matter as we rush through our days. We can get stuck in a cycle of pursuing our resumé goals – so much so that we lose touch with our eulogy virtues.

It’s easy to miss our lives even while we’re living them – not realising until it’s way too late.

But if we work on cultivating our eulogy virtues, we will start to live a more intentional, rich and meaningful life.

How to cultivate your eulogy virtues 

There are three steps you can take today to start living your eulogy virtues.

1. Define your core values

Write down your top five personal values. Perhaps they include kindness, wisdom, playfulness, loyalty, adventure or generosity. Or they may be compassion, grit, love or faith. 

Whatever your values are, define them, keep them close and practice embodying them as best you can in daily life. Live the virtues now that you want to be remembered for in the end.

2. Focus on giving 

Eulogy virtues are not just an internal thing. The way we embody them also impacts others. So, think about how you can live your own values and use your strengths and talents to create value for others.

3. Get clear on the things that truly matter 

Is it your family, your closest relationships and volunteering, your health, your community, spirituality or fighting for a cause that you care about most?

Make sure you know the things that matter most and be sure to make them a priority in your life.

There’s nothing wrong with resumé virtues 

One final note to finish off here. Resumé virtues aren’t bad or wrong in any way. It can be wonderful to succeed, pursue excellence, build a business or earn promotions. 

The thing to look out for is when we get so caught up in them that we lose sight of the things that matter – and as a result, lose a sense of fulfilment, meaning and purpose in our lives.

So, the invitation for this week is to cultivate your eulogy virtues and see how they affect the quality of your life both within and without. 

Wishing you all the best with this practice. Take care and stay strong.

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