More than 20 years ago, after attending the funeral of a friend who had died of cancer at the young age of 42, a number of those at the service were inspired to write our own obituaries as a way of clarifying how we wanted to live the rest of our lives.
In a similar way, writing remarks for your own retirement party can be a powerful exercise for helping guide the choices you will make to shape your career.
I was struck by this while meeting recently with a young woman working as a private banker in New York who had come to me for advice about the best path towards becoming one day a senior executive at a financial services firm.
"Imagine your retirement party", I found myself telling her. "Imagine hearing your colleagues say what you most want them to say about you. Now... over the years to come, respond to professional opportunities and make career choices that will get you to a place where you one day deserve to have those things said about you."
I know that when I retire, I don't want anyone talking about the titles I held or how "successful" I was making money or advancing in the corporate hierarchy. Instead, I want them to talk about the values I embodied and brought to work every day. I want them to talk about my commitment to helping real people in the real world achieve their goals and solve their problems. I want them to talk about how I tried to make the businesses I worked for and the financial services industry as a whole a more consistently positive force for good in society. I want them to talk about how I helped make the communities where I lived and worked better places. And, that I had a wide sense of purpose: to leave the world a better place.
Looking back on 40 years of a career as a journalist, investment banker, political aide, and CEO of investment advisory, securities and wealth management firms, I can honestly say I've almost always made my career choices based on a "gut feel" for where I thought I could make a difference and where I thought I could have the biggest impact - inside the firm I worked for and in the world at large.
Focus on that, and career success is likely to come your way as a residual outcome of having kept your eye on the long-term prize -- becoming the kind of person you will be proud to hear honored at your own retirement party.