Taking Stock of Our Lives

Hearing from readers is one of the great joys of writing. Each of you is journeying through The Well-Lived Life on your own path, following relevant threads of thought and arriving at different insights. It’s a delight to get your trip reports. 

One theme is the ways people are taking stock of their lives. Here are some techniques: 

  • Imagine your life ending abruptly– right now. This is not intended to be grim. My first thought would be: I’m so glad I drank that bottle of expensive wine instead of saving it for a special occasion. And why did I spend so much time flossing? But then we turn to questions that remind us of the impact we’re having – of our importance in this world. What responsibilities would we leave dangling? Maybe family we’re caring for, community commitments, a pet? What about messes –concrete or emotional – things we always intended to sort out? How about the contribution to the community we’ve intended to make – volunteering more, donating more? What about all that living we’ve been postponing for some future day?
  • Get together with friends and have everyone write their own eulogy. Pass them around for comment. Result: laughter, increased self-awareness, and maybe a surprising “to do” list.
  • Set up a group like The Final Run, organized by my architect friend Martin Golder. Martin says the goal is to meet regularly “to design our lives and drink red wine.” “For 25 years, I met every month with another architect, a mythologist and a philosophy prof,” he writes, “but two are now dead. I put out a call on Facebook to start up The Final Run and we have about 6 people, which is a good number.” 
  • Visit a Death Café. Café participants have open-ended conversations about death with the goal of living a more meaningful life. Since September 2011, 8254 cafes have been held in 65 countries. The organizers say they are energized by the amazing quality of the dialogue at the events and they are overwhelmed by the interest they have received.

Remember to Live

The Latin maxim memento vivere, “remember to live” is a compelling resolution for the new year. But I would add the caveat that we are living, and maybe we should pay attention to what our life looks like. This is the central message of my latest book The Well-Lived Life, which will be in bookstores in mid-January. Sarah Selecky, author of This Cake Is for the Party and nominee for the Giller Prize, wrote my favourite pithy review: "Read this book when you’re ready to stop taking your life for granted." I’m very grateful the book has received such positive early reviews from Sarah and other reviewers, as you’ll read below.  


"I remember interviewing a famous actor a few years ago and asking ‘How do you want to be remembered?’ His answer was simple: ‘I don’t care, I’ll be dead.’  Cute, but I’m not sure he was really serious.  I think all of us, no matter our age, worry a little bit about the legacy we leave behind. But what do we do about trying to frame our legacy?  What can we do? Lyndsay Green’s latest must-read book lays out some effective ideas and you will be amazed at just how many smart and unique paths she finds that can influence the way we are remembered."       Peter Mansbridge 

“This book could just as well be called 'A Travel Guide to the Journey that Matters Most -- Your Life.'  Lyndsay Green has done a fabulous job of answering all the essential life questions that loom for all of us, and she does it with grace, humour and fastidious research. Her message is clear and most welcome: there's still plenty of time to get it right..."       Roy MacGregor, author of Canoe Country 

“A warm, practical guide full of stories and inspiration — it resonates and reassures.  Read this book when you’re ready to stop taking your life for granted, and you wish you could ask a grounded, clear-eyed friend for advice.”       Sarah Selecky, author of Radiant Shimmering Light


Pre-order the book now at Indigo or Amazon or find it at your local bookstore 


Retirement is Not An End

Marlene Chan moved to Montreal after retiring from a thirty-year career in Ottawa with the Federal government. In this delightful video she talks about how she first fell in love with Montreal as a young woman and why she seized the chance to make it her retirement home.

Marlene is inspiring in so many ways. She recently went back to school and earned a degree in the History of the Book, a Masters in Research from the London School of Rare Books. She participates actively in the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning where she’s co-moderated several study groups, and one of the off-shots was a Symposium on 21st Century Age Friendly Habitat.

“You have to think about retirement before you leave the job that has defined you for so many years,” Marlene says. “It can’t be done at the time of retirement, you have to think about it very much earlier. There’s a wealth of opportunities for people who are retiring. Don’t think of retirement as an end.”

The photo below shows Marlene surrounded by the staff from the video production, which was done by CUTV Concordia University Television. The video is part of a collaboration with YES Montreal's “Impact Dialogue Series”, which aims to decrease social isolation among seniors, engage seniors with their community, and promote intergenerational learning. In the 4-part video series they are highlighting inspirational seniors from a variety of backgrounds and Marlene was a perfect choice.



What’s Your Legacy

When we hear about someone who has been killed in a car accident we regret the senseless loss of life and grieve for those who have lost their loved one. We are also reminded of our own mortality. These stories about lives that are cut short abruptly without forewarning are deeply disturbing because we assume our life stretches off into the far distance. We like to think we’ll have plenty of time to think about our legacy; time to compose meaning to our lives; time to figure out our life’s purpose; time to make amends, time to clean up our messy lives. But what if we don’t? Would our time on earth have made a difference to anyone or anything? What would we be leaving behind for those we love? What responsibilities would be left dangling? These are the tough questions I’m exploring in my latest book on legacy.

The book examines the multiple elements, both material and non-material, that form a legacy - from living a conscious life that makes a contribution, to writing our wills and recording our lives. You’ll find stories about people trying to align their lives with their values and those who are struggling to write equitable wills. Interspersed with these widely shared challenges are eclectic tales about bequeathing tattoos and accounts of legacy bots using artificial intelligence so our digital selves can live forever.

I wrote the book for people of all ages because our one precious life could end any day. And the book offers insights for everyone regardless of assets. My findings are a reminder that we’ll be leaving a legacy – like it or not – so we’d be wise to pay attention. By living with an eye to a-future-without-us we benefit doubly by enhancing our present at the same time as we are forming our future legacy.  Look for the book in late December/ early January.


Finding Purpose

There’s a theme that keeps recurring in my books. Whether I’m getting advice from elder role models, figuring out the best home for a long life, or talking with men about their retirement, the need to find purpose is a powerful mantra. I’m writing a new book on legacy, which examines the importance of living a life driven by positive values and community commitment. By living a life of purpose we have an impact in the here and now, and our contribution keeps giving after we’re gone.

Sometimes we feel we have nothing to give. We may be overwhelmed with our own personal challenges; we may have health issues; we may doubt we have a skill or talent that would make a difference. But, in truth, we always have the capacity to contribute something to someone, or something. And by giving back we also receive. I found an eloquent example of this truth in Daniel Gottlieb’s book - Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life. Gottlieb started to write these letters to his grandson Sam when Sam was born. At that point, Gottlieb had been a quadriplegic for twenty years as the result of a car accident. His letters to his grandson share his experience as a practising psychologist, combined with the insights he gained from his disability.

The memorable incident happened about two weeks after Gottlieb’s accident. At that point, he was thinking he would prefer death to being a quadriplegic. He was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to monitors and tubes, his skull bolted in a fixed position, and he began to hope he would never wake up. That night, a woman he was unable to see clearly sat beside his bed and asked if he was a psychologist. When he replied “yes,” she asked if she could talk to him. In a voice not much more than a whisper, she explained that someone had left her. She had an unbearable sense of aloneness and was having thoughts of suicide. Because he understood her pain so deeply, Gottlieb was able to listen with great compassion. After they finished talking, he offered her a referral, and he was certain he’d been able to help her. It was at that moment that Gottlieb knew he could live as a quadriplegic. “Everyone else had been trying to convince me that I was still a worthwhile person, but the only way I could really learn that lesson was from someone who asked something of me.” That evening they likely saved each other‘s lives.