The Ultimate Motivator: Reading Your Own Obituary.
Alfred Nobel had the rare experience of reading his own obituary, and what he saw deeply distressed him. A brilliant scientist, Nobel was a prodigious chemist and inventor. He was awarded hundreds of patents during his career, the most famous being for dynamite.
Nobel was also a gifted businessman. He was especially successful as a manufacturer of explosives, and he amassed a great fortune in the weapons business, eventually owning 90 factories producing armaments.
In 1888 Alfred’s brother Ludvig died while visiting Cannes, France. The local newspaper mistakenly believed it was Alfred who had died, and it reported his death under the headline “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” The article went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
Seeing how he was going to be remembered horrified Alfred. He became determined to assure himself a different and better legacy. So, Alfred Nobel, who never married and had no children, used nearly his entire estate to create a foundation that awards annual prizes for distinction in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and (most famously) peacemaking.
Today, the Nobel Prizes are generally regarded as the highest honor one can attain in those fields. The man who seemed destined to be remembered as “the merchant of death” instead became the man best known as the benefactor of the Nobel Peace Prize.
One of the occasional exercises we do at MEA is “writing an obituary you can live with.” What’s your legacy? Write it in 280 characters, so it’s concise and even tweetable. It’s amazing how death can be an organizing principle for how you want to live your life and leave your legacy.
Thanks to “The Daily Dose of History” for these Nobel facts.
P.S. One of my legacies is to co-create our non-profit AGE (Association of Growth and Education) which helps fund scholarships at MEA and three other organizations dedicated to intergenerational collaboration and midlife education. We’re proud of the fact that more than 60% of the alums who’ve come to Baja for MEA workshops have been on some kind of financial assistance, often funded by AGE, which has allowed us to create more socio-economically diverse cohorts. I hope you’ll consider checking out the AGE website and possibly making a donation.