#024 - What do you want on your tombstone? The most important thing is not your date of birth or death, it's the DASH-IN-BETWEEN. What will that dash say about you? Join Dr. Charles Boyer for some thoughts about that Dash-in-Between.
Hello and welcome to Keys For New Leaders, a podcast Serving Leaders Serving Others. If you are a new or newer leader, or are joining this podcast for the first time, a special welcome to you. And, if you are a returning listener, a very warm and special welcome to you. I’m so glad you’re here for this episode. It’s all about YOU, and it's all FOR YOU.
I want to make sure we are staying focused on the main reason for this podcast: Leaders Serve Others. That concept needs to underpin everything we do as leaders. I read a short statement recently that says it all in a nutshell: If you are called to lead, you are called to serve. In this series of podcasts, my goal is to serve you, the leader, helping you serve others through sharing helpful ideas, suggestions, inspiration, insights, encouragement and sometimes a laugh or two to lighten the load along the way. These are ALL keys to your success as a leader. Now, I’m not an expert and I don’t know all the answers. I don’t even know all the questions! I’ve earned my share of leadership lumps over the years, and if I can help you smooth out a few bumps in your journey, I’ll consider this venture a success. Think of this podcast as a friendly chat between good friends, and think of me as your friendly guide alongside in your leadership journey. If you have any questions or suggestions, you are welcome to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to hear from you.
Also, remember that it’s YOUR journey, my friend. It’s up to YOU. I’m just your guide alongside. Everyone is different, and everyone’s journey is different, too. And, aren’t we glad of that!
As in previous episodes, I’ll ask you three questions toward the end of the program, open-ended and non-judgmental questions to coach you to think a bit more about the topic and how it applies to you. Now, let’s get started, shall we?
This is Episode #24 and it’s about “The Dash In Between.” So tell me – what do you want on your tombstone? No, this isn’t a pizza commercial. You may remember that several years ago there was a TV commercial from a pizza maker asking that question. And yes, that’s still the question – what do you want on your tombstone? Rev. Susan Sparks, in her book Laugh Your Way to Grace, discussed what’s on nearly everyone’s tombstone or grave marker. She wrote that what was most important wasn’t the date of the person’s birth or death. The most important thing was the dash-in-between those two dates. Reading about that dash-in-between made me stop and think more than just a little bit. Just what did that dash represent? What was that person like in life? What were that person’s life stories? What did that person accomplish? What life-defining events happened during that dash in between? How is that person remembered?
As a hobby, I’ve done a lot of research on family genealogy, and what is it that gets recorded? Their name, date of birth and date of death, and not much else. As I look at all the records I’ve assembled, that long list of names and dates, I realize that I’m missing the most important part of the story – who that person really was in life and what are their stories that defined who he or she was. That is what that dash-in-between is all about.
I’ve been able to find a few things here and there. I have learned that one ancestor came to the United States as a stowaway. Another owned a gunpowder factory during the War of 1812. One made harnesses for horses and buggy whips, too. Several were farmers. One was an auto mechanic – and I sure didn’t inherit any of those talents. Lots of things to learn, yet I know so little about them, really. That dash-in-between needs a lot more filling in the details.
There are some well-known examples of tombstones that DO tell a bit of the story. One of the most familiar ones is from Boot Hill Cemetery in – of course – Tombstone, Arizona, known as the “Town Too Tough to Die.” Lester Moore’s tombstone reads:
Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a forty-four
And then there’s the tombstone of the hypochondriac, reading, “See, I told you I was sick.”
I don’t know if those are real or just made up to be funny, but here’s a real one from the tombstone of Mel Blanc, who created the voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and so many other characters in the Looney Tunes cartoons. He has the famous cartoon tagline “That’s All Folks!” carved on his tombstone.
Well, these are meant to lighten up things a bit, but let’s get back to that dash-in-between. What do we really know about Lester Moore except that apparently he died in one of Tombstone’s legendary gunfights, maybe even at the OK Corral, but we really don’t know that.
We know that the hypochondriac was really sick, but we don’t know anything else about him or her.
Mel Blanc, obviously, is a different story. We have his voice as many great cartoon characters over the years. He has left us a huge legacy of characters he brought to life on the movie screen.
Mel Blanc was known as “the man with a thousand voices.“ His dash-in-between represented his remarkable ability to create distinctive voices for cartoon characters that helped give that character an unforgettable personality. Blanc’s creation of that wise-guy sort-of Brooklyn accent made the Bugs Bunny character all the more memorable – and rascally – and funny – and loveable. Of course, the cartoon artists who animated Bugs Bunny and so many others deserve a great amount of credit. Bug’s voice, though, literally defined that character and endeared him to all of us.
That dash-in-between started me thinking about so many others whose lives have been so remarkable. Mozart’s dash-in-between was so much shorter than many other composers, yet look at all he accomplished in that relatively short span of time! Thomas Edison’s dash-in-between gave us electric light, sound, movies, and so much more. Helen Keller’s dash-in-between left us an amazing legacy of overcoming incredible handicaps. We hold such people in high regard because of the examples they set for all of us.
Martin Luther King Jr. inspired many people to support and champion the civil rights movement in America. Mahatma Gandhi’s example of non-violent civil disobedience led to liberating India from many years of British rule. Mother Teresa’s love and humility was shown in her tireless drive to help others.
Well, we can’t all be such superheroes, but everyone can do something. As Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
What does that dash-in-between say about these remarkable people? It says: serve others. It says: inspire others. It says: lead by example. It says: teach others. All excellent qualities of leaders who lead by serving others. Each set an example for us to follow.
What else does that dash-in-between say about these famous people? It says that many of the qualities and characteristics they stood for is who they are and what they showed to the world. There are many lists of qualities and characteristics of servant leaders that others have identified. What words seem to YOU to define who these people really were? Think about how some of these words might apply: Integrity, Fairness, Selflessness, Empathy, Teach Others, Listen, Humility, Grace Under Fire, Inspire, Accountability, Lead by Example.
EXAMPLE. That’s the most important word here – EXAMPLE. These people – and so many others who inspire us – all led by example. They didn’t just talk about what was important to them. They lived it. They WERE it. John Gardner wrote that people don’t learn values by learning principles, or words and definitions. They learn by modeling others to be the best they can be. Your most important task as a leader is to set an example for others to follow. As Albert Schweitzer wrote, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
EXAMPLE – such an important word, yet such a difficult standard to uphold. It shouldn’t be, but much of the time, it sure seems to be. When I think of some of the leaders I have worked for in my life, I can come up with really good examples with the fingers on one hand, and still have fingers left over. Recently, I ran across a statement that really rang true to me: It was a quote from Simon Sinek: “Be the leader you wish you had.” That’s what I always aimed for.
However – and it’s a big however - aiming and achieving are two different things. It’s easy to say the words and the definitions and aim to make them a part of you. But it isn’t the words that matter – it’s the actions behind those words, the everyday behaviors and actions that those words represent. It’s how YOU show up – every day – and how you live up to and in to your values. How do you be the leader you wish you had? It takes practice, and lots of it, to show – consistently and without faltering – that you ARE who you aim to be. But it’s sure worth your best efforts!
What about YOUR dash-in-between? What is it that you want others to know about you? What will YOUR dash-in-between stand for? What qualities will define your leadership to others? If that dash doesn’t yet say what you want it to say, you can fix it while you still have time! So, let me ask you once again: what do you want on your tombstone?
And now, here are three questions for you to think about and apply as you wish. There are no right or wrong answers, only YOUR answers. It’s what you choose to DO with your answers that makes all the difference. And here they are:
1. Think of a leader you respect and want to be like. What qualities or characteristics come to mind when you think about that person?
2. List the three top values that are most important to you. Where do these show up in your life?
3. How do YOU lead by example?
And that Special Key for this episode? Why, it’s the Key of “D” of course, ”D” for that Dash-in-between. To put it in musical terms, how does YOUR Key of D sound to you – like the Chicago Symphony or the Guckenheimer SourKraut Band? How do you WANT it to sound? What WILL you practice to make it sound the way you want it to? How WILL you be the leader you wish you had? You know, your dash-in-between is really all up to YOU.
The next episode is called, “Be Yourself.” As Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Join me, won’t you, for a very special session on – well, just being ourselves. And that should be a good time!
Take care, my friend, and stay safe and well.