A Life Well Lived – How Are You Spending Your Dash?

There’s nothing like a funeral or memorial service to make us aware of the passing of time and the shortness of life. Time is a strange thing. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. Yet some people aimlessly drift through life, while others use their time to make more of an impact than others.

This morning I attended a memorial service for my brother-in-law who passed away at the end of August. Listening to the tributes brought to mind a poem called The Dash that one of my dear friends read at her mother’s funeral years ago. This morning’s memorial service gave me an opportunity to reflect on the impact of a life well lived, and how important it is to make the best choices about how we spend our time.

The poem The Dash was written by Linda Ellis. I’ll include a couple of snippets here, but I encourage you to visit Linda’s website to read the full text. It’s very beautiful and thought provoking. The poem is about the meaning of that little dash between the dates on our tombstone when we’re gone.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

The Dash, Linda Ellis

How are you spending your dash?

How are you spending your dash? Are you truly making the most of every day and living a life consistent with your values?

None of us knows how much time we have left on this Earth. Every day we make choices about how we spend our time, but how often do we slow down and really consider the impact of those choices?

When our time is up, no-one at our funeral will speak of the size of our house, how much money we made, or the kind of car we drove. They also won’t care that we achieved level 8,000 on Candy Crush. Instead, they will share stories about our character, the good times we shared, the impact we had on them, and the quality of relationships we built.

We all have many things competing for our attention, and it’s tempting to want to be the hero—that person who takes on everything they’re asked to do. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown discusses the importance of differentiating the “vital few” from the “trivial many”. It was an excellent reminder that we spend a lot of our time on tasks that probably fall into the category of the “trivial many.”

If you don’t prioritize your life, who will? The next time you’re wrestling with a decision about taking on a new project or task, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does this align with my values?
  • Will this be good for my physical or mental health?
  • Will this help someone else?
  • How will it impact the planet?
  • Will anyone care about this a hundred years (or weeks, or even days) from now?
  • Finally, if I knew I had just one day, one week, one month or one year left to live, would I take this on? If not, what would I do instead?

The answers to these questions will help you determine if this is one of the vital few tasks or projects that deserve your time and attention.

How do you want to be remembered?

Living a life that’s true to our values, and doing things that improve our relationships, help others, and positively impact our planet. That would be a good use of our dash!

So, when your eulogy is being read
with your life’s actions to rehash,
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

The Dash, Linda Ellis

Here’s to a long and healthy dash for everyone reading this!

How do you decide which projects or tasks to take on? Would you add other questions to this list? Drop a comment below and join the conversation!

22 thoughts on “A Life Well Lived – How Are You Spending Your Dash?

  1. Making the most of every day feels daunting, unattainable even. Im learning to accept doing the best I can, and somedays the best I can seems pretty insignificant.

    I also remember reading somewhere that life is merely a dot, while eternity that follows is the dash. And yeah – life is so brief, fleeting. Something about “living for the dash” in that sense feels a bit less daunting somehow.

    1. You’re right, David. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day living. Doing the best you can and trying to be a positive influence is a great place to start. Many of the tributes I heard to my brother-in-law yesterday where about the support he provided to others, and the advice he gave them. That’s a nice legacy to leave.

    1. It truly is. It’s funny how we seem to need these reminders… for millennia now? Horace wisely said
      “Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.”

      1. “It is later than you think.” What a brilliant quote that is! I think we all need a reminder from time to time, to not take time for granted.

    1. Thanks for reading, Brian. Yesterday was an important reminder that everything we do matters, even if it seems insignificant to us at the time.

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. Funerals and memorial services do have a unique way of making us contemplate the passage of time and the significance of how we spend it. The concept of “The Dash” is a reminder that it’s not just the years we live but how we live those years that truly matter. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I remember another quote along the lines of “It’s not the years in your life—it’s the life in your years that matters.” Very wise words.

  3. Sorry for your loss Michelle. I think that these are the moments in life when you ponder about it. And your questions are so appropriate and we shall ask ourselves in the morning when we wake up.

    1. Thank you Cristiana. You’re right, we should be asking ourselves those questions at the start of every day.

  4. I understand and that is how I try to live my life since it took looking at my Dad’s life and my mom’s life after both died to make me realize I would rather approach life for the moments that can’t be measured and do what I want since we don’t know how long we have to live!

  5. Those lines from the poem are so good! This is such a great piece- and it hits me at a good time as I reevaluate some of the things I’m doing with my time. Thanks Michelle!

    1. Thanks so much Todd. I think it’s good for all of us to step back and reevaluate from time to time, as we often live our lives on autopilot.

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