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Finding your life sentence

Finding your life sentence

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The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.

William James

The message in my inbox was from a friend, Debora. It isn't unusual for me to receive an e-mail from her with a quote that stirred her up, an article of interest or an inspirational thought.

The subject this day was the "Word for Today." Her note was simple and to the point: "This is a Nigel moment!" And she was right. It was one of those motivational moments; brief, yet inspiring. It was worth thinking about.

It was about a "sentence." More specifically, your "life sentence." In other words, how would you sum up what you are about in one sentence? "Eventually your life will be summarized in a single sentence," the message stated. "What will your 'life sentence' be?"

That's a big question, isn't it?

If you don't know what your one sentence is right now, just live intentionally. At least, if you do, according to the message, "people at your funeral won't be left to wonder."

It isn't always easy to sum up what your life is about, though. I took a stab at the challenge and posted a single sentence (a tweet) on twitter: He lived, he laughed, he loved and he cared. That felt right.

Daniel Pink, the author of a number of bestselling books, including "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," asked a similar question: "What's Your Sentence?" It's the sentence that gets to the heart of what motivates you. He took it one step further and asked people to submit a 15-second video clip with their sentence.

The responses seem to fall into one or more of the categories mentioned in the "Word for Today" message my friend shared with me.

"Your life is your greatest legacy," according to the message. So, you are encouraged to "leave a legacy of excellence." One way to do that is to ask yourself another question Pink poses daily: "Was I better today than yesterday?"

Pink challenges readers to complete an exercise that "asks you to distill your life — what it's about, why you're here — into a single sentence." He says, "It's tough, but it's powerful." He was inspired by Rep. Clare Boothe Luce, who advised President Kennedy that "a great man is one sentence."

Here are a few of the one-sentence responses he captured in his two-minute video compilation:

"He was a very loyal friend," said a young boy. I believe he understands the value of a lasting friendship.

A young woman's response: "She helped people know what's possible." I like that, it's inspiring.

An older gentleman said: "I am the only one going the direction I'm going." He is going where there is no path and making his own.

The "Word for Today" message also encourages you to "leave a legacy of encouragement." Agreeing with this point, I shared: "Some (people) cause happiness wherever they go; others cause happiness whenever they leave."

What will others say about you years from now? Did you inspire someone, help him or her out, or stick by them when they needed you? That's why it is important leave a "legacy of purpose." Your life sentence might speak to that.

"We're most energized when we're investing our strengths and talents into a God-given purpose," the message states. "So make your life about something bigger than yourself. You won't live forever, but you can live on through the impact you make now."

Maybe that is what this young man had in mind when he shared his sentence: "He made videos and music to inspire people's creativity."

Or this sentence written on construction paper by a young girl: "She changed the world and erased all borders with a mic and the sound of her voice."

And last but not least, there is a "legacy of love," that's something that will last for generations to come.

So, what's your "life sentence"?

Nigel Alston lives in Winston-Salem. He can be reached at


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