Pedaling and Pondering: Résumé Virtues and Eulogy Virtues

Immediately prior to setting out on a late afternoon bike ride yesterday, I started reading The Road to Character, by David Brooks. Within the first sentence, I was intrigued by a concept he presented: Résumé Virtues differentiated from Eulogy Virtues. Brooks defines résumé virtues as “the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.” He describes eulogy virtues less concretely as “the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.”

Reading those words when I did, right before I got on the bike, was fortuitous, because I was excited to ponder the contrast and connections between the two types of virtues, and I do my best thinking on the bike.

How are these two types of virtues different? Are both categories even “virtues”? How are they linked to each other? My mind raced with these questions as I pedaled north out of town and for the next 15 chilly miles.

I think of my résumé virtues as achievements and selling points—qualities that might be evident from perusing my résumé, like degrees, grades, breadth of experience, writing ability and attention to detail. These points tell only a very superficial story about who I am, about who any of us is.

Many personal development authors and speakers recommend considering what we would want to be said in our eulogy as a guide for managing life’s choices. I have thought about this in the past, but contemplating the juxtaposition of résumé and eulogy virtues carried this idea a step further for me.

On my bike, I decided that eulogy virtues, unlike tangible selling points, tell the deeper story. It seems to me that they consist of both our strengths and our values. While résumé virtues are fairly concrete, eulogy virtues are more elusive and strike me as somewhat aspirational.

My core values are compassion, integrity, excellence and fitness. I aspire to “own” these as lived virtues, as qualities of character that someone might mention in my eulogy. But, can I claim them as virtues, when they are subjective and qualitative? Those characteristics that I consider my strengths serve as tools for living my values, and I believe that I have a responsibility to employ them to the best of my ability in the service of a life that reflects what is most meaningful to me. But, how do I know if I have achieved this? Unlike a diploma that is objective evidence of completing the requirements for a degree, eulogy virtues can only be felt—by the possessor of those virtues and by the witnesses to those virtues.

It occurred to me on the bike that résumé and eulogy virtues are intimately connected. For instance, in my own case, my commitment to excellence, my love of learning and my perseverance allowed me to accomplish academic goals. So, values and strengths—eulogy virtues—led to résumé virtues. In a different kind of relationship, I believe that some of my eulogy virtues—namely, integrity and honesty—have contributed to what could be interpreted (sometimes by myself) as deficits of my résumé. My dedication to those principles and to resonance in my own heart has led me down a path that has possibly undervalued upward mobility in career status and income.

So, which matters more—résumé virtues or eulogy virtues? Can they exist independently of each other? I think the answers to both those questions depend on the person. Ultimately, I believe I have emphasized eulogy virtues, although those have influenced my résumé virtues. Someone else may have emphasized résumé virtues and amassed more external success in doing so. Even without a conscious emphasis, however, I think that individual’s eulogy virtues will still have guided her or him toward the path of his/her résumé virtues. The difference, I think, is that someone who emphasizes résumé virtues may be less aware of, and/or concerned with, eulogy virtues. Living the introspective life that I do, I can’t put myself in those shoes. So, I can’t know which life is richer, happier or more meaningful. I can only surmise that a person emphasizing eulogy virtues, as I believe I do, makes a more conscious (not necessarily better, just more conscious) choice about what virtues he/she will live, while a person who has focused on achieving résumé virtues, may have her/his eulogy virtues identified posthumously by others. A eulogist who witnesses that person’s résumé virtues may discern and then assert that the individual embodied commitment, drive, determination and diligence, for example. I wonder if that person would have said the same things about her/himself.

Ultimately, I cannot directly control what is said in my eulogy, and I am honestly less concerned about what someone else chooses to say than what I can say about myself when I examine my own life. I think both résumé virtues and eulogy virtues can be indicators of valuable contributions in the world. Maybe I am just looking for consolation and justification of perceived weaknesses when I declare that eulogy virtues matter more to me. Or maybe seeking that justification is actually evidence that the résumé virtues are more important to me than I openly acknowledge.

I did not end my bike ride with tidy, clear answers about eulogy and résumé virtues, but I did enjoy the time to think, and I hope that these concepts will continue to crystallize for me because I think both types of virtues comprise important aspects of a whole person. I love it when books make me think and when cycling provides me with the opportunity to do so!

Gameful, If Not Playful

“We all sometimes take ourselves and our thoughts too seriously. By reframing things in gameful ways, SuperBetter can help us gain some perspective and separate ourselves from unhelpful thoughts.”

–Ann Marie Roepke

Playfulness has never been my strong suit. I have always felt that the absence of playfulness in my character was a weakness as a mother, and maybe as a human. I am probably less fun because of my serious nature, although I certainly have fun doing the things that are meaningful to me. I have been called rigid and told to lighten up. This is just who I am. So, it was a bit of a stretch for me to purchase and read the book I just finished, SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting, Stronger, Healthier, Braver and More Resilient, by Jane McGonigal.

Intrigued by what I heard on NPR, I debated the purchase for a few months because of my admittedly disdainful view of video games and my general disinterest in most forms of “play.” However, each time I saw or heard something about the book, I felt a twinge of curiosity. So, I finally ordered it for Kindle. I finished it Friday night, and I am so glad that I read it.

I read a lot of applied and positive psychology, as well as a great deal of personal and professional development literature. While much of what I read has meaning and value for me, a good portion of it cites the same research and presents similar (worthwhile) ideas in a variety of ways. SuperBetter takes a decidedly fresh approach to growth, development and healing.

Jane McGonigal is a game designer who suffered postconcussion syndrome and battled associated suicidal thoughts by using what she knows about the science of games. While I admit that I struggled a bit with some of the “game” language, and some of the concepts push my comfort level with personal playfulness, I have accepted McGonigal’s challenge to take on three adventures that she outlines at the end of the book. These three adventures are designed to strengthen social connections, improve health and fitness and increase the perception of time affluence. I am interested in growing in all three areas, so I started the social connection challenge yesterday and plan to work through all of them, using McGonigal’s gameful approach, over the next six weeks.

McGonigal refers to “quests,” “bad guys,” “power-ups, “allies,” “secret identities” and “epic wins.” Quests are mini-challenges that take us closer to the epic win of achieving a major goal. Both quests and epic wins increase our sense of self-efficacy, which then fuels our initiative to take on additional challenges. Bad guys are common pitfalls, for which McGonigal suggests scientifically backed battle strategies. Power-ups are simple techniques to energize ourselves or clear our heads. Allies are people in our physical or virtual lives whom we trust to be partners was we face down our challenges. McGonigal’s secret identity during her recovery was Jane the Concussion Slayer. While I recognize the potential helpfulness of objectivity, adopting a secret identity and thinking about myself in the third person doesn’t resonate with me.

I was fascinated, however, by the discussion of post-traumatic and post-ecstatic growth. McGonigal and her co-researcher Ann Marie Roepke have found that major growth often happens in people’s lives following either very traumatic or very positive events. Either of these circumstances can be life-changing, prompting reconsidered priorities, closer relationships, clarification of purpose and stronger focus. McGonigal teaches a gameful approach to recovering from trauma or working toward a meaningful and challenging goal. Both can result in epic wins.

Cycling provides me countless opportunities to take on quests. Each ride, or even a tough stretch of headwind, gamefully can be considered a quest in pursuit of the epic win of completing another successful BAK or century or of increasing my average speed or even my baseline level of happiness. Cycling helps me battle bad guys like stress, anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, hopelessness and all the negative emotions that threaten my mental and physical health and happiness on any given day. McGonigal has given me some new tools for utilizing cycling to achieve positive results in my life. I also learned power-up strategies and off-bike techniques for battling bad guys. Most of what McGonigal presented really was new to me, and learning it can help me to take a more lighthearted, yet courageous—gameful—approach to facing life’s challenges. I am grateful to have the SuperBetter tools at my disposal.