Are You Living Your Truth? Filling in the Blanks with Rabbi Steve Leder
What do you want to be remembered for when you die?
That’s the idea behind Rabbi Steve Leder’s new book, For You When I Am Gone: Twelve Essential Questions to Tell a Life Story. For many, the last words our loved ones ever hear from us are our will and testament — a boilerplate legalese document written by someone else.
What most of us really want to hear are life lessons, guidance, and blessings. We want to know their hopes and dreams for us. We want to know what they’ve learned from failure and regret and triumph and joy. We want to know that they lived their truth, and we want to know how we can start living our own.
Steve and I met a year and a half ago, and every time we speak I’m amazed at his wisdom. Our most recent conversation was centered around the importance of living your truth, why it’s important not to wait, important lessons he’s learned, and what you can do now to start living a more authentic life.
Why it’s important to live your truth
The unhappiest people are those whose professed values and lived values are radically divergent: they aren’t the same and so they end up living a double life. It’s a terrible and painful way to live.
Conversely, the most at peace people are people whose professed values and lived values are relatively aligned. They really are who they say they are, and they are really living their truth most of the time. This doesn’t mean that these people live easy lives. But, their lives are meaningful, purposeful, and aligned.
To determine whether or not you’re living your truth, you can begin by asking the first of Steve’s twelve questions: what do you regret? It may seem counterintuitive to begin with such a negative question. But, it requires a certain level of self-reflection that will put both your head and your heart in the right space. You need to answer it with integrity, humility, and honesty.
You’ll usually discover that you regret not things that you did do, but things that you didn’t do. The time you didn’t show up, the words you didn’t speak, or an opportunity that you didn’t take because of fear.
Regret is ultimately not about your past. Regrets are about your future. You can’t have a different past. What you can do is use your regrets from the past to have a more beautiful future. You aren’t trapped in yesterday's ways. You aren’t shackled by the past. You can use the past to have a far more beautiful and meaningful future.
Another question inside the book that can be really helpful in determining whether or not you’re living your truth is: what do you want to be written on your headstone? In other words, what do you want to be remembered for? Your material possessions? Your recent promotion at work? Or, do you want to be remembered as a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend? And, if that’s the case, are you living that way? Is it true, or do you just want it to be true?
If it isn’t true (which is the case for many), one of the most important things to take away from For You When I Am Gone is: don’t wait. Don’t wait because it’s never too soon to share your truth, tell your story, and examine your life.
The long-term effect of taking a good hard look at your life is that you will begin to live better: you treat money differently, you treat relationships differently, and you treat work and family differently. It can bring another layer of meaning to the relationships in your life. You get this feeling of, what exactly am I waiting for?
It may sound paradoxical but death is life-changing. If you live your life without death in mind, there is no urgency, no sense of ambition. You would want to get married or start a family. You would never change your actions or behavior because it wouldn’t make a difference. Life would be an unending, circular existence.
Death can be such a powerful teacher. It reminds you that you get to live. It reinforces what a ticking clock life is, and that it isn’t possible to have a better past. Death can help you face the things that you didn’t do or say and give us the courage to do and say them.
Instead of having fear of death, use it as a reminder of your finiteness. This can serve as a major motivator to start living your truth before it’s too late.
One of the things that Steve learned from writing this book is that there are certain universal truths to the human experience, and he finds a lot of comfort in that. We are all afraid of death until it’s actually upon us. For those of you who have a lot of anxiety around death and dying, this can be reassuring.
He learned the power of truth and vulnerability. He also takes comfort in this power and says that he feels liberated because of it. He’s done with pretending. He realized that living out of alignment with his truth brings him zero joy, and leaves him with a sense of bitterness.
Writing this book, paired with living through the global pandemic has forced him to reevaluate his life. He’s stripped away the nonsense and is all the better for it.
Telling the truth about your life is liberating. The more authenticity you can bring to your life, the more truly human and humane you can become.
When asked if this bothers some people in his life Steve says, “The people who matter don’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter.” This somewhat cheesy sentiment rings so true: be yourself, unapologetically.
How to start living your truth
Reading For You When I Am Gone: Twelve Essential Questions to Tell a Life Story is a really helpful exercise if you feel out of alignment with your truth.
When you answer Steve’s questions, it forces you to think more about your own death and decide whether or not you would be happy with how you lived your life. It also presents the opportunity to change.
If you know me personally or have followed my work, then you know that my obsession and purpose in life is to live my truth, reach my full potential, and hopefully inspire some folks along the way to do the same.
When I came across Steve’s work I knew immediately I needed to have a conversation with him. He was a kindred spirit. We spoke the same language of the soul. What I find most intriguing about my talks with Steve is his ability to be transparent about who he is and his human struggle. We all struggle internally, but something Steve and I share in our thought process is that life is not worth living if it is not your truth.
We have no more time to waste, or to succumb to the pressure to live our parent’s truth, society’s truth, or religious dogma if it does not resonate with who we are at the core. Unfortunately, the process to live your truth comes at a cost.
It can be incredibly uncomfortable to ask yourself hard questions and inquire into why you are the way you are, and then take it a step further, to do something about it. The world seems to be set up against us in order to do so. Social media, family, religion, culture, — you name it, the outside world will distract us from finding our truth.
Personally, I have struggled internally for years, taking the non-politically correct or culturally appropriate approach, but that is my truth and I cannot betray myself. I believe you can disappoint people, but the worst betrayal is running from yourself and then negotiating with yourself in order to not have to deal with the truth.
When you ask the right questions, everyone’s life is interesting and powerful. Every person is unique: with their own set of abilities, flaws, challenges, and triumphs. Your story is unlike anyone else's who has ever lived before you. Everyone’s story is amazing when you ask the right questions. What will yours be?
If you’re interested in learning more about Rabbi Steve Leder and his new book, make sure to head over to the podcast, where we chat more in-depth about life, death, and living your authentic truth. You can find the episode here.
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