Why “Write Your Own Obituary” Is a Bad Question


One of the most common ways that college career centers try to help students figure out their career paths is to tell you to “Write your own obituary.” Other variations of this question include, “What do you want people to remember about you?” or “At then end of your life, what do you want to have accomplished?

The problem with these questions (besides being super morbid) is that they require looking really far into the future. It’s hard to envision your life so many years out, even if you have a general idea of what you want to do. And for students like me, who didn’t even have a general idea of what I wanted to do when I came to my career center, these questions are even less helpful.


In the end, when I was asked to write my own obituary, I came up with something super vague about being happy and “successful” and living a long life. The question didn’t help me to figure out a career path, let alone an action plan to get myself there. What I really needed was help understanding my career options, since I didn’t know what was out there, and then help setting some achievable goals on a reasonable timeline.

When I met Emily and started going through the NextStep Career Visioning process, that was the first time I really felt like I was getting a handle on what I might want to do. The process helped me to narrow down my career path based on my current interests and strengths, and then pick the right next steps to get myself there. I didn’t feel like I had to pick my entire life right then and there – just a next step. I found it way less intimidating and way more practical than the obituary question.

A big part of the NextStep program is training students to do informational interviews so that you can gather information about what different career paths are like. Emily helped me to set up a bunch of informational interviews and I was really surprised to learn that even the most focused people didn’t have linear career paths. There were always surprise twists and turns because they learned, grew, and changed over the course of their careers. And as people’s interests and perspectives changed, what they wanted changed too.

Sometimes people went forward, sometimes they went back, and sometimes they made a lateral change. But no matter who I talked to, everyone said that it took a number of career pivots (and being open to those pivots) for them to achieve their goals. Emily likes to quote Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and say that you don’t have a career ladder, you have a career jungle gym.

Barack_Obama_president_stock_photoEven former president Barack Obama said that when he was in his twenties, he never imagined himself later becoming president. (Tragically, I didn’t get an informational interview with Obama – I just watched him talk online.) I found it comforting that one of the most celebrated, successful Americans had no idea where his career would ultimately take him when he was starting out. If he were asked the obituary question, Obama wouldn’t have known what to write either.

So here’s my advice – ditch the obituary question. Stop trying to decide your entire life right now. Instead, use the NextStep process to figure out your options and decide on some short term goals. NextStep has helped thousands of students to discover their career paths and it definitely worked for me.


Madeline Vuong is a guest writer for NextStep. She is currently attending Chicago Booth for her MBA.


7 Steps to Finding a Career You Love

NextStep Founder and CEO Emily Taylor interviews Tinder CEO Sean Rad

Searching for both a new love and a new job? You must be exhausted. It can be rough to be in “sales mode” all the time. But don’t worry – you’re developing some transferable skills. 

Having taught career management to over 2,000 MBAs and having gone on manyyyy dates in the LA area (before finding my perfect match😍), I knew how similar the two search processes could be…and drew plenty of parallels between them during the class I taught at UCLA Anderson. It’s also why I was asked to interview Tinder CEO Sean Rad (see above photo).

Here are seven major similarities between dating and recruiting:

  1. Self-Assessment
    Dating: It all starts with figuring out what you’re looking for. If you’re single, you figure out the traits you’re looking for in a romantic partner, including which attributes in another person bring out the best in you.
    Recruiting: Same thing when choosing the career path that is right for you; it should let your best qualities shine.
  2. Spread the Word
    Dating: You tell your friends what you are looking for in a mate, and they suggest acquaintances to set you up.
    Recruiting: Similarly you will want to tell your friends, family, classmates and social network the type of internship or job you are looking for—particularly the industry and function—so that they can connect you with individuals who work in that field and with possible job opportunities.
  3. Expand Your Network
    Dating: You start attending events where you know there will be lots of single people: bars, birthday parties and mixers.
    Recruiting: For the job search, I recommend a similar strategy. Go to meetup and startup events in your area. Check out speakers at your school and networking events through professional clubs. You never know what conversation is going to
    lead to your next job.
  4. Use Some Apps
    Dating: You foray into online dating and create your profile. That’s the
    dating equivalent of your resume and LinkedIn profile.
    Recruiting: Your profile is super important –94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to
    discover and vet candidates!
  5. Outreach
    Dating: You start to swipe on Tinder, Bumble and the League.
    Recruiting: In career terms, that’s you sending your outreach emails, and customizing your template to the recipient so that you get a response. You’d be amazed at how many people don’t take the few extra minutes to send a customized note.
  6. Emily_Matt_chess
    After finding my perfect (check)mate

    Playing the Field
    Dating: You go on a series of dates and you both pitch yourselves and determine the match. With each date, you get better, not just in your delivery, but in understanding what you are looking for in a significant other.
    Recruiting: By the same token, you will conduct dozens of informationals and go on lots of interviews. You will get more comfortable and articulate as you go along. Plus, the experiences will help you solidify if an industry, function or company is right for you. Finding out something is NOT a match can be just as valuable and time saving as finding a
    company and role that IS a match!

  7. It’s a Match!
    Finally, you will find a mutual connection and someone you want to commit to, maybe just for a summer fling (similar to an internship) and perhaps for
    longer than that. I know this was really about how to find the right
    career…but a quick plug for finding the right life partner too: the person
    you end up with will have a dramatic impact on your career, especially if
    they’re supportive. And having another household income will allow both of
    you to take more risks in your career choices.

I wish you luck in love and your job search. So go forth – start swiping and submitting. Overwhelmed? You’re on your own for dating, but I can definitely help with the career search. Just swipe right on NextStep Careers 😉



Freaking Out About Your Job Search?

If you’re freaking out about finding a job after graduation, don’t worry. I know, I know, that’s way easier said than done, so here’s something concrete you actually can do RIGHT NOW to stop freaking out and start making progress in your search.



Okay, grab a piece of paper…

  1. List your goals for what you want to get out of a future job: skillsets you want to develop, people you want to work with, networks you want to build, etc.
  2. Rank order your goals.
  3. Now, bucket how you spend your time on a daily basis (or how you plan to spend it next quarter) and map it back to these priorities.  Ideally, the most time should be spent on your most important goal.
  4. Finally, optimize your time utilization:
  • Can you minimize the time spent on low priority activities? (Except hygiene – please don’t deprioritize hygiene….literally everyone will thank you.)
  • What activities seem to drag and/or you find yourself watching the clock?  Minimize these, if possible.
  • What activities fly by because you are so engaged?  Can you spend more time on these?  (Drinking does not count!)
  • Do you need to spend more time on your #1 goal?
  • Do you need to re-evaluate your goals?

According to Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Hopefully an examined life will help you with your career search… or at least make you feel better about how to tackle it. You’ve got this!