A Wisdom-Filled Self-Eulogy

Posted on March 7, 2007 by Robert Ringer


Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1996 and 2000, passed away on March 1, 2006.  Harry may have possessed the most remarkable intellect of our time.  He had an uncanny knack for making profound points in ways that anyone could understand.

I recall Harry appearing on talk shows a couple of times with other presidential candidates.  In such situations, he was so far above his counterparts intellectually that I was almost embarrassed for them.  Which is why it’s sad that he will be but a footnote in U.S. history, while scoundrels such as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton have presidential libraries to remind people of the well-edited highlights of their accomplishments.

As those closest to him would have expected, Harry Browne left a eulogy, to be read at his funeral, which his devoted wife, Pamela, recently posted on the Internet.  Every word that Harry ever wrote was well thought out and meaningful, and his self-eulogy is no exception.

Below is an abridged version of his moving words.  (To economize on space, I did not include the entire text, but I trust I have not changed the context.)

Setting Your Sights

As I look back over my life, I can see so many ways in which I could have done things better than I did, and I certainly wish I’d learned a lot of things sooner than I did.

To have made so many mistakes, and yet to have had so much.  It proves that you don’t have to be perfect to succeed.

When I die (if ever), I’d like the epitaph on my tombstone to read:

“I didn’t do everything I wanted to do,
I didn’t become everything I wanted to be,
But because I aimed for the stars,
I reached the top of the world.”

I don’t advise being careless or sloppy.  I do advise that you hold fast to your beliefs and act in the best way you know how, but then forgive yourself whenever you fail to measure up to your standards.

You will never be perfect.  But you can be free and happy.

His first two sentences are vintage Harry Browne — honest self-analysis.  When a person says, “I’ve done everything I can do,” he is deceiving himself (and perhaps trying to deceive others).  The truth is that no one ever does everything he can do on any project or in any situation.  In fact, it’s unhealthy to harbor such thoughts.  You’re much better off analyzing what more you could have done to make it work out better.

As to wishing we could have learned things sooner, it’s not how life works.  We become wiser with age.  Nature does not waste wisdom on the young.  Wisdom is one of the rewards and joys of growing older.

Then there’s the frustration that comes from making mistakes.  Who among us has not made more than his share?  What’s comforting to know, however, is that you can succeed in spite of your mistakes.  I never cease to be amazed at how many super-successful people there are who made terrible judgments somewhere along the line, yet — through resourcefulness and persistence — managed to overcome them.

Another frustration that Harry touched on in his eulogy is not being able to do everything you would like to do.  His works were instrumental in teaching me that human beings have unlimited desires but very limited time.  I long ago came to terms with the reality that I could never hope to have enough time to do everything on my wish list.

I fulfilled a boyhood dream by living in Australia, but it’s doubtful that I’ll ever have the opportunity to live in Paris.  In my twenties, the opulent lure of Beverly Hills, California was irresistible, and I found a window of opportunity to move there.  But my window of opportunity for living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is pretty much closed.

I am truly humbled by the length of my didn’t-do-everything-I-wanted-to-do list.  If you’re a vital human being, my guess is that your list is probably pretty long as well.

As to not becoming everything I wanted to become, where do I begin?  Off and on, I thought about being a talk show host.  And I thought even more seriously about running for president.  I also wanted to be a trial lawyer (in lieu of working for a living).  But reality overrode many of my dreams, mainly the reality that there simply are not enough days in one’s life to do everything he would like to do.

I remember a reporter once asking Michael Jordan how it felt to know he had fulfilled his dream.  To which Jordan responded, “I didn’t fulfill my dream.  My dream was to be a Major League baseball player.”

Interesting, isn’t it?  Michael Jordan — voted the greatest athlete in U.S. history — will some day pass on to that Big Arena in the Sky without having fulfilled his dream.  I think it’s safe to infer from this that no matter how successful someone may appear to be, more likely than not there are many things he will never accomplish that he desperately wanted to.

Which is okay.  As Harry Browne put it, what’s important is to reach for the stars.  Don’t waste time failing at small things.  If you’re going to fail, fail while aiming high.

As to holding fast to your beliefs, Harry was the perfect role model.  Though his inflexibility irritated a lot of people, he remained vigilant about not compromising his integrity.  The only way you can ever hope to remain true to yourself is to accept the reality that truth often makes a person unpopular.

It’s one thing to talk about ethics, but quite another to adhere to them.  An ethical person consistently acts in accordance with his code of moral values.  By contrast, a hypocritical person preaches a high standard of morality, but acts otherwise.  Whatever else he may or may not have been, Harry Browne was ethical to the core.  Above all, he was intellectually ethical.

Yet, Harry pointed out the importance of forgiving yourself even when you fall short in this area.  Human beings are not perfect.  But, as with shooting for the stars when it comes to your dreams, it’s noble to strive to be perfect.

Finally, the underlying theme of Harry Browne’s life:  You can be free and happy.  I still believe How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World is Harry’s best and most important work.  This remarkable book stands for the essence of what the collectivist mind abhors — freedom from those who would like to force you to act in accordance with their warped values.

To view the full version of Harry’s Browne’s self-eulogy, click on:


I strongly suggest that you print it out and look at it often.  His words will help you maintain a healthy perspective on life and help to keep you on track.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.