The Tombstone Test — A Simple Trick to Ensure You’re Not Wasting Your Life

Sometimes we’ve got our priorities all wrong

David B. Clear


Image by the author.

Let me put my life-coach pants on for a moment and pretend I’m not as clueless as everyone else about this wild ride around the sun we call life.

Ugh… Hrmmpff… Aaargh…

Crap. The pants don’t fit. Anypoo, I still have some wisdom to share.

You see, I’ve spent much of my life pursuing goals to prove that I’m worthwhile. I’ve worked on my shaggability by counting calories, eating nothing but egg whites, and lifting dumbbells until my tendons became as frayed as if my dog had chewed on them. I’ve spent years of my life trying to become smart by looking down on fiction books because “they don’t teach you anything.” I’ve tried to excel at school out of some sense of duty towards my parents and teachers. I’ve even gotten a PhD that’s now as useful to me as high heels to a walrus.

And although I don’t regret any of that — except maybe the chewed tendons — I can’t help but look at these goals with the wisdom of my first gray hair and wonder if they’ve been worthwhile. What’s worse, I now have the same doubts about my current goals. Am I chasing what matters? Or are my priorities all wrong?

Well, there’s one little test that can help put things into perspective and help us see whether we’re actually focusing our energies on what’s really important: the tombstone test.

What’s the tombstone test?

Picture yourself strolling through a cemetery, walking past gravestone after gravestone, looking at their inscriptions, and reading the following:

  • “John Smith. RIP. He had an impressive well-tanned six-pack.”
  • “Elizabeth Smith. RIP. She had luscious hair, a small waist, and big boobs.”
  • “Michael Schmoe. RIP. He drove a Ferrari.”
  • “Jennifer Schmoe. RIP. She climbed the corporate ladder until she was the boss of a big firm.”
  • “Tom Doe. RIP. He was ultra-productive and none of his co-workers could keep up with him.”
  • “Jane Doe. RIP. She proved her father wrong and became successful.”



David B. Clear

Cartoonist, science fan, PhD, eukaryote. Doesn't eat cats, dogs, nor other animals. 1,000x Bottom Writer.