Tracie Bluse Ward says that challenging times are often the best times for personal growth. Having been impacted by the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and now navigating COVID-19 with the rest of us, Ward sees these moments as opportunities to ask the big questions: What is most important to us? How do we want to live going forward? And what do we want people to remember about us? Ward is president and founder of Living Wisely (formerly Celebrations of Life), which helps people build resilience, live with greater insight and create an enduring legacy. She shares her thoughts on why people of all ages can benefit from taking time for personal reflection.
Q: Tell us about Living Wisely (livingwisely.org). Is its mission shifting with COVID-19?
A: Our mission is twofold: We help individuals create an enduring legacy by sharing their life lessons, wisdom, values and generosity so that they may live more intentionally and inspire loved ones to do the same. We also help organizations connect more deeply and personally with the individuals they serve, from hospice providers to financial advisers. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic and our physical distancing present a defining moment in our lives and an opportunity to consider what matters as we navigate our way to a new normal.
Q: What is offered on your website?
A: We offer five programs, all delivered through a personal, private online portal, for a small subscription fee. The first is “ethical wills or legacy letters,” which encourages sharing of values and beliefs with future generations. This builds on the pioneering work of my business partner Barry Baines, M.D., a hospice doctor and authority on ethical wills. “Life reflection stories” are about sharing life lessons and wisdom. “Making a difference plans” focus on generational generosity and actions. We also offer “reflections and resilience journals” and “pet stories and tributes,” the latter to provide comfort after the loss of these cherished family members.
Q: Can users pick what to focus on?
A: Absolutely. Each subscriber decides how and when to engage and can share as much as they wish. A series of interactive prompts and meaningful exercises guide their responses. Voice transcription makes it easy for anyone to use the programs on their computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. They may also add photographs and share meaningful keepsakes with family, friends and community.
Q: You’re offering the reflections journal free for a year as a response to COVID-19. How do you hope people use it?
A: We invite them to document history as it happens (life before, during and post-COVID-19) through experiences, observations and choices — sharing what truly matters. We also hope they learn from and record strategies to not only cope, but thrive, thus strengthening their resilience. A research study on resilience at Emory University found that families who openly share stories about their successes and failures are better prepared to manage all of life’s ups and downs.
Q: To that point, you say that every age group can benefit from this pursuit.
A: Life can be challenging and complex for any of us, but particularly for young adults who may not have the depth of experiences or wisdom to lean on during difficult times. LivingWisely provides the space for them to take a step back, see how far they’ve traveled, gain new perspectives. When my parents shared their life experiences with me, I learned about courage, determination and resilience. But it goes both ways. When children share their experiences, grandparents and parents see the world from another generation’s perspective. Family connections and conversations deepen.
Q: COVID-19 wasn’t the turning point for you. Sept. 11, 2001, was.
A: 9/11 impacted my life in ways I could have never imagined. At the time, I was a management consultant for Fortune 500 companies, traveling a lot and dealing with tremendous stress. On that day, I was originally scheduled to be near the [World Trade Center] for client meetings. Fortunately, my plans changed. I landed in Atlanta with a group of executives when our phones lighted up with the horrific news. I was tremendously grateful to be in a safe place, but unable to return home as all transportation ceased for many days. Of course, I felt the impact professionally, but more so on a personal level as our two young sons were without their mom during this frightening time. With any crisis or personal tragedy, I became acutely aware of my mortality and could no longer take my precious life or family for granted. I reset my priorities: reduce travel, refocus my work and create meaningful experiences with my family.
Q: Can’t people do this work on their own?
A: Writers and people who enjoy traditional journaling often find a blank page inspiring and may not need our services. Most people, however, find writing about themselves and sharing life experiences intimidating. Our online, self-guided programming adds greater convenience and accessibility without the expense.
Q: Why not do the typical thing and put this off?
A: At our core is a desire to be the best person we can be, to feel that our life mattered. Reflecting upon and sharing our life lessons, wisdom and values is a form of self-discovery, and our most valuable gift to loved ones.