5 takeaways from building a “TEDx Before I Die” wall

About a year ago two friends and I built a “Before I Die” wall which was inspired by the TEDx Talk of Cindy Chang. The project’s purpose is to remind/question people what they want to experience/accomplish before they die. If they feel comfortable, they can then share their wish by writing it on the wall: “Before I die I want to …”. We acquired the cultural office and other scholarships for sponsoring the project and the wall stood for 10 days in Fuerth and for a month in Nuremberg. It was quite fun to build it, to ask yourself this question, to see other people thinking about their life and to hear about totally different goals. You can see walls from all over the world here. However, here are my personal observations from initiating a wall.

1. People usually don’t ask themselves this question
The day we were building the wall we got these questions a lot: “Why are you doing this?” – “Who are you (in terms of to what organization we belong to)?” – “Who pays for this?” –  “Is this some type of student project you are required to do?” Only a few were just positively surprised and understood the purpose of this project immediately. One person approached us and told us about his story about fighting cancer. He highly appreciated the project and thanked us, “Because people think way too little about what is important in life.” Agreed. The fact that many people were standing in front of it and had no answer, supported this statement.

2. No desire for materialistic things
Another takeaway from the first point is that many people asked: “what is the point by doing something without any financial outcome?” This might be something German specific, but it came up and was our experience. On the other hand, surprisingly, nobody wished for anything materialistic. Of course, for some of the dreams (e.g. a world trip) you need money, but nobody wished for an iPad, a boat, a TV, etc. (Ok, there was one child who wished for a Audi A7, but that’s it.) Thus, people actually know that they value experience more than buying things.

3. People want something they haven’t experienced yet
Additionally, most of the wishes mentioned the desire to experience something which the person hadn’t experienced before. Very, very rarely did we see words like “again”, “another time”, “back to” etc. (btw. winner was “traveling” – by far.)

4. The people around you shape who you are/what you do
For example: We saw some younger groups passing the wall and starting writing some inappropriate things. Of course, we either directly talked to them or cleaned it instantly, when we had the chance to. Surprisingly, in almost every one of these groups, there was one person who turned around having a look on their face that the wall made them think. We also noticed that some of those persons came back an hour later, but alone. Sometimes they turned around, even when their friends where still there, and then got some bullshit from their friends because of it. So, if there happens something similar, they won’t do it again. I am not going into cognitive dissonance (your mind rationalizes your behavior), but it’s common knowledge that the people around shape who you are and this is just an example of this. Mum was right: “I don’t want you to spend time with this boy.”

5. Small things can have a big impact
Sure, there might be some people reading this and thinking: “For God’s sake, why even bother doing this?” Please go back to the first point. However, we talked to many people who were quite interested in giving this a deeper thought, since they haven’t done it yet. Plus, we got mentioned on the StreetArt Germany Facebook page and were invited to a radio show. Hence, we actually reached more people than we thought. Plus, just to see this project for 10seconds can have a big impact on people’s life and I am quite sure that many people thought about it – which was the whole purpose. Or maybe this is just an optimist speaking.

Quite obviously there was a personal reason, why I did this. I was getting closer to my graduation and asked myself what I want to happen next. How should my life look like and how can I go about accomplishing it? The result was that I packed my things and went traveling through Scandinavia and South East Asia. Plus, having my life goals in mind, I reflect and set new short term goals (1-3 years) which lead me to them every year. Clarifying my thoughts and setting specific goals gave me the opportunity to focus on things which are important for my long-term goals and which activities/habits don’t serve that purpose.

Optimist speaking:
What are your goals?

Thanks Sebastian Laber and Gerti Gligor for joining the project. I wouldn’t have done it without you.
Thanks to Shakira Ericksen and Kristle Haynes for corrections.