If You’re Reading This, You’ll Be Dead Soon
If you are still on the fence about committing to The First Habit (investing 90 minutes a day in yourself), consider the following:
One day soon, you’ll be dead.
Okay “soon” is relative. It could be tomorrow, or it could be in 70 years.
Apparently this was a phrase that motivated Steve Jobs:
Rather than feeling morbid about it, take a moment and really consider the ramifications. Each day you are checking off one more day spent. One more day you will never get back (cue the music: Like sands through the hourglass . . .)
Seize the day
I used to live near an old cemetery in a suburb south of Pittsburgh. You know the type, near a large cathedral, well-maintained, and with stately monuments. I passed it every day on my way to work. One day while on a walk, I decided to meander though just to check it out. I found my self looking at the names and dates and imagining who these people were in life—men, women, and children. Some lived many years, some only days. Each of them with a name and this stone “monument” to their life. All of them dead. Done. Finished. Kaput. Gone. But, instead of feeling depressed about this, I actually started feeling a strange, but positive growing energy. By the time I left, it’s like I was on a natural high. I felt grateful—grateful for my health. I felt motivated—motivated to seize the day. I felt acutely . . . present.
In his popular book, Seven Habits, Steven Covey suggests that an important part of a successful life is to “start with the end in mind.”
Imagine your last day
I hope my thoughts will turn to happy and fulfilling relationships. I hope my thoughts will turn to a life of enriching experiences.
Now imagine your funeral. What will people say (family, friends, co-workers)?
I hope my family will say I was a loving father (and grandfather/great-grandfather if I’m lucky to live that long). I hope my friends will say I was generous. I hope my co-workers will say I had an impact and inspired the best in those around me.
The infamous character Scrooge in Charles Dickens short story, “A Christmas Carol” has the vivid opportunity to consider his future demise when the Ghost of Christmas Future shows him the shadows of what could be if he does not alter his miserly course. If you recall the story, not a single person mourns his death, and his earthly possessions are divided by a vulgar group of opportunists. This “vision” of his potential future is the force that finally solidifies his resolve to change his ways.
Coincidentally, I’ve recently had ample opportunities to reflect on these questions. Strange how things happen in threes. After many years without any deaths, my extended family has experienced three deaths in a matter of weeks. Each of these people lived well into their 90s. (Makes me think of how remarkable it is when marathon runners cross the finish line within seconds of each other.) Their funeral services contained heart-felt tributes and reflections on lives well-lived. I always get teary eyed—even when I don’t know the person very well. It’s just that sense that it’s over. They’ve crossed the finish line. All we have left is memories.
I think it is safe to say that we’d all like to be able to say that we’ve lived “a good life.”
But what is “a good life?” This question has occupied the thoughts of many a philosopher through the ages. I’m sure there are more definitions than there are people. But, what the heck, I’ll give it a go in my next post.
- Remembering I’ll be dead soon. This is a short clip of Steve Job’s Stanford 2005 commencement address.
- Carpe Diem. “Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary!” Take a couple minutes and (re)watch this clip from the movie Dead Poet’s Society.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This is a classic for stepping back and re-evaluating.
- The Tail End. Thoughtful blog post by Tim Urban of Wait But Why blog. Consider that when you graduated from high school, you have used up 93 percent of your in-person parent time.
Call to Action
- Take a few minutes and imagine today is your last. Take a few notes if you feel like it. What was your legacy? What is a “good life” for you? Are you on track? What would you regret? Like Scrooge, do you need to mend your ways? Comment below.
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Matt Morgan writes about how mastering one habit can be like pushing the power button on your life. Subscribe to his e-mail list (see button on the upper right) and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.