A familiar view.

A familiar view.

I think about death a lot. It may be a morbid thought to some, but I accept it as the inevitable reality to anyone who has been granted the gift of life.

This picture is one I’m all too familiar with. I’ve been on the road so often that each time I look out a window before take off, the thought crosses my mind if this may be my final journey.

It’s easy to approach life at a young age and to think that the world is your oyster, that you’re invincible and everything is there for your taking. Yet tragedy and heartache are real. And it’s naive to ignore that life is actually much more fickle than it seems. Every person will die and I’ve seen good great people lost at a young age and very unexpectedly. The barrier that separates life and death is actually much flimsier than it seems.

Regardless of your sentiment around the issue, here’s what I’ve found – 

when you’ve had a chance to wrestle with your death,  it frees you up to truly appreciate and live life the way it’s meant to be lived.

Accepting death has been liberating for me. It’s a constant reminder of two things important to my worldview.:

1) It reminds me that everything that I have here is nought:

Outside looking in I’ve had a chance to do and see a lot in 27 years. I’ve launched a nonprofit, an entrepreneurship organization, co-authored a book, bought a house and a car, travelled, graduated from an accredited university, and am considered a top 1% earner in the entire world.

But here’s the thing, I don’t care about any of that. 

Death reminds me that none are things I can take with me when I go. In fact, how much of this stuff do I actually need? The answer is none.

As they say, “From the dust one emerges, and to the dust one returns.”

So if this is true, why do I fret about a retirement balance, or an executive title, or keeping up with the Joneses? Answer is: I shouldn’t. 

Each time I think about my own death it reminds me that I’ve been blessed with far more than I could ever deserve, which in turn frees me up to live by giving it away.

2) Death is a fresh reminder of what truly matters

When I think about my death, it also asks me, if today is my last day, am I proud of what I’ve done? 

Even at 27, I reflect upon the legacy I want to leave. How do I want to be remembered by others? What have I left behind that will help propel people forward without me being present? 

When I ask myself this question, the daily anxiety begins to wear away. Truth is, no one that I genuinely care about will remember me for hitting my annual sales quota, who I dated (or didn’t), or how high was my salary, things I used to care about. What I genuinely wrestle with every day is have I taken this day: to listen, to learn, and to love others well. That’s the legacy I want to be remembered by. Everything else is meaningless. 

What I’ve realized in my own life is that the people I cherish aren’t commemorated because of the large extravagant things they’ve done for me, but in the small little things they’ve done consistently and well.

“If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?” — Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

The final curser

When I think about death, it reminds and reinforces me of these two things. I ask myself routinely: am I continued to be motivated by what truly matters? Am I stressed about things that don’t?

For those who have never thought about their death or are afraid to, it doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, it’s provided me with the truth and clarity on how to live my best life. 

What I encourage everyone to do is to think through how you want to be remembered. How do you want to spend the rest of your life reflecting those beliefs? Now how does that change your actions for today?

There’s no need to seek death, I promise it will find you. But live your life in a way without fear of missing out on the opportunities and live every day as if it’s your last. 

I’ll end with one of my favorite prayers from the Valley of Vision:

May I speak each word as if my last word
and walk each step as my final one.
If my life should end today,
let this be my best day.

Live life fully and well, my friends. 

If you’re interested in two books that have helped shape my perceptions on death and legacy, these are two of my favorites. Both Authors passed away at an early age and were forced to reconcile the life they thought they would live vs the actual timeline they’d been given. Their legacy lives on in every page. Must reads.

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch