Over the past few months, I’ve started to worry about dying. This sounds morose but stay with me because this is really a post about life. Irrational as though it may seem for a 36-year-old to worry about dying, I seriously do. Oddly though, I don’t worry about dying in a car accident or anything like that - I worry about having a heart attack.
Much of this angst can probably be attributed to the fact that I know or have been one degree of separation from a number of men, all men, who passed away from a heart attack in their late 30s and 40s. Obviously, each one of these deaths was totally unexpected.
As I’ve admitted this to a few people who are close to me, I’ve been met with one of only two responses:
“Oh, c’mon, you’re far too young to be worrying about that.”
“Yeah, I worry about that too.”
Here’s the thing. If we’re honest with ourselves when we are seeking to clarify and define what living our best life actually means, it’s hard to do that without thinking about dying. In fact, I’ll say I have never thought so clearly about my life and how I want it to look than I have these past few months. Let me explain.
I’ve gone down a deep rabbit hole of “appreciating today” articles recently and how time feels infinite even though we all know it’s very finite. I’ll share the posts that have shifted my focus at the end, but I want to share a few questions that have spurred this clarity-inducing thought experiment that I hope will make a difference in your life.
A few financial advisors I hold in high regard subscribe to asking their clients three questions, all of which are the brainchild of George Kinder. I encourage you to take a moment - perhaps with just a blank sheet of paper and pen - and think about the following questions. I think you’ll find it to be a valuable exercise. I recommend that you do them in order.
I want you to imagine that you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. The question is, how would you live your life? What would you do with the money? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back your dreams. Describe a life that is complete, that is richly yours.
Stop for a few minutes and think through your answer - if money were of no concern whatsoever, how would you live your life? What would you do?
You visit your doctor who tells you that you have five to ten years left to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel sick. The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining to live? Will you change your life, and how will you do it?
Stop for a few minutes and think through your answer. If your time were limited, what will you do with the time you have left? Would you be more intentional in your relationships with the people you love? Would you let go of politics and petty arguments? Would you still watch TV? What would you do?
This time, your doctor shocks you with the news that you have only one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What dreams will be left unfulfilled? What do I wish I had finished or had been? What do I wish I had done? What did I miss?
This is the question that a friend of mine asked me two weeks ago. When he asked it, I was feeling pretty certain that I’ve been living in a way that I didn’t have too many regrets. I spend a lot of time with my family. I have a job I love where I get to make a difference for people I care about.
But then it hit me - I don’t always do a great job of expressing gratitude. Sure, I say thank you all the time, but it’s as much habit as it is sincere. So, his one question forced me to confront a shortcoming and I’m taking action on it.
Which question made you really think about how you’re living your life?
I don’t know about you, but for me, question #2 is the one that really stops me in my tracks. If I get to 47 and pass away, will I wish I had changed something? Am I organizing my days, weeks, months, and years to be as impactful as possible right now? Am I making a difference in the lives of those I truly care about? Am I setting a good example for my sons?
These are not exactly party questions. They are big questions. Powerful life-altering and life-aligning questions. They have forced me to rethink every facet of my own life. What if I did this, or what if I did that? Would this lead to a better life - one I can be proud of living?
In short, it forced me to confront whether my daily actions are aligned with the legacy I’d like to leave one day - whenever that time comes.
More of what matters
Our culture is so obsessed with more and yet when I ponder these questions, my answer was never the “more” our culture encourages us to want.
When we ask ourselves the questions above, we realize what we really want more of is more freedom. More time with the people we love. More intimate connections. More laughs. More satisfaction. More meaning. More peace.
Answers like this only come from looking internally, not externally.
A side effect of this fear is that it should have the net effect of changing our actions and habits. I am being more intentional with my time with people I love, exercising more, eating better, and watching less TV.
While we can all hope and plan to live for decades to come, I’m trying to come to grips with what living a life of purpose really means by confronting my own fear - as rational or irrational as it may be.
I hope you find these questions helpful in crafting your own life of purpose. Below are the articles I prefaced earlier. They are all worth reading.
The Tail End by Tim Urban
The Finality of Everything by Lawrence Yeo
It’s Later Than You Think by J.R. Storment
The Disease of More by Mark Manson (Caution: Language)
Will You Choose Alive Time or Dead Time? by Ryan Holiday