Being conscious of your own mortality can help you live a better life.
This is an ancient truism, and for some reason, I keep seeing it everywhere I’ve turned of late, polished and presented anew.
Because he is stepping down from CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs has been repeatedly in the news. In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, he said:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
It’s a simple message, and yet, so moving.
And it’s not just him.
In the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible, the wise King Solomon writes extensively about meaningless pursuits and death:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Thinking about death is also a Buddhist practice.
The first thing you do is think about death. Several times a day. This will clarify a lot for you.
There’d be a lot less dishonesty, cheating and meanness if people put this into practice. In my mind’s eye, I can hear protest: “If we all lived as if we’d die very soon, then nobody would go to work.”
I think that’s wrong, so long as one takes pride in the privilege of work, so long as it really means “to create” or “to improve.”
Steve Jobs thought about his own death every day, and he still chose to work rather than getting perpetually high or sloshed. He chose creativity and meaning.
In the words of cartoonist Hugh McLeod:
Death is what gives life its edge.
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