Mortality is the one subject we’d all just as soon avoid. Death may be inevitable – the one thing we all have in common – but that doesn’t mean we have to think about it or, God forbid, talk about it. At least not today. I mean, why ruin a perfectly good day?
If you were brought up in a family or a culture where death is a taboo topic, then you probably get anxious just thinking about it. But embracing your own mortality can change your perspective, enrich your life, and most important, keep you from falling prey to the saddest of all human tragedies: wasting what little time you have.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty passionate about being among the living. But by the time you get to my age, you’ve probably stared death in the face on at least one or two occasions. I know I have, and the simple fact that this will all come to an end before long inspires me to live fearlessly and pursue my dreams like nothing else.
Nobody describes this phenomenon more eloquently than Steve Jobs, at his 2005 Stanford commencement speech:
“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.
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Facing death is not about trying to imagine a world without you in it. That’s a ludicrous pursuit if there ever was one. It’s about realizing that you only get one shot at life and there’s simply no reason not to take it. You have to follow your heart, your intuition, your dreams, and do whatever it is you’re meant to do before the clock runs out.
It’s ironic that life’s greatest motivator is death, and life’s greatest tragedy is not having the courage or the will to really live.