I watched my grandmother suffer, rotting like a banana peel before my eyes, then finally dying in a hospital bed as cancer devoured her body. In all my days on this earth, I've never seen a disease so evil that it actually eats its victims from the inside out. She was in so much pain that when I touched her hand, she wrenched and would scream in agony. This was 1998. She died at the age of 66, and now, I am faced with my own mortality. If you or a loved one has ever looked death in the eye, then consider this quick anecdote my holiday gift to you.
I was barely 18. I celebrated my birthday on May 1st. Ten days later, my closest relative was gone, her physical body soon to be nothing but ashes. Life went on. My senior prom was a few days away, and my high school graduation just around the corner. Life went on, but the trauma remained.
I'm willing to guess that the vast majority of us want to live long lives. We want our existence here to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise, as the saying goes. When I was younger, I never considered my own mortality. I'm 36 now and, by most measures, I am still a young man. This is completely irrelevant, and my grandma proves it. When my dear granny was 36, she was halfway to being dead. She didn't even know it. It's a bitch, but:
YOU'RE GONNA DIE.
That's right, I'm talking about YOU. When I was a boy, maybe once or twice a year, a distant relative would die. My folks would take me to a dreadfully morbid place to pay my respects, and then it was off to an equally distant relative's house for the "someone just died so let's have a quasi-Thanksgiving dinner" tradition. I can't speak for you, but in the back of my head, I always thought that it would never happen to me. That somehow, I would outlast this age and magically be one of the first immortal. Nope. That ain't happening. The simple fact of the matter is...
Yes, I am dying. You are dying, too.
To be clear, I've not been diagnosed with a terminal illness. A doctor hasn't given me a finite amount of time to live. Here's what it boils down to: if you're reading this right now, you're a "dead man walking." It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But... there's a good chance it could be. So what are you going to do about it?
If you knew that a week from today would be your last day on the planet, what would you do?
I bet you'd stop worrying about your shitty job. I bet you wouldn't care about buying that new car. I'm guessing you would want to spend time with your significant other, or hell, go out and find a significant other if you desire one. You wouldn't care about that meaningless project deadline your boss has been up your ass about. You would stop thinking about that colleague who is always a jerk to you. Perhaps you would drop everything and finally go on that trip that you've been saying you'd take... since 2003. Hell, you might decide to try a host of "bad habits" because, at that point, the idea of "bad habits" would be moot. Maybe you'd spend your final days like a 21-year-old spring breaker! No matter what, a paradigm shift would happen inside of your brain, and I'm going to argue that this paradigm shift should happen before you get the "pink slip of your life." This goes for me writing these words and every other human being on this planet that is still drawing breath into their lungs.
We need to have much higher level thinking. right. now.
You are dying. You may be dying faster than you know. You may already have cancer and not know it. You may have some freak blood clot while on an airplane and drop dead. You could have a heart attack on Sunday despite your P90X body. So why do you keep going into a job that you hate every day? "I need the money," you say. I get that. We all need money... unless we're dead. "I have a family I have to support," you argue. I get that. I have loved ones that depend on me. Stress will destroy your body like cancer, except it's more subtle. If you have Stage 4 cancer, a doctor can, with some degree of accuracy say, "Derek, you have two weeks to a month to live." If my ailment or yours is a mind-boggling stressful career that's killing us, such a precise date of death is borderline impossible to diagnose, but no less dangerous. I'll repeat that:
Stress will kill you with the strength of cancer, but is so stealthy, you'll never, ever have the ability to say goodbye to your loved ones, you will FORFEIT the chance to check off the experiences you've been hoarding on your bucket list, and this toxic combination has the bitter, awful taste of:
The bad news? We're all dying. The good news is, the vast majority of us can do something about when we die (yes, we actually can!), how we feel about ourselves before our death, and the impact we've had on the world before the death knell rings. Here are just a few ways to get started.
- Only do things you want to do. Period. - When I first heard this, it sounded so romantic. Utopian in a sense. I am dead (not literally, yet) serious. Yes, we all need money. That's a fact of life. But we can always make any money back that we lose somewhere else in any number of ways. When we lose 20 minutes, then those 20 minutes are gone forever. Life is short, so don't do anything you don't want to do from this moment forward.
- Obliterate the negative people out of your life, and do it as fast as possible. - Being around negative people is like inhaling second-hand smoke. It will kill you eventually, just like chain smoking those Lucky Strike's yourself. All that mumbo jumbo bullshit about how you're the "product of the five people you're around the most every day"? Guess what? It's totally true. Get rid of these people from your life at any cost. It doesn't mean they're bad people, they're just not good to have in your life. No matter what it takes, get them out of your life and do so for good, even if it means changing your phone number and shunning them on Facebook. Even if that means just quitting your job and taking a step backwards. It's. That. Important. Equally as important is the next point.
- Only surround yourself with people you love, love you back and want you to win. - We all have a limited capacity when it comes to those whom we would call "close." If the closest people in your life are negative, treat you poorly, don't forgive you for your mistakes, make you feel like a second-class human being, and never celebrate your accomplishments, then you don't have room for positive people in your life. I can tell you from personal experience that, the moment you exile even one negative person from your life, someone positive will step in and take their place. Having the courage to, and then acting upon that courage, to rid yourself of negativity is always rewarded. Always.
- Stop waiting for the right moment. There's never a right moment. Start now. - Tired of working for The Man selling insurance when you really want to write that novel? Quit. Write the novel. Are you a painter that doesn't paint? Quit your job and paint. Are you an entrepreneur that never acts on her big idea? Quit your job and quit selfishly denying the world your gift. Are you the composer not writing your symphony? Why would you refuse humanity this glorious piece of beauty, keeping it to yourself in the recesses of your brain? What's holding you back? I know what it is. "Once I pay off this last credit card, then I'll start my new business." "I'm going to begin painting this summer when my work load lightens." You're going to make excuse after excuse after excuse is what you're going to do. No judgment here! I did the same thing. I kept waiting for the right moment. Realizing I was going to die and that I wanted to leave a "ding in the universe" a la Steve Jobs, I decided I needed to start sooner rather than later. Sooner means now. Sooner means quit your job. Trust me: you'll find a way to make money. You will. You will. You will.
This is the time of year when people make "resolutions" for the coming year. Think about what it means to "resolve" to do something. You have unwavering commitment. No matter what, you're going to accomplish all the commitments, all the "resolutions," that you promised yourself that you would do for an entire year! Not one person can actually say they've achieved success on each New Year's Resolution made over the course of their lives. So quit making them. Instead, choose yourself. Choose yourself to be successful. Choose yourself to be happy. Choose yourself right now, not January 1st. Why wait? The clock is ticking.
Statistics nearly guarantee that someone reading this article right now will be dead before the ball drops in New York City on December 31st, 2017. Just in case that person is you, give yourself an early present, and choose yourself right now. If death is but a few days away, remember right this very second what is really important in your life. That's what matters. Every single second matters.
Merry Christmas: you're dying. Go live like there's no tomorrow. You may not have one.