I spend a lot more time thinking about death than most 25-year-olds. In fact, I try to think about it every single day.
Should I live as if I will make it to 100 hundred years old? Take my time, enjoy the little things, and not be in a hurry? Or should I live as if I will die tomorrow? Pack in as much as possible, and ignore everything but the essential?
The choice between these two opposing philosophies has been a major source of concern for me. I don't want to waste the time I have. I don't want to waste my youthfulness and health. I want to look back on my life from my deathbed and be content with the path I've taken.
In my role at GrandPad, I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of people aged 75 and older. I've even had the honor of spending time with many of these people on their deathbeds. Here is some of the advice they've given me:
- "Take things slow. You have so much time. Don't be in such a hurry."
- "I wish I would have traveled the world while I could, started my own business, but then I blinked and now I'm an old man."
- "Live fast and die young. Take it all in. Sleep when you're dead!"
However, the best perspective on this topic comes from one of the most inspiring people I've ever met.
What Elmer Taught Me
At age 106, Elmer is an active investor, realtor, musician, and great-grandfather. He's also in the process of applying for citizenship in Luxemburg, so he has the option to live there one day. He's looking forward to COIVD-19 being over, so he can spend more time traveling the world before he gets "too old."
On his hundred 106th Birthday, Elmer shared this advice: treat every day like a gift. A simple maxim, but his actions are what truly illustrate these words. After sharing this advice, he played the "Happy Birthday" song on the clarinet, and we all joined-in in singing to him. (he's one of the oldest clarinet players in the world)
He's shown me that I should keep learning, growing, and challenging myself. To be happy if I die tomorrow, but to learn and grow as if I will live forever.
You need to develop a long-term perspective that informs your short term perspective and behavior. Plan to live 100 years, but make no assumption that you will.
The Deathbed Exercise
But how can we apply these learnings to our daily life? One great way is to go through this "Deathbed Exercise." Ask yourself the following questions, and write your answers in a journal so you can look back at them in the future.
- Relationships: You are 100 years old, and are in your final moments. Who are the people who would be surrounding you? Ask yourself, are you spending enough time with these people now?
- Decisions: If you are anxious about a big life decision, ask yourself: How would you feel on your deathbed if you never took this risk? Then, ask yourself: How would you feel on your deathbed knowing that you took this risk, and it failed? Which of these two options would you rather experience?
- Time Allocation: If you were 100 years old, how much would you pay to relive this current moment? Apply this filter to everything you do. Use this question to determine what is truly valuable to you. You may find that Netflix has little to no value, but a long walk with a great friend is priceless.
- The Process: What small things can you do each day that will make your deathbed all the more wonderful? Maybe it's exercising, eating well, spending time on relationships? What are the small actions you can do each day that will compound to make your life increasingly better?
This isn't a one-time exercise. This is an ongoing practice. Set aside time, ideally monthly, to imagine you are looking back on your life from your deathbed.
In the end, death is our only true fate. Spend your life working toward your final moments. Appreciate everything you already have. Don't wait until you are 100 to reflect on your life. Develop a perspective informed by this long-term view.
You may never get the chance to reflect on your life, knowing that you are living your final moments. However, you can reflect on your life now.