What We Can Learn From the Dying
We live in a world with bucket lists and books like “1000 Things You Positively Have to Do Before You Die”, vision boards and life coaches. We look longingly at those with lives we wish we had and often ignore our own lives in the process. We strive for experiences that in the end do not offer fulfillment. Despite our constant attempt to fill the hours, our buckets remain empty. We spend countless hours on the internet or watching TV, relishing what someone else is doing and ignoring the tug of our children to spend time with them. We lament ad nauseum about how busy, busy, busy we are. We are consumed by the notion that something better is waiting around the corner. We are so consumed with tomorrow, we forget to live today.
And there is something around the corner. It’s either something better, something worse or death. As morose as that sounds it’s true and if you knew what waited around the corner for you was your own demise, would you be happy with what you had right now?
Would you have regrets? Would any of them match up with the the top five regrets of the dying?
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Hmmm, not one single mention of a tangible item. No regrets that they didn’t have a bigger house. A faster car. Better clothes. No regrets that they didn’t travel more. There is also no socioeconomic divider here. These regrets are applicable to rich, poor, and everyone in between. They are universal and as such we can all learn from the dying.
It’s hard though isn’t it? It’s hard to remain vigilant about what’s important when there are so many distractions in life. What sucks you away from what’s important? For me it’s technology. It means that I now shut down my computer when my girls get home from school and often wait until they’re in bed before I jump back on. It means that I often walk away from technology on the weekends so that I can give my family my full attention. Technology, since it is primarily where I make a living, is my biggest distraction, but not my only one. I also have to make sure that I don’t get so consumed with having a clean house that I forget to live in it. Also not said on a deathbed, “I wish I’d kept my house cleaner.”
I am working hard on becoming an expert filterer and a master of focus. I fail a lot. This is when I brush myself off and start over again because as the saying goes, if you woke up breathing you have another chance.
Last night I watched this incredible video about a young man, Zach Sobiech, who passed away on May 19. It left me breathless. Faced with his mortality, he didn’t curl up into a ball and get bitter. He embraced life and weeded out the distractions. He focused entirely on being with those he loved. I was inspired, as I often am with things like this, and made little promises in my head about living my life more mindfully.
Then I remembered another video I watched a few years ago from Randy Pausch. I made little promises then as well, which I promptly forgot.
So, what are we to learn from the dying? I don’t think we can understand our own immortality until we face it. That lesson must be taught first hand. Next, people who are dying are living with a heightened sense of appreciation for the everyday. So again, I don’t think we can glean that lesson until it’s time.
The questions then becomes how do you live like you’re dying when you’re not? I think we can walk away with these lessons.
- Ensure the people you love will never doubt you loved them. This doesn’t necessarily mean shouting out I love you every time they walk out the door or never arguing with them. It’s a bigger picture of how you treat them while you’re here with them.
- Keep friends close.
- Work is important, but not more than living. Be mindful of not confusing the two.
- Get rid of clutter. This can be physical clutter and emotional clutter. Focus in on your core priorities in life then pay no attention to the stuff that gets in the way.
- Live life joyfully. I have watched many loved ones get sick from stress lately. How we react to life’s hurdles is a choice for the most part. Don’t sweat the small stuff at they say.
- Don’t leave things unsaid.
- If there is something you want in life, don’t let fear hold you back.
- Don’t try to learn too many lessons at once. I add this in because while I truly believe you can never learn enough in life, you can try to apply too much in life. KISS is still the best method here. Keep your priorities straight and the rest will fall into place.
What would you add to this list?
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. ~Mark Twain