How to Live Like You’re Dying

Filed in Living by on May 21, 2015 0 Comments

We’ve all had this experience: someone we know dies at a relatively young age and it causes us think about our own death, and whether or not we are living our life the best way possible, considering that we could also be taken at any time. This recently happened to me, with a brilliant doctor friend of mine passing away at age 53. He was diagnosed with colon cancer, it spread to his liver, and within a year he was gone. He left behind a wonderful wife and four beautiful children. I was shocked and terribly saddened that he was taken from us so prematurely.

This has caused me to think about my own fragile mortality. I have also been thinking about whether I am spending my time, energy, and money wisely. It’s so easy to get swept up in our routine, and be on “automatic pilot,” without even really thinking about what we are doing and why. Yet if I were to learn tomorrow that I had, say, just one year to live, I doubt that my current routine would be how I would spend my last year of existence here on earth. I would certainly choose to do things much, much differently.

But here’s the dilemma. It’s just not at all likely that I, or anyone else for that matter, will actually upend their lives in any dramatic fashion if we are healthy and everything is going along fine, even if someone we know has happened to have died prematurely. Virtually no one ever does this. Are we really going to switch careers so that we can spend more time with our spouse and family, or to travel the world, just because we might die tomorrow or next year? I seriously doubt it. So after we have this epiphany that we are not living our lives as fully as we might, and we would have deep regrets if we were to die soon, what inevitably happens is we make no changes at all to our lives and continue on as we always have. It ends up being a wasted learning, and improving, moment.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is not an acceptable answer.

I believe the answer to this quandary lies in making small, yet important, changes to our lives, which we would be pleased about when (not if) the fateful day arrives.

So, as a result of my friend’s passing, and my realization that I could also die at any time, these are the changes I will be making over the next several weeks and months:

  • Talk to my wife about spending less of our money and time on home improvements, and more on traveling together. We have been putting a lot of money into our homes the last decade or so, but I really just want to spend time with my beautiful wife, and if I were to die tomorrow, not having done so would be my greatest regret. We went on a Baltic Sea cruise last year and we both had a great time. I would like us to focus our money and energy on experiences like that.
  • Spend more time with my children and grandchildren. I will see them more frequently, so I can enjoy being with them and share their youthful spirit. I will plan fun events with them when Elaine and I are in Chicago, like day trips and going out to dinner. We will bring them down to Florida more often when we are there in the winter so we can enjoy each other’s company.

I think this is all I will change. If I add more items to the list, or attempt changes that are too ambitious and unrealistic, it is much less likely I will actually implement them, which is the trap that most people fall into that I specifically want to avoid. I will make small, but meaningful changes, so that if I die soon I will at least have somewhat fewer regrets about how I lived my life. This will both honor my doctor friend, and benefit me and those close to me.

What small, but essential, things can you change in your life, to live like you are dying? As I said, you probably aren’t going to chuck your job and backpack through Europe, so what might you decide to do differently that you will actually follow through on, and will make a difference in your life?

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

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