My grandma is 96 years old and she’s still deeply concerned by the cost of a loaf of bread. Despite being a danger to herself and other road users, she’s only just stopped driving because she didn’t want to pay a nominal taxi fee for the 5 minute journey into town for her weekly grocery shop. She treble checks bills, worries about the hot water being left on too long and nags my mum over insignificant spending. In short, she is absorbed by the minutia of life.
This penny pinching isn’t the result of being close to poverty or the onset of senility though. Far from it, she has money to burn and my mum tells me she’s always been this way.
Then what is it that drives a person of far advanced years to spend the last of them absorbed by life’s trivialities?
In diagnosing this problem we have to realise that this affliction stretches far beyond the elderly. In fact, it has spread so far that it has probably touched all adults and some adolescents at some point in their life. Some people are stymied by it and for others, it comes and goes. Although it can’t be spread by physical contact, it is highly contagious. Seeping through the collective consciousness, it is a disease of mind that leads the individual to live their lives as if they’re not going to die.
What do I mean by this?
Here are some of the symptoms;
It’s not that people living with this affliction believe they’ll live forever; it’s just that they’ve lost ALL grasp on what life should be about. Life is way too short to partake in anything on the above list. To do so demonstrates an attitude that thinks your time on earth isn’t important – that you have the luxury to waste it on things that really don’t matter.
If you’re still not convinced about the dangers of living your life as if it’ll always be there then perhaps you’ll listen to Steve Jobs. In his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, he describes his daily awareness of the fact he will one day die as the greatest tool he had in making big decisions. He said that,
“Remembering you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Ironically, the acceptance of an event we’re taught to fear can actually free us to really LIVE. Adopt Job’s attitude and you’ve got the ultimate measure of what truly matters.
The next time you’re really troubled by something, unsure of what to do or holding yourself back through fear of failure, grab yourself and march to the nearest mirror. Now, get up close and personal, look squarely in your eyes and either say out loud or in your head, ‘One day I will die.’
How do you feel now?
Like you haven’t got a moment to waste? Do other people’s opinions matter anymore?
Has, ‘How could I possibly quit my job and pursue my dream?’ turned into, ‘How can I not?’
Think of this as a metaphorical defibrillator – you have to shock yourself back to life. It can become all too easy to live on autopilot. We have smart phones, newspapers, radio, music, magazines and television constantly fighting for our attention and a workplace where we perform the same role day in, day out. An event like death, marriage, the birth of a child or promotion at work may remind us that the clock is actually ticking but how often do these occur?
This is why it’s so important to be aware of your mortality on a daily basis. It gives each day a sense of energy and urgency. Steve Job’s once said that, since the age of 17, he would ask himself that if this day was to be his last, would he want to be doing what he was about to do. When the answer to that question was ‘no’ for too many days in a row, he knew he had to make a change.
Perhaps you may also adopt Job’s approach. However, don’t be too disheartened if, initially, you record a lot of ‘no’s’. Just an awareness that you need to change is a good starting point. From there, you can begin to find the answers that will alter your response to a resounding ‘yes’.
Attack it with a fanatical zeal though. In the words of another great (Chuck Palahniuk – author of Fight Club),
“This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time!”
(Image taken from Celestine Chua photostream flickr.com)