The Importance of Remembering You Will Die

The Importance of Remembering You Will Die

By Jamie Matthewman
August 27th, 2013

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important ~ Steve Jobs

Today I am attending the funeral of my great uncle who died last week aged 72. A gentle, lovely man who I will fondly remember. As always the death of those we love tends to remind us of the impermanence of life, at least until we forget again.

Whilst I can’t be sure, I suspect life in the 21st century feels way more complex than it ever has in the history of mankind. Information is now omnipresent, smart phones mean it’s difficult to escape a constant barrage of information and other people’s agenda’s.

Life runs at such a pace, it’s easy to forget it’s going to end. So often our precious energy and attention are consumed by things that really don’t matter.

The simplicity of life has been eroded by globalization, connectivity and technologies our forefathers couldn’t even imagine. So whilst we’ve certainly made rapid progress over the last 200 years, rising levels of stress across the globe suggest we’re going to have to learn to slow down and regain perspective.

You’ve Got 400 Months Left

When I started blogging in 2009, I wrote an article about Sam Walton’s reported last three words on his deathbed, “I blew it!”.

I wondered how a man held in such high esteem, who’d made billions, could feel like he’d got things so wrong? The reason, or so the story goes, is because he lost perspective and realising when it was too late, that he’d neglected what was really important – his family.

This inspired me to ensure I made my life about what matters most. I worked out if you’re aged between 30 and 40 you’ve probably got around 500 – 600 months left to live. Deduct a third for sleep and you’re left with around 400 waking months, but of course nothings promised.

I’m sorry to say you will die.

I Quit the 9 – 5 to Grab Life By the Balls

Seeing the numbers hit hard. Avoiding the drudgery and thousands of hours of seemingly meaningless work, I’d watched my parents go through, became vitally important to me. This kick in the ass injected a sense of urgency to life and I impetuously quit my job, hoping my half baked business ideas would create the income I needed to pay the bills – it didn’t.

So whilst I found myself with more ‘free’ time, I couldn’t pay my way. The escape from mediocrity I yearned for, turned into a frantic, confusing and stressful few years. I learnt a lot, but often I forgot what mattered.

I relegated fun to the bottom of the list as the debts rose along with stress. The fear of regret was a powerful catalyst, but looking back the anxiety caused by the idea that someday life would end without achieving what I wanted, got in the way of really savouring life.

Freedom from the Fear of Death

The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead. Einstein

Since then I’ve come to appreciate death is at the very heart of existence, yet the mortality of life rarely registers unless brought to our attention by illness or when those we love pass away.

With so much uncertainty in life, death is one thing you can have faith in. It will take away this physical form, just as it has every other living thing that’s every graced this planet.

Celebrating Death

For over 3,000 years Mexicans have celebrated the Day of the Dead – a festival of respect for family members deceased. Embraced by the Mexican culture, this festival symbolises the fleetingness of human life.

It reminds them to stop worrying about the little things and get on with savouring each moment of life like a great meal, fully aware it will come to an end.

Maybe this is why they’re in the top 10 happiest countries in the world even though the murder rate is 23.7 murders per 100,000 residents, the highest of any OECD nation and more than 10 times the OECD average. Additionally, 13.1% of residents have been assaulted or mugged in 2012, the highest of any nation.

They are ranked as one of the worst nations for work-life balance. They also have one of the lowest averages for household disposable income at just $12,732 as of 2010. This is less than a third of the average disposable income in the United States.

However, none of these factors have prevented Mexicans from being satisfied with their lives.

Finding the Balance

The future depends on what you do today― Mahatma Gandhi

In the end, today’s or tomorrows problems won’t matter. All the time you waste beating yourself up about not doing this, achieving that, or being the kind of man you want to will become insignificant.

Rushing through life, without being present to see what’s really important, means the tomorrows of your life will end up like Sam Walton’s. You will blow it.

So consider pulling back the reigns and slowing down the cart. Start savoring this moment – it is all that’s promised.

It takes practice, but it means you get to see the real beauty of existence and find all the answers you need to create the future you want.

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Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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