How Would You Live Your Life If You Knew You Were Going To Die?
April 5, 2019
How would you live your life if you knew you were going to die? This is a question that has been plaguing and intersecting my life for the last few years. I have dealt with a lot of death over the past four years in my life including two aunts, an uncle, a great friend, and three dogs. Death is inherently a part of life as we get older, and while the pain does not get easier as you go through these experiences, conceptualizing and processing the meaning of the people that you have had in your life becomes more transparent.
The meaning of life is not easily discernable, and the specificity of this fact is different for everyone. What is important and fulfilling to myself, you, and the people around us is completely different. As we age across the continuum of life in our increasing singularity, we start to find the passions, careers, people, and interests that light our souls on fire, and thus, create a deeper meaning within ourselves and the world around us.
I offer the following advice as it pertains to my singular life, which is a culmination of the experiences that I have been through, the people that have affected my life on a deeper level, and the ways in which I have been able to process the interworking’s of these aspects as they have been conceived in my perception of reality. In my mind, there is not a separation of one idea or thought that leads to a meaningful and fulfilling life, but a culmination of thoughts, ideas, and concepts that build upon each other much like how compound interest works. The following list is what has been formulated in my life and I can say that I finally feel like I am in a place where I am living like I am going to die every single day.
Find Your Passion
Passion- it’s a buzz word that people love to use, yet so few truly emulate. What lights your soul on fire? What do you love to do so much that you would do it for free every day if you could? What can you not stop talking about to friends, family, and loved ones? What keeps you up at night and wakes you up early in the morning without even needing an alarm clock? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself in the pursuit of your passion, and when you find it, go after it with reckless abandon EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY! Your passions are contained within you, but it is up to you to find them. Underneath those passions are your true gifts. I have seen this in my life and the life of others around me, and to illustrate this, I will use my story of how I got into photography.
When I was 20 years old, I was bored one night, so I decided to sit down, pick up a pencil, and sketch some characters from some of the comic books I had laying around. I had never taken an art class in my life, but I realized very quickly that I zoned out, focused, and lost myself in drawing these characters. This quickly grew to drawing 2 wall murals (I painted over my first one within 2 weeks and painted a new one), and within a week of my back surgery at 21, I painted my first canvas. Fast forward 9 years, and over 100 pieces of completed artwork later, and I picked up my first DSLR camera. When I started photography, I immediately noticed the intersect between the natural beauty of the world and artwork. Being able to properly capture the beauty of the world in the frame, editing and transforming an image into the artistic rendition that was true to me, and sharing my view of the world with the people around me fed back to my passion for art.
That was literally the genesis of my passion for art and photography that I would not have experienced had I not been open to the idea of trying a new hobby that I had no experience in and no reason to start in the first place. Trust your gut and instincts, push yourself to try as many things as possible until you find that passion, and then pursue that passion relentlessly until you develop a mastery at it, and it reveals the gifts that have been hidden within you. If you listen to your heart and soul it will be hard to fight the feeling of the passions that are underlet by the gifts that you have lying within you. Once you have that figured out, you can find your why.
Start With Why
Start with Why- this is a book written by Simon Sinek that changed my life forever. This is a business book written about why great companies do what they do, which is great in and of itself, but I find this to be most meaningful when applied to your life. WHY do you do what you do? One of my favorite quotes is “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how” by Frederick Nietzsche. This quote is absolutely amazing on so many levels. If you understand your why, then how and what you do are easily discernable. The other aspect of this quote that I love is that it ties back to passion as well. Passion has a way of pushing you to levels you never thought were possible, especially when shit hits the fan and does not go according to plan. In the pursuit of excellence or living the life that you want, you inevitably are going to experience setbacks. If you understand why you are doing something, then you can dig deep within yourself to push through the failures and setbacks of life in order to achieve the life you want to live.
I have been fortunate enough to have passions in my life for a long time. I did not formulate and harness these all together until I read Start with Why last year, coupled with a few other life altering experiences. I have always been pulled toward art, but I didn’t start listening to my heart and soul until I found nature as well. Once I started photography, I felt the intersect between art, photography, nature, and being able to harness my introverted, analytical, introspective side of my personality that I formerly saw as a weakness, into one of the greatest strengths I have in my life. Underletting all of this was my why: I live to inspire. Hands down, no questions asked, I was born and put on this earth to inspire the world around me. I can say this unequivocally without hesitation or debate. This is the exact reason I do not care what anyone thinks about the art I produce, the way I live my life, or the person that I am. If I was concerned with all the ancillary aspects of life that make you life in fear, question yourself or your abilities, hold you back from living your truest being, or fulfilling the life I am meant to live then I would not actually know my why. I do so many things every day in pursuit of fulfilling my why that take me out of my comfort zone, push me to my limits, and make me have to push past pain constantly. I fucking love it and wouldn’t want it any other way! I implore you to find your why and couple it with your passion and I guarantee you that your life will change as there will be no limits to the person that you can become on this earth.
Discover Your Purpose
Once you find your why you can find your purpose. Your purpose is what will truly change the world around you. They say if you want to change the world, then you need to change yourself first, and I couldn’t agree more. When the people around you see you living your purpose there is a cascade of inspiration that influences those around you to do the same. I can say for a fact that anytime I talk to people about photography, my soul burns on fire, I start talking with an enthusiasm and confidence that can’t be stifled, and my face lights up brighter than a Christmas tree. Everything I touch whether it’s photography, art, writing, or a plethora of other interests, always ties back to my why, which is to inspire the world around me. Through this, my purpose for living has been formed, and through that, the world around me is inspired. Purpose also gives you a deeper meaning for life which helps you go through all the hard times on the search of your destiny.
Conceptualize Your Meaning
Meaning is completely different to everyone. In the search of meaning, you must be able to tie your purpose, your why, and your passions together. It is through the culmination of these characteristics that you gain a deeper understanding of your life and you can connect your singular existence in life along with your experiences together in order to gain a deeper understanding of your meaning. Living a meaningful existence is ultimately what gives us the drive to keep living through our purpose to change the world around us. If you look at your own version of meaning and how it is conceptualized to your being, I guarantee you that it will be connected in some way, shape, or form to other human beings. We are creatures predicated upon connection and love, and without those being omnipresent in our lives, we tend to lose hope and meaning alike. Be completely honest with yourself and search for self-awareness pertaining to your life’s true meaning and it will unlock a deeper understanding of your experiences and how they all interrelate back to the life that you are living.
Understand That Life Is Suffering
As Jordan Peterson so aptly states in his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Anecdote for Chaos, life is suffering. There is absolutely no way around this. We are all going to get the shit kicked out of us in life through failure, rejection, pain, death, and ultimately, our own mortality. We cannot avoid this, and if the pursuit of our life is the avoidance of suffering, then are we even living? I went through a lot of change and rejection during my formative years in adolescence, as well as throughout my sales career. I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned to love failure, rejection, and change over the years. I have gained a deeper understanding of connecting meaning to failure, rejection, and death. On the other side of pain and suffering is joy, happiness, and beauty. I know this is a hard concept to fully grasp, but every struggle I have had in my life, whether that has been physical, mental, or emotional, has led to a deeper meaning and greater understanding of the events that have taken place. All of these events created gratitude and joy for the experiences I have been fortunate enough to go through.
A few years ago, I lost my uncle Mike. Our families were so inextricably tied together through the relationship he and my father had, that it intersected our entire lives. Mike and my dad always confided in each other for their life decisions, and when my uncle Mike ended up in Colorado, my dad did as well, which is what brought me to Colorado in the first place. My uncle Mike took me on my first hike to a 14,000-foot peak, instilled a love and passion for the outdoors in me, and altered the way I view the world in a lot of ways. When he passed, I had a tremendous sense of loss in me, but there was also an enormous level of passion that came solely through watching the way he lived his life and seeing the people he touched in so many ways. At his remembrance, my cousin pulled me aside and said, “my dad loved you so much, he just always hoped you would find the thing you truly loved to make you happy”. Within the next year I started my photography business, and my photography is continually an extension of my uncle Mike and the wonder of nature he showed me while he was on this earth. I cannot tell you how much beauty there is on the other side of death, other than it makes your memories so much stronger, more meaningful, and ultimately gives you an appreciation for that person you were blessed enough to have in your life. Death has such a negative connotation to it, and there are terrible tragedies that happen in life for that there are no explanations, but there is also a beauty in it that makes you appreciate the life you are still living. While the loss of people is never enjoyable, learning to appreciate having had those people in your life during the time they had on this earth, enjoying memories that will last a lifetime, and knowing that the interconnectivity of your moments together had a deeper meaning will help you create understanding in your own life.
Live Like You Were Dying
Discovering your passions, finding your why, figuring out your purpose, conceptualizing your meaning, and understanding that life is suffering all interconnect back to the question I started this discussion with- how would you live your life if you knew you were going to die? The biggest mistake I see people around me make every single day is the idea that “someday” exists. Procrastination and putting off the things that will make your life better or allow you to come closer to your truest sense of being is one of the most fatal mistakes you can make on this earth. Life is so short and has so many unexpected twists and turns that we have no idea are going to take place until it is too late. Pursue the interests that consume you, spend time with those you love, and do the things that light your soul on fire every day. Working a job, just to pay bills, save a little money, and die is not a life well lived. Living to work instead of working to live are two entirely different things. The former will make you question what kind of life you could be living; the latter will make you be grateful for and keep pushing the boundaries of the life you are living.
The best exercise I have found to live like you are dying is to imagine yourself at the end of your life looking back at the life you lived. What self-limiting beliefs held you back from pursing the goals and dreams you had laid out for yourself? What were the gifts that you had within yourself that you never shared with the world? What regrets are going to the grave with you that you no longer have the time to fix? One of the best quotes I have ever heard on this comes from the great motivational speaker Les Brown, which I could paraphrase, but it comes better directly from him:
“Imagine being on your death bed and standing around you is the ghost of the dreams, the ideas, the abilities, and the talents given to you by life. That you, for whatever reason, you never went after that dream, you never acted on those ideas, you never used those talents, you never used those gifts. And there they are standing beside your bed, looking at you with large, angry eyes, saying we came to you and only you could have given us life! And now, we must die with you FOREVER!”
And so, I implore you to sit down with yourself in a quiet space where you can conceptualize and be honest with yourself about your life. Then ask yourself, “Am I living my life to the truest sense of my being, potential, purpose, and meaning… or am I just living to die?” No matter how you live your life there is one underlying fact that is going to take hold: you are never going to make it out of this life alive, so you might as well try to live the most passionate, purposeful, and meaningful life that you can while you are on this earth. Or put in another way, you should live life like you are dying.