Death as a clarifying function

So caveat emptor: this has the potential to be a depressing post. :-)

But death and mortality has been on my mind a lot over the last month.

  • First, within the space of a week I heard about 3 former colleagues passing away. And then I heard about another from his family for whom the end was near. All of them were far too young and with young families. 
  • For reasons I don't understand and I'm sure would make fascinating psycho-analytical material, I had a couple of dreams last week about my father who passed away three years ago. Each ending with my waking up because I tried to call him in the dream and finally realizing I couldn't.
  • And then yesterday I read the poignant note that Sheryl Sandberg wrote about coping with the death of her husband.
Any of these (but particularly the first) will make you think of your own mortality and how fragile life is. My wife and I hugged each other and our son particularly tight because of these. 

Most people regret the same things on their deathbed, and I remembered that I had decided that I didn't want to. 

I also asked myself the questions: 
  • If I died tomorrow, what would I not want to miss today? 
  • If I died next year, what would I regret not doing this year?
The questions were clarifying and helped bridge the gap between the life we generally aspire to lead and the life we're currently leading. I deliberately did not ask myself the "If I died in 10 year, what would I regret not doing?" question.  

I ended up doing what we should probably always be doing - taking stock of what's important, what makes you happy, and trying to trade off what's realistic to get vs. what's aspirational. I thought about why I want the things I think I want vs. what everyone else seems to want.

I can't advocate everyone doing the same, but I know it's helped me a little bit this week.

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