Live Urgently – An Exercise

Memento Mori

Memento mori (Latin: “remember that you can die”[2]) is the medieval Latin theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.

-From Wikipedia

Everyone knows this show ends. How is it so easy to forget this? Why don’t we push harder? Why don’t we make the most of the time? How can we remind ourselves?

Nothing motivates me more than time. Or rather the lack of time. The fact that there are an unknown quantity of hours left before I lose the ability to do what I love, to include breathing. When I was diagnosed with cancer at 22, I was forced to bring this idea into sharp focus. It shook me very deeply and changed me.

I picture the sword of Damocles dangling over everyone, being held by a thread of fortune. Eventually, it will break and drop the sword on us, but we don’t know when. This is uncomfortable, but this is a fact.

For many, the idea of mortality is a known but abstract idea that sneaks into their head occasionally on sleepless nights. For me, it’s been like a neon sign in my peripheral vision for the last 14 years (since my initial cancer diagnosis). I’m thankful for that perspective and it makes my goal setting, discipline, and motivation much easier. This drives my desire of getting as good as I can, as quickly as I can, while I can.

I want you to have a sense of that, without the brushes with death.

When I see my friends squander their time and push off goals and dreams, I give them some homework to correct their course. I want them to have a visual representation of their life, of time passing, and allow that to motivate them as it may.

An Exercise

The idea is simple…

It’s 52 blocks wide and 80 blocks tall. On the top left corner is my birthdate, and on the bottom right is the same date, 80 years later. Every week I mark off a block.

I don’t write anything or make any kind of notes. I just black it out. The only thing left is the memories I have of that week and reality of how it has affected my life. In the end, the only things any of us have are our actions and our memories.

From the now defunct BarefootFTS

Here is mine. This is how I talk to myself when I see this, “Almost 36. That’s a big chunk of shaded area Mark, and you’re not guaranteed even the next blank box. If that goal that you talk about is as important as you say it is, you better get after it.” The motivation and discipline take care of itself.

You should fill this out for yourself. It might be uncomfortable. It might give you a knot in your stomach. Good. Fill it out by hand. Each week should get your reflection. You will be forced to notice time passing. Whether you make the time useful is up to you.

The takeaway is this: Don’t mourn the shaded area. Instead, see the potential in the space remaining. Live your life with a sense of urgency. Do The Work.

Here is Your Copy

Here’s a link to the Memento Mori – Do The Work silicone bracelets I had made when I first made this post. Wearing one helps me remember and keeps me on track when I’m feeling weak.

Live Long, Die Well.

3 thoughts on “Live Urgently – An Exercise

  1. This is an interesting exercise.

    But, why 80? Certainly, a person may choose any goal they decide fits their individual circumstance, and everyone has their own threshold for what quality of life is worth getting up for in the morning. However, the far goalpost for modern humans is more like 120 years, given every favorable turn for longevity.

    While today’s American female is born with an average life expectancy of 80 years, the average American male will not have earned even odds of reaching age 80 until they manage to survive the first 50 years. In both cases, prospects get better for each year survived — by age 60, my life expectancy was going up a year for every 5 years I survived; by age 70, every five years is worth two bonus years; and at 80, I will be getting three extra years for each five survived. After 100, odds of hitting the end zone in the coming year starts to increase pretty quickly, but some people at that point are still looking forward to getting up each morning — why not be among them?

    Perhaps it makes more sense to choose an aggressive but sensible hope for one’s current age, and push the bottom of the chart out every decade or so — in order that the far end of the field doesn’t feel so implausibly distant.

    If you are now at age 36, your entire lifetime-to-date lies between 80 and 120 years. And you won’t need to spend any of them in preschool or adolescence. At some point, it is likely that you will have some need for a network of private or public support to keep on keeping on. Be making your investments toward that, or there will be no family or society when you need it.

    Live well. Die when you’re done.

    1. I think this is a great way to look at it too. I think we can all agree that stacking the deck to live long, while constantly being reminded that today could be the last day and thus motivating us to achieve our goals, is a good plan. I agree with you that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

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