"‘If I died in a year, what would I spend my time doing?’ I ask myself this question nearly every day."
-- Catherine Hoke1
We’ve all heard advice like this.
People tell us how we should just “live in the moment” or that we should “live every day as if it were your last.”
Now this all sounds wonderful…
But the problem comes when you start thinking about how you would actually live today if you knew (for certain) you’d be dead tomorrow.
For example, here’s what I’d likely do…
I’d keep my daughter home from school. And we’d spend the day doing something meaningful and fun as a family. I’d call my parents. I’d go on a walk with my wife. I’d savor a cup of coffee.
I’d be extra appreciative of every moment… every sparkle of sunlight… every smile.
Now you may be thinking…
“Hold on! That all sounds pretty great. Where’s the problem here?"
And you’re right, I should weave these elements into my life. However…
Notice What’s Missing From My “Final Day”
There’s almost no practical stuff like caring for my health, working to earn a living, or doing hard practice to acquire useful skills. Nor am I launching any big or meaningful projects… or investing in new relationships.
For if you’ve got one day to live… most of your focus is going to be (rightly) on appreciating what you have as opposed to accomplishing anything new.
The short-term will win out over the long-term.
There’s another side to living. A perspective captured in a favorite saying of Marty Edelston, founder of Boardroom…
“Life Is Long”
Life is long… So treat people with respect and kindness. Act as though how you treat people now will eventually come back around to you. Build lasting relationships where everyone thrives.
Life is long… So invest in your foundation. Build habits and practices that keep you healthy. Take care of your financial future.
Life is long… So work on building something bigger than yourself. Take on projects that are hard. Create things that are beautiful. Touch people for the better.
Life is long… So grow and challenge yourself. Experiment. Learn new skills.
For to live and thrive, you need to hold the short-term and the long-term in tension. You need to have both perspectives at the same time.
And this is why Cat’s question is so striking…
“If I died in a year, what would I spend my time doing?”
One year is not that far away.
We can visualize it.2
And because one year feels short…
The question challenges us to appreciate this magical and precious gift we’ve been given. To be grateful for being alive. To be present to every moment. To cherish those we love.
Yet at the same time, one year is also a decent amount of time.
You still have to pay attention to the practical details of life. There’s still space to learn and grow. And most of all, you still have the opportunity build something deep and meaningful…
You can launch a movement.
You can improve your community.
You can make a difference to small group of people.
You can kick off a business venture.
You can build intimate friendships.
You can create art.
Ultimately, It’s Up to You to Decide
You have to answer this question for yourself. Others can help or give perspective. But you’re the one who has to live out it out.
It’s not easy.
Life is dynamic and complicated. And figuring out what’s important to us or how to spend our days takes constant work.
But here’s what I’ve discovered…
Just the simple act of asking the question has incredible power.
It gets you to act with intention. It makes you more aware of what’s important to you. It helps you see opportunities to touch the lives of those around you. It shines a light on how you currently spend your time. It helps you eliminate what’s not necessary.
So that’s my challenge for you today… to ask the question.
Yet before you do, watch the short video below. It tells the story of Eric Sun, who was diagnosed with a fast-growing tumor in his brain. He wrestles with this question of how to live in the face of death on visceral level.
I found his response beautiful and touching…
Finding Meaning in Music from The New Yorker.
Watched the video?
Now write out the quote and ask yourself, “If I died in a year, what would I spend my time doing?”
Cat’s doing some amazing work empowering incarcerated people using entrepreneurship. Check out her organization Defy Ventures. Or listen to her interview with Tim Ferriss, which is where this quote comes from. ↩︎
We all know of people diagnosed with cancer who are told they only have a year to live. ↩︎