"We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance." ~ Marcel Proust
You will only live once. Now think about that...
I don't mean that in a "spend money now and live life fast" context. Unfortunately, that's the socially accepted meaning of a phrase that could otherwise be quite useful for self-improvement. My purpose for using the phrase, "you will only live once" is to provoke the kind of thought that could potentially set your life's course on the best path. For many, it takes a Near-Death Experience or a death sentence to shift our thoughts and values on the course to a meaningful existence...
So what does the thought of death have to do with finance or philosophy? Everything. In most western cultures, we are programmed from childhood to understand that "money makes the world go around" and that our abilities are measured and limited by monetary means. Often, our self-worth and perceived happiness is mistakenly tied to our financial worth.
Today, I will provide some educational and anecdotal information that will hopefully aid in getting you on the path to a meaningful existence...
According to the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), a Near-Death Experience (NDE) is "a profound psychological experience, typically occurring in about 10% of people during a physical or emotional trauma, a life-threatening health crisis, or actual clinical death." Typically, the experience is marked by a "review" of the individual's life that is indescribable with words. Consider this description of the typical NDE "life review" from an "NDEr" and author on the subject:
During a life review, many of us experience not only our own feelings, but the feelings of everyone else -- as though all other people participating in our lifetimes are joined. We can feel, then, how everything we've ever done or said affected others. The sense is that we don't end at our skin. It is an illusion that we are separate. This deep review of our life shows us that, at a higher level of consciousness, we are all connected.
This new perspective totally changes our values and attitudes about the way we want to live. Materialism decreases and altruistic values become greater in most NDErs' lives. Almost all of us talk about a sense of mission.
Must it take the closeness of death to bring us closer to life? What, if anything, else might bring about the kind of changes and realignment of values that will place you on the path to a meaningful existence? What would you do if you were given three to six months to live? What changes would you make? Unless you've had an NDE or were given a death sentence, these questions will be extremely difficult to answer without complete and honest consideration of your life and the impact it has on others.
Perhaps a complete and honest consideration of someone else's life who has been given a death sentence can move us to a "life review" of our own. Such a case can be found with Randy Pausch, a notable college professor and father of three young children, who was given three to six months to live. One month after receiving his death sentence, he gave his "last lecture," which I highly recommend and, if you experience it as I did, you will be moved to tears. Click here to watch it. The entire piece is one hour and forty minutes but what's 100 minutes for those of us with years or even decades to live? Six million people have already viewed the moving piece. Here are some points I took from the speech, which only enhance its effectiveness:
Pausch has 10 tumors in his liver and was given three to six months to live.
The speech centers on three items: His childhood dreams, enabling the dreams of others, and "lessons learned."
His relative youth, good looks, outstanding communication skills, healthy appearance, complete acceptance of his demise, and his self-described "cognitive dissonance" make his message even more powerful.
He spoke of virtues, none of which were related to money or material objects.
Pausch offered several philosophical views, which became increasingly self-evident with death approaching, that impacted his life. Here are a few of his words that struck me:
Most of what we learn, we learn indirectly. These kinds of 'head fakes' are absolutely important and you should look out for them because they are everywhere.
Respect authority while questioning it.
Don't complain. Just work harder.
If your kids want to paint their bedroom, let 'em do it. Don't worry about the resale value on the house.
[Life] is not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.
Without adequate words to add, I will end this blog post the same way it began and, hopefully, the words will have different meaning for you this time...
You will only live once. Now think about that...
Sources and Additional Resources:
Randy Pausch's homepage, including updates on his status.
One Man Who Gives Thanks Daily, by John A. Byrne, BusinessWeek, November 21, 2007.
"Hat Tip" to TheKirkReport
Related Financial Philosopher posts: