If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?

Charles 7 Comments

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.


Whole speech here

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Perpetua's Garden
12 years ago

A fine momenti mori, Charles – because the mighty of our times, our titans also die, as inevitably, as piteously and as poor as they did in the times of Emir Musa and the City of Brass: “The signs that here their mighty works portray * Warn us that all must tread the self-same way: O thou who standest in this stead to hear * Tidings of folk, whose power hath passed for aye, Enter this palace-gate and ask the news * Of greatness fallen into dust and clay: Death has destroyed them and dispersed their might * And in… Read more »

Charles Cowling
12 years ago

Thomas, how very good to hear from you. Thundering lines with a bathetic finale. Thank you for them.

Jon Underwood
12 years ago

Steve Jobs – death visionary

gloria mundi
12 years ago

I knew he was creative; I knew he was smart and successful in business; I had no idea he was so wise.
Thanks Charles.
ps You’ve probably just heard on Radio 4 PM the recording of him delivering this speech at a Princeton graduation ceremony in 2005. Lucky graduates – I hope they listened!

12 years ago

Nice article about Jobs in the NYT – comparing him to that other brilliant innovator Miles Davis. It ends with this:

Maybe it’s Miles who can give the most appropriate quote about what Steve Jobs did: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”

The piece can be found her:


Charles Cowling
12 years ago

Ah, Miles. Interesting comparison. Adrian Mitchell said of him “He breathed in air / He breathed out light.

Thanks for that, GM. I thought I might be a little ahead of the curve with this one, but it’s been blogged up everywhere. Not all that surprising, now I come to think of it.

gloria mundi
12 years ago

Miles Davis – “the sound of a man walking on eggshells.” “The sound of a little boy with his nose pressed against the shopwindow of life, looking at what’s inside.”

I knew my music teacher at school didn’t actually understand much (however much he knew) about music when he said that jazz like that (Miles) was just a string of cliched phrases.

Rare spirits, they stay with us.