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


  1. Charles

    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 the dust they lost their rich display;
    As had they only set their burdens down * To rest awhile, and then had rode away.”

    “Under these domes how many a company * Halted of old and fared with-outen stay:
    See thou what might displays on other wights * Time with his shifts which could such lords waylay:
    They shared together what they gathered * And left their joys and fared to Death-decay:
    What joys they joyed! what food they ate! and now * In dust they’re eaten, for the worm a prey.”

    Only in death are we all truly equal – a fine thing to be reminded of now and then.


    PS Job’s insight here is similar to another I try to tell myself whenever I can remember: “Would I like to die right now, doing or feeling what I am doing or feeling in this moment?”

    A magic remedy for mean, nasty or in any other way negative mood!

  2. Charles

    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!

  3. Charles

    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.

  4. Charles

    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.

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