5 July 2013

12 – Live Your Life To Death

Motivational sayings are everywhere. On magnets and mugs. Posted on your friends’ Facebook pages. Posted on your Facebook page. Tattoos. Bathroom stalls. Yes, bathroom stalls. In my book the phrase ‘Be unstoppable’ counts no matter where it’s scrawled. 
We all enjoy motivational sayings. They have value and serve a purpose. Why read a whole Stephen Covey book or sit through an entire Tony Robbins seminar when you can catch the fire in ten seconds?

I’m not here to sell you motivational advice. I’m like you. I’m trying to keep motivated to make the most of the abilities and interests I’ve been able to cobble together these past 32 years. So I wrote a new motivational saying for myself. I’ll share it with you and then tell you why I chose it.

I came up with it on Monday evening. I wrote it in green marker on a sheet of printer paper and posted it on the bedroom wall beside my closet so that I’ll see it at least a dozen times a day. It goes like this:

Dear Bob,

Don’t forget that you are going to die.

Love, Bob

I think this is the single most motivating sentence we can ever say to ourselves. I recommend looking in a mirror and saying it out loud. If you don’t feel a sudden urge to do something you’ve always dreamed of you may want to check your pulse.

Admitting our own mortality is not morbid. It’s a powerful statement of fact. Acknowledging and accepting the finite nature of our being can be an important step toward ensuring we live a life full of meaning and purpose. 

The problem lies in how we’re conditioned to think about death by companies selling us insurance, drugs, cars and faith. On the one hand we’re told it’s horrible – no more Tuesday night darts league and you might go to Hell. We’re also told it’s a new beginning – your soul returns to the creator and discovers its purpose. It’s either something we need to stave off or embrace with open arms. This leaves us more confused than a tourist without a map.  

The talking heads do agree on one thing: you shouldn't talk about death. This consensus is based on the idea that our thoughts and words translate directly into the quality of lives we lead. Think happy and you’ll be happy. Think about death and tragedy strikes. Besides, if you’re happy you’ll spend more money on stuff. If you’ve got death on your mind you're not swiping plastic for anyone. The talking heads want you happy.

It’s turned us into closet mortals. We live in denial of our mortality. We know it in our bones and blood. The news media reminds us of it every chance it gets. But we don’t tell anyone. Not even ourselves. Unless you’re Chuck Norris, who uses the Grim Reaper’s robe as a towel after working out on his Total Gym.

All Chuck Norris jokes aside, we really are in denial. We generally don’t talk or think about death until a loved one dies. Then we unwillingly confront it in a funeral home or graveyard. And while we often mourn and grieve terribly for that person (unless they were a real asshole) we quickly distance ourselves from death again. It happened to another poor soul. Not us.

But we’re wrong. When we strip the I-Phones, Old Navy and reruns of Jersey Shore away from our lives we find that in its simplest form life is about maintaining our mortality as well as we can. It’s survival. And survival only exists if death is the alternative. And lucky for us, it is. Calling death the elephant in the room doesn’t begin to do it justice. It’s the Brontosaurus sitting in the driveway, making you late for your Saturday morning at Starbucks.

Which brings me back to those conflicting views on death. Maybe we choose not to dwell on it because we’re confused. Religions ask us to believe one thing. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies tell us something else. I know what the beer companies are saying, but it falls on deaf ears. Living fully doesn’t require paying money to ruin your liver. Which begs the question: don’t they all just cancel each other out?

If they do, it suggests nothing awaits us beyond death. We die – mind, body and soul. All we have is what comes before. So, where does that leave us?

With a life in which to do everything we possibly can.

You may think I’ve got a sick turn of mind. Perhaps you’re nervously reassuring yourself that you’ve always got a tomorrow. Bullshit. Tomorrow’s like oil: it’s a finite resource that dwindles with each passing day. Or, in the words of a brutally-honest and epic friend, birthdays are a reminder that you’ve got one less year to live.

Self-awareness seems all the rage these days. I’m about as well-versed in self-awareness as I am in motivation. But I do know this. If self-awareness is something you take seriously, then you need to look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you’re going to die. You’ll never have more time to do the things you need to do than right now. Admit it. It’s an essential truth. And no matter how much it makes your skin crawl, it’s essential to be honest with yourself. And that’s important because understanding that the road will end may cause you to slow down and take in the scenery along the way.

So don’t forget that you’re going to die, OK? But don’t let it get you down. Let it remind you to stand up and live instead. 

Those who leave the womb at birth
and those who enter their source at death,
of these; three out of ten celebrate life,
three out of ten celebrate death,
and three out of ten simply go from life to death.
What is the reason for this?
Because they are afraid of dying,
therefore they cannot live.

I have heard that those who celebrate life
walk safely among the wild animals.
When they go into battle, they remain unharmed.
The animals find no place to attack them
and the weapons are unable to harm them.
Why? Because they can find no place for death in them.

(Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching)


  1. Great post - and a good reminder to appreciate what we have every day.

  2. Thanks Christy. You hit the nail on the head!

  3. Very, very nice! I like the flow and way you put your thoughts together.

    1. Thanks Jason. Your words are much appreciated!


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The House Newf is from a rugged and beautiful island on the eastern edge of Canada called Newfoundland. He was first identified by a potter with a naturalist's flair, and he does in fact live in a house under the watchful eye of a cat that seems bewildered by the universe at large. That house is in Halifax, Nova Scotia and that's where the House Newf writes fiction and essays on things that add value to his life that may add some value to yours. You can contact him at bobharding80@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter @theHouseNewf, on Instagram @thehousenewf, and like him on Facebook. The House Newf is a unique specimen. Every home should have one.