Life: What Really Matters?

This is Part 2 of an ongoing series on having two years to live. Read Part 1 here.

A quick recap- My grandmother died of pancreatic cancer in April of 2019. She was given two years to live by the doctors and the experience made me realize that I've been frivolous and wasteful with my time.

To counteract that, I'm working with the same constraints my grandmother was given- I'm assuming that two years from now, on November 2nd, 2021, I'll be struck by lightning or turned into a pumpkin, or whatever- my life will end.

So far, I haven't been able to think past the awkwardness and fear of it. Giving yourself a death date weirds people out. They get uncomfortable and defensive, even angry. 

It doesn't make me feel much better. I feel panicky and afraid. I have thoughts like "what if I've cursed myself by putting a date on it?" Well, that's the point. Live as if you don't have all the time in the world.

Despite the awkwardness, there's incredible clarity. Dying in two years is a great decision filter to help understand what really matters.

So...how do you figure out what really matters in life?

Here's what worked for me:

Imagine you are dying right now. Not 2 years from now- you're dying now, at 22 or 73 or whatever your age is. Really visualize that you are out of time. Your health and mind are spent. What bubbles up?

This what came up for me.

  • I wish I'd gotten over social anxiety. I wanted to make friends and talk to people I found attractive/ interesting, but kept putting it off. Too exposing and potentially uncomfortable.

  • I wish I'd followed my curiosity instead of avoiding the potential awkwardness and fear. I never tried dancing, stand up comedy, playing guitar in public, or speaking. I'm still afraid of spiders for no good reason other than they're ugly.

  • I wish I'd taken my health seriously. Sure, I went bald at 22 and had body hair in the wrong places, but I was 6' 3" and probably had a good figure somewhere under the 50+ lbs of extra fat. There was a ton of potential there and I never found out what I could have been.

  • I wish I had created aggressively, putting myself out there and sharing what I know. I was so afraid of looking stupid and making mistakes that I never advertised or shared what I knew. I consumed instead of created.

  • I wish I had put money away for my funeral so I wasn't a burden on my family. I wish I had enough money to cover any extra medical bills.

  • I wish I spent less money on stuff and more time on skills and experiences. 

Honestly, everything else that came up revolved around the same few regrets.

Key Takeaways

Doing this exercise made a few things very clear.

  • One of my primary motivators is avoiding discomfort, whether it be to protect my ego or stay within my mental/physical comfort zone.
  • I spend a lot of time identifying and avoiding what I don't want, rather than defining what I do want and working towards those things.
  • I spend so much of my time buying stuff and chasing money, yet aside from covering the tab for my funeral, none of that stuff came up as important to me. Maybe I was putting the emphasis on the wrong things?
  • I let fear, uncertainty, and doubt dictate a vast majority of my decisions.
  • Above all, I needed to seek discomfort.

Kyle Eschenroeder wrote a fantastic article a while back called "What do you want to want?" and in it, he writes about the struggle between hedonistic and eudaimonic acts.

Kyle writes:

"Hedonistic desire is about taking from the world and one-upping others. Eudaimonic desires are about giving to the world, and leveling up yourself.

Hedonism is about appearing good; eudaimonia is about being good.

Hedonic acts are usually our defaults – most everything about our biology and culture cries out for us to take the path of least resistance and get ours.

Eudaimonic acts must largely be cultivated intentionally – swimming upstream until we can carve out a mindset in which the current is re-routed.

We can visualize the two kinds of desire on a continuum:

<-Hedonism—————–Eudaimonia->

Eating Cake—–Working Out

Reading People Magazine—-Reading Nietzsche

Tweeting a Picture of Your Hamburger—–Writing a Book

Scrolling through Facebook—-Creating a Side Hustle

Some of the things on the left side are not necessarily bad–we all deserve a little cake now and then. Our goal then is not to completely eschew pleasure in our lives (unless we take pleasure in moral laziness, like letting crooks off the hook), but to have our desires lined up with eudaimonic aims most of the time. We should be looking for a shift of emphasis, rather than complete abstention."

Kyle goes further into this idea by talking about for categories in which we should aspire to shift towards the Eudaimonic.

From Kyle:

Wanting an easy life—-Wanting a life of struggle

Wanting to be somebody (fame)—-Wanting to do something

Wanting extreme wealth—–Wanting a frugal heart

Wanting to be extraordinary——Wanting to enjoy the ordinary

....

I encourage you to read Kyle's article. He's an incredibly clear thinker and his article helped me clarify my goals through the "two years to live" filter, strip away the fluff and figure out what I actually want. 

So-with two years to live, I'll spend my precious time and attention on the following:

  • I'll follow possibility and curiosity instead of avoiding potential fear and discomfort. Making decisions from a place of avoidance hasn't served me, so I'll be doing the opposite and confront every one of the fears, doubts, uncertainties, and anxieties I've been ignoring.
  • I'll be tougher and more resilient, instead of wishing the world was softer. I'll push my body and mind as far as I can and find what I'm capable of.
  • I'll work to be happy with what I have and find meaning in my work, instead of  fixating on what I don't have.
  • I'll create a life I don't want to take a vacation from, instead of chasing an arbitrary cargo-ship full of money.

Keep in mind, this isn't a complete list- just enough stuff to start. As I knock things out, more stuff inevitably comes up. The next step is to make a list of the specifics and start tackling the list.

Read Part 3: The Bucket List

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