Someone asked me recently what I would do if I knew I had just one more year to live — and then, just one more month or week or day. It was a focus-changing series of questions, one I found well worth considering. Because in truth, none of us can ever know just how many days we have left.
What I realized in reflecting on these questions for myself is that the real issue is not how long I live, but how well I live. It’s not about how many breaths I take, but how many breathless moments I get to live through. And it’s not so much about the number of days or hours I have with my friends and loved ones, it’s the depth, warmth and integrity of the relationships I build with them during the time we spend together.
In past columns, I’ve talked about the importance of going for your goals, of getting past your fear of making mistakes, and of pursuing your passions with all the commitment you can muster. And the more I think about the “if time were running out” question, the more I return to those same principles for my answers.
Specifically, if given only a short time to live, I’d want to put intense focus on my top priorities and make arrangements for the “legacy” projects I see as my most important personal and professional contributions.
I’d want to put aside any uncertainties or anxieties that had been holding me back from new experiments, experiences and adventures, and take them on with gusto.
And I’d want to gather the people I care most about, enjoy the pleasure of their company, and make sure they understood both my deepest feelings and fondest hopes for them.
In other words, I’d do pretty much what I’m doing now. Of course, the specter of my impending doom would add a quality of urgency and intensity to things. I’d probably make some tweaks to my daily schedule. But, unless my health required me to, I don’t think I’d appreciably change the rhythm or balance of my life.
If you haven’t stopped to think about all of this yourself, I encourage you to do so. If you knew that time was running out for you, what would you do differently? If you had, say, just one more year to live, what steps would you take to make it a great one, and, ideally, your best year yet?
Some things I know I wouldn’t change: I wouldn’t stop eating well, exercising or taking my nutritional supplements, because I’d want every ounce of available energy and vitality at my disposal.
I wouldn’t slack off on my sleep or relaxation time, because I’d want my mental and emotional capacities at their peak, so I could trust my instincts and follow my heart.
And I wouldn’t stop pursuing my goals, because I’d want to leave this world with the satisfaction of having given my best gifts, without a trace of regret.
Of course, what you do with your own hypothetical last year is your business, but if you were a friend who came to me for counsel, here’s the advice I’d offer you:
- Build up your energy and vitality so that you can live at full throttle and enjoy the best health available to you.
- Chase your dreams, pursue your passions, and don’t hold back. Take a shot at anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to accomplish or experience.
- Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be. Look for ways to say “yes” to your life, and to figure out how you can take action to make things work, rather than wasting time worrying about how or why you can’t.
- Stretch a little beyond your comfort zone. Try some things you’re not entirely sure you can do. Risk making mistakes, and let go of the need to do everything perfectly. Life is one big target-practice experiment. If you fire and miss, big deal. Take aim and fire again. That’s how you’ll build the skills you need to succeed.
- Stay true to your core values. Even as you’re busy living your life to the fullest, remember to check in with your internal compass now and then, and take stock of what matters most to you.
My final piece of advice would be (and is) this: Be receptive to whatever this amazing year brings. This is life, after all — and long or short, inevitably, it’s what happens while you’re busy making other plans.