Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Refuse to be Afraid of death

A line caught my eye the other day in coverage of TV consumer advocate Clark Howard's announcement that he's been diagnosed with very early stage prostate cancer.

Because it was caught this early, Howard said: "I have virtually a 100 percent chance of survival."

Well, yes and no. The odds are very good that this is not what will kill Howard, but truth be told, he — as all of us — has a 100 percent chance of not surviving. That's the tough thing about this plane of existence: No one gets out alive.

That is not only the tough thing about life, but it's the most empowering thing, as I alluded a few weeks ago. I think that's in part because one of the greatest motivators is a, um, deadline.

It's one thing to say, for example, "I'm going to quit this job and start my own business someday." As long as it's "someday," you're likely to just tinker around the edges of the dream. But if you say, "I'm going to quit this job and start my own business by May 1," all of a sudden you've added a sense of urgency. You start working on OK, if it needs to get done by May 1, what do I need to do today, where do I need to be at the end of next month, etc.

"Someday" is a dream. A deadline is a plan. And death is the ultimate deadline. The difference is you don't know precisely when time's running out.

You have only two real choices with death: You can live your life in fear, avoiding anything that could be risky — I'm not talking about stepping in front of a bus here, but more everyday-risky things like submitting to injustice or putting up with abuse because you're not sure how (or if) you'd survive. Or you can embrace the inevitable and make the best use of the time that is left.

The reason the mere title of the song "Live Like You're Dying" has such impact is because it's a philosophy rolled up in four words, and because if you think about it for more than two seconds, it smacks you in the face: Live like you're dying, because you are dying — someday. There's that fuzzy word someday again.

Running out of time is a helpless feeling. That's why one of the greatest Super Bowl ever ended with the guy reaching towards the goal at the 1-yard line with another guy dragging him down: We all felt the helplessness of the ball carrier and the desperate urgency of the defender as the clock ticked down to zero. But great Super Bowls have also ended with teams making the best use possible of the time that's left, and scoring the winning touchdown before the clock ran out.

Having a deadline forces you to prioritize what's important. If you knew at 5 p.m. today your heart would quit, or a drunken fool would drive his car into your lap, you'd organize your day differently.

Here's the good news: You're probably going to survive the day. It's not all that desperate. There's no need to fear. Here's the bad news: Time will run out someday. You have a finite amount of time to leave your mark on history, however it is you wish to do that.

You can let that scare you and let death catch you short of the goal, or you can make the best use of the time that's left. Oh, and by the way, everyone's scared — the successful folks have figured out you can convert the negative energy of fear into the positive energy of motivation. That's the gist of what I mean when I say: Refuse to be afraid.



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