You only live once, so make the most out of your life. Do things without thinking or caring. Gather ye marijuana while ye may.
That’s cool, right?
Unfortunately, the ancient Romans had a similar saying way before it was cool, so we don’t get to go around boasting we thought of it first.
As the story goes, a triumphant Roman general was parading through the streets after securing a glorious victory. Upon noticing his absolute arrogance, his slave delivered to him a poignant reminder of how, though he was invincible today, tomorrow he could be nothing at all, saying:
“Remember you will die.”
Every one of us will die.
And realizing the inevitability of death is a far, far more humbling thought than sensationalizing our one, cruelly brief shot at life. It guides us to do the things that will actually mean something even when we’re dead. Things that will make a positive impact on others’ lives, on the world that will continue to exist even if, and eventually when, we don’t.
“Live everyday as if it will be your last, and one day you will most certainly be right.”
That was one of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ favourite quotes. Living by this mantra, he dedicated his life towards building great products, companies and people. Ideas that changed the world forever, or, in his words, “made a dent in the universe”.
As we move into an age of connectedness and individual empowerment, we move also into an era where we have great, unprecedented power. The power to touch a thousand people with a simple youtube video, to change the lives of millions with a single idea. All that power is already in our hands, and it would be terribly squandered if we don’t see it as a responsibility to do things above, not for, ourselves.
“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.” –Steve Jobs, 2005
And following your heart doesn’t mean doing things simply because we feel like doing it, or for that instantaneous kick of an adrenaline or amphetamine high. It means knowing how such material pleasures are fleeting, transient, and meaningless. How all of that dies along with us.
It’s true Steve Jobs also experimented with marijuana and other drugs. That is what could happen if we took an idea meant for good, and subvert it as justification for what we innately know is wrong. But he also made sure that, after those forays, he created things for the world that were insanely great.
People we care about will also die.
If things go according to plan, your parents will go before you.
Did you think that would never happen, or did you simply choose not to face the brutal reality?
Accepting how others will not live forever is also a powerful reminder that we have no time at all to lose if there are things we want to do for them. You often have much less time to do those things than you realise.
I’ll do it tomorrow, or the next day. And maybe you will live to see the next day, year, or decade. But will the people you need to be around still be around?
If you knew you would die tomorrow, would your heart only tell you to remember #YOLO and speed down the highway at 180 kilometres per hour? Or would you wish you did something amazing today that will live on the day after tomorrow?
“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” –Karen Lamb
While we seize the day and try to suck the marrow out of life, it is worth noting that life is only half of the equation. Or less. It promises many things, but will always and inevitably lead only to one thing.
Death, however, can do a lot more. You will never be able to be proven wrong, nor will you be able to make mistakes that will undo your achievements. Newton’s laws were found to have errors and exceptions, but he is credited nonetheless as the father of modern physics. Because death is eternal, it can make your ideas and your spirit live forever – in others. Legacy is immortality.
In the end…
On 5th October, 2011, Jobs indeed lived his last day. But although he is no longer alive, his products, ideas and wisdom thrive on. It is quite certain they will continue to do so for years, maybe even centuries and millennia to come.
And at the end of the day, it was never about where, how, why, or even when we leave.
It’s who and what we leave behind.