A few years ago I stumbled across this talk by Ricardo Semler that had a profound impact on me.
Essentially he talks about how he and his wife started scheduling in what he called terminal days; time to learn how to die. At times it was large travel trips, but most often it was just a few days a week spent reading and learning about the important things in life. He searched for answers to questions that we only really get time to reflect upon on our deathbeds. Questions not like “What do I want to be remembered for?” but more so, “Why do I want to be remembered?”, “Why are we here?”, “What is important in life?”
This idea of terminal days seemed simple, yet extremely new to me. In a way, you could look at your whole life as a journey of learning how to die.
Without realising it, I think that video largely shaped the changes I made to my life since then. I began reading books about living and dying; everything from Buddhism to Stoic philosophy. At first I scheduled this into every day, which later turned into days every week and now has become months every year.
Learning how to die is first about fully accepting the fact that you too shall die. It could be in years, or it could be tomorrow. The time in which you have left is uncertain, but the fact that it is limited is most certain. Coming to terms with this is nothing new, people have been saying since the ancient Greek days in the phrase memento mori – remember that you have to die.
The other character who comes to mind when I think about learning how to die is Steve Jobs. I remember watching this commencement address he made, and again being struck by the profound impact that an acute awareness of death can have on us.
And so while this year for me is a year of living, it’s also very much a year of dying, or at least learning how to do it well.