Mike Kruzeniski, one of my closest friends, got advanced lung cancer recently, but is now in full remission. You can read the thread here:
Mike doesn’t smoke, he’s not old, (in fact, he’s younger than me by a few months) and he lives healthily. It was just one of those things. As the shock rippled through him, his family, his friends, and outward, it got me thinking about what I’d do differently if I knew I’d die this year.
Some caveats are in order. First, I can’t know how I’d react. No one can know until it happens, and all the science tells us we’re spectacularly bad at predicting the future, and we think we’re far more rational and logical than we actually are. Understanding that, and having humility about it, is important. Second, I’m not trying to lecture or brag here. Everyone has different approaches, and there’s no correct one other than following your heart. Here’s what mine says.
I love to work. I’m the type of person who is happiest firing off a new project and getting lost in flow. It’s not super hard for me to focus. My challenge has been learning how to not focus. That said …
Keep doing nothing
Because it’s hard for me to slow down, I spend a lot of time forcing myself to waste my time. I play video games, watch movies (while willing myself not to distract myself with a second screen), go on walks, get in long debates, whatever I want. Learning to relax is work, and I take it as seriously as my other projects.
Keep spending time with my family
I hang out with my family all the time. If I knew my time was limited with them, I’d definitely pick the activities more carefully … but the general structure would be the same. I don’t work from home after hours. I don’t work on the weekends. We are constantly spending quality time together, and I’d keep it up.
Keep my farmer’s bedtime
My kids wake up super early, so I do too. This means I need to go to bed early to get enough sleep. I’d continue this. I wouldn’t sleep in, and I wouldn’t stay up later.
Keep my diet
I eat my fair share of garbage food. For example, I eat a lot of ice cream. But overall I eat pretty small portions with pretty healthy food, and I barely drink alcohol. I wouldn’t suddenly eat more junk food, or drink more, and I wouldn’t suddenly eat or drink less.
Keep my friends
I’m an introvert. I love my friends but when I really need to be comforted and supported, it helps me to have my space. I hang out with my friends a lot in person and online, but I don’t think I’d radically change that if I knew the end was near.
Keep my budget
I live below my means and I have no debt (other than student loans), but then I have a habit of splurging on things. So I’m not great with money, but I’m not awful. I’d make sure my life insurance policy is good, but I wouldn’t significantly change the monthly budget.
Explore the same amount
I love to travel, but some people love it a lot more than me. I don’t have a bucket list of things to see. I’ve seen stuff. They were great. But I’m not itching to see more. When Pokémon tells me to collect ‘em all, I just shrug. I feel the same way about seeing a million sights. I’m good.
Keep feeling fortunate
The more I think about what I got to do, the happier I am. The more I think about what I haven’t gotten to, the sadder I am. The single most effective tool in my toolbox is remembering to feel fortunate, and not pine for things I don’t have. It’s easier said than done, but it really works for me. Moreso the older I get.
Keep doing things now, not later
But it’s not just about giving up on life, or willing myself not to care anymore. It’s about living the life I want today, instead of waiting for some future diagnosis to shock me into action. That means I can’t count on riches or promotions or lottery tickets or all that external stuff. I aim for reasonable things I can do, then I do them. Then it do another. Intrinsic motivation is awesome because I get to control it.
Be Like Bjork
In Dancer in the Dark, Bjork sings a beautiful song that I think about a lot. In the movie, her character is losing her sight, but she sees the beauty in the infinity she got to see, rather than the disappointment of the infinity she never will. If I knew I was dying this year, god forbid, I’d do my best to be like Bjork. I’d be a dancer into the dark.
I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen the dark
I’ve seen the brightness in one little spark.
I’ve seen what I chose and I’ve seen what I need,
And that is enough, to want more would be greed.