What would you do if you only had five years to live?
Dear Reader, I regret to inform you that you have a rare, albeit painless terminal illness. This terminal illness is silent and unsuspecting, with no noticeable symptoms but it will kill you.
I estimate based on my medical opinion, that you have somewhere between five to ten years to live. I’m sorry if this is not what you were expecting – but I hope you take this news well.
I hope you use your remaining time well. Luckily for you it’s not five minutes, five weeks or five months. You’ve still got time to do things.
Unluckily for you it’s five years
Unluckily for you it’s not five minutes, five weeks or five months. Unluckily for you it’s longer. It’s five years.
It’s not so short that you can throw caution to the wind and live one big party, burning through all your money, quitting society and going out in an explosion. No. The candle will burn, but it will burn slowly.
Your life will still have to be practical.
It will still have to make sense. You will still need a Minimum Viable Lifestyle. You will have to balance all the important things, all the people and projects in your life.
Patients with this mysterious terminal illness tend to do better if they continue a journey of learning and awareness. They do not switch off despite the fact that the ticking of the clock gets louder. They keep learning new things.
They find that makes the last five years better than everything that came before.
The reality is that the clock is always ticking.
The clock is always ticking. We live life with a terminal illness, though none of us acknowledges it. Few of us pay attention to the clock, the thing is, when you imagine you have five years to live you pay more attention to it. And then you start living.
There are too many distractions in our lives, too many things that take us away from the ticking of the clock.
One day the ticking will stop, that much is true. The clock is indiscriminate. When it decides it is time to do so, it will stop ticking. How will you be living when that happens?
I live life with the assumption that I have this mysterious terminal illness that will kill me in five years. I leave a little room and planning for beyond that time in case the diagnosis is wrong because, let’s face, doctors can be wrong.
Now this sounds mad.
You might think that this sounds mad. But ask yourself this… is the mad thing not that most people live as if they’ll never die? That the concept of their mortality scares them so much that they push it out of their mind, and live as if they have infinite time?
As the great Anthony de Mello said, if you are afraid to die, then you are afraid to live now.
I try my best to live my life in a way that if the ticking sped up, and the last day were to be today or tomorrow, that after a little distress, I would greet the news with peace and humility.
I try my best to live my life in a way that, if I were to lose the ones I love at any moment, that I would have no regrets in those relationships.
Death is the best invention
Said Steve Jobs, who died at fifty-five. De Mello died at the same age.
Because, if you had a million years to live the irony is that a minute would become worthless to you, and so you would waste most of your minutes. But every year is a composite of minutes.
The five year terminal illness is a protection against six-out-of-ten-life.
We’ve talked about how six-out-of-ten-life is the sort of lifestyle that can be most dangerous, more of a trap than one, two or three-out-of-ten, the sort of life that would motivate a change sooner.
When things are ‘just ok’ we struggle to make decisive changes to build a better lifestyle. But this would change if we knew we only had so long left to live. We would not settle for a lower return on life.
The five year terminal illness forces you to live your Minimum Viable Lifestyle.
The ideal answer to the five year question is…
As close as possible to what you’re doing right now. When your answer to the question is more or less what your lifestyle and routine is right now, you have likely optimised your life.
Life is a funny type of football game where we don’t know how much time we have left
Imagine that. We’re playing this game unsure of how long is left on the clock. It’s not ninety minutes, it’s uncertain. It’s as if the referee could blow the whistle for full time at any minute.
So we can’t afford to be down on the scoreboard at any point. We can’t get lazy with any play thinking that if we concede, there will be time to make up ground.
We also can’t afford not to enjoy it. We can still lay the platform for great things and greater victories, but we can’t afford to waste a moment.
I try my best to live my life proud of everything up to now, feeling that I’ve already won the game 1-0 or 2-0.
That if the referee or powers at be were to call off the game at any moment, that I would be proud of how I’d played thus far, that I would have secured a narrow victory without the regret of not being able to play on.
But, until I hear that whistle, I’ll keep trying to score more goals, and see how far I can go. It’s almost as if the only way to lose this game is to live in denial of the fact that it could end at any moment.
Would this piece open a door for someone you know? Remember to share it with them.
After all, the best way to open a thousand doors for you is to focus on opening doors for others.