Life is the most sacred thing in the world. We care about life more than anything else. A single life is more valuable than all the sands of the Sahara desert. We value it because we get only one chance to live. If we get many chances, we dont have to care about it much. If we see a guy speeding on the road, we will say ‘It’s ok let him die in the car crash. He will learn a lesson and hopefully he will remember to use it in his next life.’ But we get only one life. If it is someone we care about who is speeding, we would stop him and give advice on how dangerous it is. We know once he is gone he is gone forever.
Nobody wants to die. A stream of fire flows through our veins when we hear about death. Even those who want to go to heaven are not willing to die to get there. We don’t want to die. So when we are alive it is better if we live a life that brings completeness and fulfillment to our existence.
Unlike canned products, we are not born with an expiry date printed on our back. We don’t know when our life will end. The variables are too many so it’s not possible to predict it. This shows how delicate our life is. Even while knowing this, we waste so much of it and spend our time mindlessly until we reach the end of the road where our body is separated from life. At that moment when we look back on the road we traveled, we see nothing. Sometimes we see two children from a divorced wife whom we haven’t spoken for fifteen years.
After we are gone, people would carry on their lives. A year later out of more than a million people, none would speak our name. Few of those who have us in their memory would have a hard time recalling it. Or worse they could not recall. Finally the world will go on as if we have never existed. How many people died whom you know but cannot recall their name? You remember only bit of moments. It made no difference whether they existed or not. Or worse someone might have carried a burden when they were around. It is not far from reality that we may end up same fate as they were unless we are willing to do something about it.
People live up to an older age without having really lived. Seneca said: ‘And so there is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles. He has not lived long – he has existed long.’ I see these men around all the time.
Even though we have no clue on how long we are going to live, we make plans and spend our days as if we are going to live forever. What if we have 60 years to live? Will that change anything? Or what if we have ten years to live?
For most people ten years is not enough. But in most cases we have more than enough time to accomplish our goals in life. It is not time. Seneca said:
‘it is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it’s been given to us in generous measure for accomplishing the greatest things, if the whole of it is well invested.’
We have time. What we need to do is invest our time into right tasks. If we invest all our time into what we want to achieve in life, it would not take ten years to accomplish your goals. But we don’t do that. We choose to spend our days chatting with friends, seeking unproductive pleasures, and avoiding useful pain. Time flies by while we are engaged in these unproductive activities. Time goes fast. As we grow older, we begin to notice it well. That’s why Seneca said: ‘So you must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream of water that will not always flow.’
Imagine we have ten years to live. I bet we would not bother doing most of the things we do if someone told us we have just ten years left. Having ten years to live is not a bad thing at all. Knowing life is short makes people optimistic and work much harder to achieve their goals. We have seen better performance from people who have cancer, when doctors warned them they have one year to live. They are more optimistic than rest of the people. Professor Randy Pausch was a great example. Those who watched his Last lecture might have noticed that cancer doesn’t affect his motivation. He was full of energy and enthusiasm despite having cancer.
Steve Jobs was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. His optimism didn’t fade away because of that. Instead, during that time Apple released new iPod, first iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and mac book air. Apple was growing and innovating faster than any other company.
He gave a speech to graduate students at Stanford University. In that speech he said:
‘Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. 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.’
Jobs died in 2011.
Each passing day carry us closer to the grave. Why not spend it on something useful for us or our loved ones. We should not be here just to exist. Instead, we should make a name for ourselves and leave the world better then it was before we came. This way even after we are dead, our name will live on.
On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
The organized mind: Thinking Straight in the age of information by Daniel Levitin
Transcript of Speech by S. Jobs, Stanford University (visit)