Player One: You are about to die.

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Are you wasting your most valuable resource? 

Imagine I told you today that you had a wallet with $1,000 in it. You could spend it on whatever or whoever you want. But you wake up again tomorrow with a new $1,000, whether you spend none or all of it.

What would you choose to do?

I’d guess you’ll spend it! You might spend it on an experience, something you’ve always wanted to buy, or maybe you’d spend it on others.

Right? After all, if it’s gonna disappear tomorrow might as well spend it.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not really talking bout money. I’m talking about the resource that’s infinitely more valuable, non-refundable, and non-renewable:

I’m talking bout, TIME, sucka!

Every day, if we’re not careful, we can spend our most valuable non-renewable resource on things that just don’t freaking matter:

  • In a job that we hate, or one that doesn’t fulfill us.
  • With people that don’t bring us happiness instead of with those that do
  • Being angry or mad at things that don’t matter
  • Not doing the things we actually want to accomplish.

Over the past few years, after losing many friends at young ages, I’ve started to remember death daily. It’s a bit morbid, but also a bit inspiring and hopeful.

One thing is for sure: it’s changed how I attack each day, remembering that time is not infinite, so I might as well focus on the important.

Memento MorI

dominoes

Back in the day (which was a Wednesday), remembering death was a crucial part of life in the Roman Empire.

As pointed out by Brett over on Art of Manliness:

“The phrase “Memento Mori” (aka “Remember death”) is believed to originate from an ancient Roman tradition in which a servant would be tasked with standing behind a victorious general as he paraded though town. As the general basked in the glory of the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear: “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” = “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”

In other words, no matter what you do or how you choose to spend your time, one day you will die. Regardless of what you accomplish or don’t accomplish, regardless of what you think happens after you die, at some point your world will get shut down.

We’re all the same, whether we die with a billion dollars or zero bucks, once our clock stops ticking. I think we can all agree that we are interested in living the best life on this planet we can, and happiness and meaning are more important than anything else.

Keeping death in the forefront of our mind can be a powerful tool. So can remembering World of Warcraft.

The end of the World (of Warcraft)

wowserver

Did you hear the news last week?

World of Warcraft, the world’s most famous persistently online video game, shut down one of its original servers, meaning that characters who had been created on that server would cease to exist, after years and years of playtime. If you’ve ever played an online game that you’ve invested significant hours into, you know how devastating this can feel, even if you haven’t played in a while: a character that you have dumped THOUSANDS of hours into will no longer be playable. It can feel, oddly, like quite a loss.

In fact, it can even feel like an “end of world” scenario.

In fitting nerdy behavior, hundreds upon hundreds of players logged in to say goodbye to each other, to reminisce, and to say goodbye to their virtual lives on this server. Somebody even made a video to commemorate the occasion, with fitting music:

I have to imagine a significant number of people logged back in for the first time in a long time once they found out their server was being shut down – they realized they were “down to the last quarter” in the arcade, so to speak – and wanted to join and take a few final meaningful steps to memorialize their time there.

It’s funny how being more aware of our time can spur us into action:

In games, it’s the constant threat of a “game over” screen, a timer counting down, or a blinking single heart container letting you know you’re one hit away from death. Like hearing “Yellow Wizard is about to die!” in Gauntlet or Gauntlet Legends

In movies, it’s the moment in disaster movies when characters who know they’re going to die, come together for some philosophical pinnings about life and what they’ve done, explaining regrets and reflecting honestly.

In life, its those that are diagnosed with terminal illness and who finally decide to start doing what they really want in life – perhaps for the first time ever. The trivial crap is immediately forgotten and the important jumps to the front of the line.

When these time limitations are thrust upon us, we cut through the layers upon layers of things that just don’t matter, and start to see our lives and ourselves with more clarity.

Because most of us in life don’t have a finish line that we can see, we don’t have an end of days movie event or end of game server reset on the horizon, we live our lives as if our time is infinite. We say “I’ll get to it eventually.” Or “When things settle down.” Or “Someday I’m going to do blah blah blah.”

And then we don’t.

That’s why starting today, I want you to remember death.

Remember Death Today.

contemplate death

We have to remember death, because it can come for us at any moment. The server shut down can happen without any advance notice.

My goal for you with Nerd Fitness is to help you wake up excited and go to bed proud. Surprisingly, remembering and contemplating death is a profoundly optimistic practice – not the morbid thing it sounds like.

Time is the most valuable (and non-renewable) resource on the planet, infinitely more valuable than money. However, because we feel like we have infinite time, we readily throw it away, wish it moved faster, or waste it on things that don’t bring us challenge, growth, or happiness.

When we get stuck in the muck, it’s hard to see the big picture:

  • Getting a promotion at a job you hate will not make you suddenly start to like it.
  • Buying a bigger house or faster car will not bring you true joy if the rest of your life is unhappy.
  • It might feel tempting to postpone time with your family/kids for work or the pursuit of more money or something seemingly urgent but ultimately unimportant.

We are going to die, and we far too often get lost in the details or the rat race because we forget to remember death.

Ask anybody on their deathbed what they would give to spend more time alive on this planet, and the answer is always “everything.” They don’t give a shit about the job they had or the money they spent. They care about their memories, time with loved ones, and living true to themselves.

Today, I want you to remember death.

It’s a touchy subject, and one that’s easier to block out in place of any other challenges we’re faced with on a day to day. I find it helpful to keep the big picture in perspective. Tim Ferriss’s most recent podcast with B.J. Miller, a palliative care physician at Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, discusses how studying death and spending time with those on their death bed can teach us how to actually enjoy life.

I find it helps to have four things daily:

  1. I spend my work hours on something meaningful that challenges me. We all have to pay bills and have responsibilities, but we don’t have to be miserable doing it.
  2. I spend some of my spare time on a hobby that is fun for me: learning a language, playing an instrument, dancing, exercise, etc.
  3. I spend quality time with people who are important to me. Significant others, family, or friends.
  4. I spend some time being grateful for the things I DO have. Just five minutes at the end of the day recalling the things I’m thankful for.

We can all practice 2-4 starting today, and I encourage you to do so.

However, if you’re somebody who struggles with #1, finding meaningful work and not hating Mondays, it’s going to take a bit more work.

I wanna quickly recommend the book Born For This, by my hero Chris Guillebeau. Waking up dreading the day you’re about to have sucks, and far too many live their lives in a countdown to “the weekend” or some arbitrary date in the future when things “should be better” instead of actively working towards meaningful work.

Contrary to popular belief and what other miserable people might tell you, it doesn’t make you entitled to want/expect more out of your career. It just means you want more. You don’t need to “suck it up” and do something you hate until you retire/die – but it does mean you’re going to need to dig deep and make tough decisions about what’s important to you:

  • Moving to a new city or smaller apartment, or eating out less. Cutting your expenses to nothing and opting-out of the rat race.
  • Learning a new skill or changing careers and starting at the bottom of the ladder.
  • Doing what you want for YOU, not what others expect of you.

If tomorrow isn’t a guarantee, why would you spend most of today being miserable and wishing it was over? This is purposely throwing away our most valuable resource!

To borrow a quote from my favorite movie, Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dying.” Which one are you doing right now?

Remember death, my dear Rebel friend. This game doesn’t last forever. Let’s live lives we’re proud of, dancing in the graveyards to celebrate our lives once they’re over.

See you at the end; I’ll be the one in dancing shoes.

-Steve

BornForThisPS: As mentioned earlier in the post, my friend and mentor Chris Guillebeau put out his fourth book last week, Born For This: how to find the work you were meant to do. I’ve had crappy jobs and great jobs, and I know how crushing a Monday morning can be when you’re not happy with what you do for work. Check out the book and learn how to find what value you can bring to this world! Congrats Chris, and thanks for inspiring me to find meaningful work.

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photo: Thomas Hawk: Game Over, Guiseppe Milo: Man by the sea

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