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Lifestyle

A Meditation on Death

“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.
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.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

In some cultures, the knowledge of death signifies the end of childhood. I see the knowledge of death, as the beginning of life. Only when we know the temporary nature of our existence do we acknowledge (or at least develop the ability to acknowledge) how precious it truly is.

The knowledge that I won’t be able to do things forever is fantastic motivation to actually do all the things I want to do with my life now. I get myself to write my blog posts because I know that one day I won’t be able to clarify what I mean or say anything at all. Like how Arthur Schopenhauer’s thoughts and messages are solidified in their current state, never to be worked on again. I’m sure if he were alive today, there would be a couple of things he would change. But it helps to keep in mind that one day, I won’t be able to do any of the things I can do now because I’ll be dead.

But as for today…

I am not.

What do we say to the god of death?

In celebration of that fact, I shall write my thoughts and make music. I shall make sure my energy is put to good use while I still have it, rather than just finding lifeless ways to burn it all. Dedicating my energy and attention to my works, not only gives me access to immortality, I could share my experience with others in hopes they can cultivate themselves to be better too.

I see my death as the day when my life is truly decided and it will be a culmination of all my decisions. That’s probably why it’s referred to as Judgement Day in religious contexts. All of our choices are set in stone and will be judged, not only by God but by all who lived with us and all who come after.

Right now, I have a say in how that goes and there will come a time when I won’t. And chances are when it arrives…

I won’t see it coming.

It gives me peace to know that there are things I can do that can take on lives of their own and impact people once I’m gone just like I can now while I am alive.

I think it’s so cool when I read books written by people who lived hundreds of years before me, and I can feel as if they’re still here gracing me with their company. We all have an opportunity to reach out to the people who will come after us and with the access to modern technology we can communicate more accurately than ever before. Back then, people captured their minds in books, but now we have so many different mediums that we can accurately capture more information, share it easily, and with a lower barrier to entry than ever before. We can capture ourselves in video and audio in a way that can perfectly capture who and what we are and share it with the world almost instantly.

“Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.”

Seneca (On the Shortness of Life)

Knowing I’m going to die makes me feel like I have to make my works NOW. This moment, right now, is my opportunity to create what kind of person I’m going to be for the people who will never know me personally. This is why I write about so many self-improvement topics and make music. Those are the things that have spoken to me on a deep level and I would love to share these things with others.

In my post Proclivity for Comfort and The Relationship with Ourselves Part 2, I mention how one of the tragedies of life is that we have to suffer to learn. I see my works as a way to help others learn the same lessons with less suffering. In a way, I’m trying to make my sacrifices worth it to others. Though my works, others can learn the things that made me strong without having to go through the same hell. But my works can only be created while I am alive, so today I must work on them so they can speak for me when I’m gone. Death is a powerful motivator.

One day we will lose it all, but today we haven’t so let’s make our time worthwhile.

I believe the knowledge of death is only powerful if we care about what the world will be like after we’re gone. If we don’t care, then we create a breeding ground for nihilism. We can be nihilistic, but we will lead a fruitless life that’s remembered horribly.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

Greek Proverb

Seeing death as motivation can seem insane, especially considering that human beings have a tendency to avoid and deny the thought of their own death. Robert Greene talks about this in-depth his ambitiously, but appropriately titled book The Laws of Human Nature, which is on My Must-Read Book List. He beautifully illustrates how humans naturally gravitate towards denying death, but when inevitably confronted with it, can turn it into something that fills our lives with a sense of purpose and urgency to actualize our intentions. He gives the message life by telling the story of American writer, Mary Flannery O’Connor.

When she was a young girl she was really close to her father. At the age of 10, she wrote a series of caricatures of her family titled “My Relitives.” Her family was shocked both by how they were portrayed and the cleverness of the little girl. Her father was especially impressed, showing it to visitors every chance he got. He saw a bright future in writing for his daughter. When she was 12, Mary discovered her father had a very serious illness (she later learned that is was lupus erythematosus), in which the body develops antibodies that attack healthy tissue. This resulted in him growing weaker and weaker until he finally died in 1941.

His death affected Mary deeply. She was too shocked to talk to anyone, but confined in her private journal. She would write about how “God has broken their complacency, like a bullet in the side.” Despite her anger with God, she was a devout Catholic and believed that everything happens for a reason. God must have a greater plan for her. Over time, she started to throw herself at her schoolwork and writing determined to bring her father’s predictions into reality. Mary was going to be a prolific writer, just like her father thought. She applied to the University of Iowa and enrolled in the famous Writer’s Workshop with a newer simpler name, Flannery O’Conner. She started writing short stories, which caught some attention, based on her experiences in the South.

Then tragedy strikes. In 1949, O’Conner got pretty sick. The doctors diagnosed her with a floating kidney. She gets surgery for it but she isn’t able to write her book because of her recovery time and strange pains developing in her arms. Another doctor assesses the pain in her arms and diagnoses her with rheumatoid arthritis. Along with the joint pains, she was also suffering from high fevers and had to be admitted into a hospital. She didn’t trust the doctors but didn’t have enough energy to argue with them either. The doctors give her massive amounts of cortisone to help with the pain and inflammation, but it prevented her from thinking clearly, made her hair fall out, and bloated her face. She also had to receive frequent blood transfusions. The times when her fever was highest, she would experience blindness and paralysis.

At this time O’Conner started to feel like she didn’t have much time left. Death was coming for her. So she ramped up her writer speed, as much as she possibly could. In the hospital, she finished her novel, Wise Blood, inspired by her many blood transfusions. It’s about a young man who thinks he has wise blood and doesn’t need any spiritual counsel. It details his fall into madness and murder.

After a few months in the hospital, O’Conner returned home hoping to recapture some familiarity. On a drive with her sister, O’Conner discovers that her mother, in cahoots with the doctors, lied to her about her rheumatoid arthritis and that she actually has lupus, the same disease her father died of.

With death staring her right in the face, she saw things differently. First, she was sad at the thought of all the books she has yet to write and all the places she will never see. She felt her world open up as she engaged with life outside of her hometown and it was heartbreaking to know that she was confined to her little room. She was destroyed from the idea that her father was wrong, that she would not be this prolific writer because her time was cut short.

But then she saw things clearly, for the first time. She saw that the most important things in her life were not where she lived, her friends, or even her family, but her writing. She told her mother that she was to have 2 or more hours every morning for writing and they are not to be interrupted for any reason. She focused all of her energy on her work. Writing with such vigor at home connected her more closely with her father. Being surrounded by the objects they were both surrounded by during her blissful years and feeling the pain he felt before he died made her connection to him even stronger. She began to write and write and write despite the pain. It was almost as if she was realizing the potential her father had seen in her as a little girl.

With the stakes higher than ever, O’Conner knew she had no time to waste. She realized with each passing day that she had less and less time than before. As a result, she threw herself even deeper into her work with more and more intensity. Writing allowed her to forget herself and rid her of the anxiety of her sickness.

Knowing about her death gave O’Conner an appreciation for time that I’ve never seen in anyone else. She took in as much as she could every minute as well as didn’t expect much from life. This new perspective gave her the ability to analyze her society in a deep way which inspired her next book. She basically says that if everyone could see what she has seen, that we all suffer and die and our time is short, then people would inevitably live differently. She says the blindness to this fact eats at our humanity and enhances our capacity for cruelty. (I think she’s so right.)

Since she was in her room most of the time, she was extremely lonely and used her characters to keep her company. She also didn’t want to be too intimate with people, since her time was coming to an end she didn’t want to have to say good-bye so soon.

O’Conner wrote with fervor until the day she died. She was buried next to her father. Pain or no pain she wrote with intensity and because of that, the world has been given an amazing writer until the end of time. The story of Flannery O’Conner is one I like to go back to whenever I feel like I’m losing perspective on life. Death gives us perspective and it can be the thing that gets our asses in gear. Ironically enough, it can be the thing that fills us with life.

The beautiful part is that we don’t have to actually be at death’s door to see life this way, all we have to do is take Flannery O’Conner’s story and see how it relates to us. In a sense, we are all already at death door, so we should take a note from Mary and use the knowledge of our impending death to fuel our works and restore our humanity.


In The Shortness of Life by Seneca, which is also on my Must-Read Book List, Seneca discusses how there is more life than time. So much more life that we actively try to find ways to burn it. This is most obvious when we’re bored. Boredom is the feeling when we’re existing more than we’re living. If life was so short, why would people spend so much effort trying to kill time?

Seneca argues that we only feel tired and unrested when we give ourselves to others. This could be in the form of giving your time, but it’s also deeper than that. He gives the example of the dinner party where a dinner guest asks what we do for a living. Someone who has a respectful career may say what they do with pride and how it brings them much satisfaction, but in fact, is withered down and exhausted. That person is not satisfied and unrested because all of the hours that they dedicate to that fancy career is time that is not for them. It is time given to the guest at the dinner party or to anyone they want approval from. The impressed look on the guest’s face when he replies with a fancy title is not for themselves, but for the one with the career. The sacrifices made for careers can easily become sacrifices made for impressing others, which is extremely unsatisfying.

It’s easy to dedicate ourselves to others, but in doing so we make life shorter and when death comes, we will be holding on so tight unable to let go.

It’s funny how seeing life as short, tends to give us this idea that we need to spend it better. I see Seneca’s approach as much more powerful – we have enough time if we were to give it to ourselves. When we only live for others, we lose ourselves and never truly feel rested.

Seneca says that people who say life moves quickly only believe so because they treat life as unimportant and easily replaceable. Because of this, it slips away from us.

From this perspective, life is about choices and how we choose to spend our life is on us.

Seneca also talks about how people are so willing to give their time, but not their money, and how backward that type of thinking is. Money can always be replenished, but time cannot. Meditating on death really nudges me to give someone my money rather than my time. I highly recommend that everyone read this book. It can do wonders for our perspective.


Occasionally, to force some perspective onto myself, I’ll think about the inevitable death of me and everyone I love. This neutralizes any shitty situation pretty quickly. To me, nothing is more upsetting than the destruction of me and everyone I love, but at the same time, it makes me so grateful for what I have now. Whatever painfully flawed moment that I’m dealing with in the present becomes an oasis in the middle of a desert when I’m present to THE END, so to speak.

Death is the fate we all share, no one can escape it. It helps us realize what is important. In the face of death, everything trivial melts away and we only see what matters. When it comes down to it, we have little to lose and a whole world to gain, so let’s embrace death and choose life. Choose to live at our highest intensity. Make bold choices. Decide for ourselves what our lives will be like. Nothing is decided until the very end, we are always in a state of rewriting and our story follows our trajectory. Death makes life matter now.

“the preoccupied become aware of it only when it is over.”

Seneca (On the Shortness of Life)
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Lifestyle

Lessons from an Application + Tips from Winston Churchill

“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (Parerga and Paralipomena)

My girlfriend recently emailed me a potential dream job that she thought I was the perfect fit for. I was elated to discover that renown author and habit-guru, James Clear, is hiring a podcast writer/researcher and producer. Given my nerdy passion for self-improvement and audio engineering, I figured this would be a fantastic opportunity to pursue.

I’ve always hated applications, but this one has taught me a few lessons that I think are worth sharing. Some came from the application itself, others came from my overachieving spirit taking on unnecessary challenges.

Future Opportunities are Difficult to Imagine

A part of the application that made me think was when Clear asked the applicant how much money they expect to be paid for the position. I know I’m fairly new to the “real world,” so to speak, but the idea of getting handed a blank check to do meaningful and potentially life changing work is so beautiful to me.

How crazy is it that there’s this job that appeared over the recent years that has no established monetary value. Then I got to thinking…how many other unforeseen opportunities are coming? How many other jobs will come that will give people the opportunity to write their own checks? It’s so wild to think about the seemingly boundless opportunities that come with our rapid technological growth. Podcast writer/researcher/producer was not a popular job just a few short years ago, but now there are people who will pay handsomely for someone with those unique set of skills.

After seeing this, I see that it’s so important to focus on developing skills that interest us because future opportunities are difficult to imagine and perhaps one day a well-paying and flexible job will look for someone with those particular set of skills in that particular combination. In a world of niches and specialization, we need to find new ways to make ourselves relevant and it seems like cultivating our inclinations is our best bet.

Modes of Growth

When I looked at my website, my writing, and resume, I was unsatisfied and embarrassed. I was so frustrated because I felt burnout creeping in and I couldn’t see any ways to make my situation better. I took a step back and saw this as an opportunity to level up everything, so even if I don’t get the job, the energy dedicated to this application is worthwhile. I had to stop with experimenting and work on presenting. Off with Experimentation Mode and on with Presentation Mode.

Once I switched gears, I was working harder than ever before. Suddenly, I knew what had to be done and saw multiple ways to get to where I needed to go. This was an important realization in a time of burnout and complacency. Once I switched my mode of growth, I had a whole new set of problems to tackle. I was so inspired that I made plans that will take way longer than the application window to complete, but that’s totally fine.

Being the nerd I am, I started to wonder why I had this newfound energy. I wanted to know what exactly broke me out of my burnout and complacency. I was thinking about Big Sean and when he goes into “Album Mode,” he’s focused, setting his intentions, attentions, and energy all in one place. That got me thinking…we all have different modes to our outward development. We don’t necessarily have to have “Album Mode” or “Presenting Mode,” but having different creative “modes” helps us switch to the perspectives we need to take action.

Paying Attention Paid Off

I kept stopping the application to work on the musical pillar of my online city and realized that I kept wanting to dedicate my energy to myself and my own endeavors. I’m not saying I’ll be James Clear, but James had to dedicate a huge amount of energy in order to create the body of work he has today.

If I’m naturally gravitating towards working on my own endeavors, then I ought to get out of my own way. For a while I wondered if I was paying proper attention to my own patterns and behaviors, but now I have another example as to why paying attention to our own behavior is worthwhile. When I made the switch from working on someone else’s plan, to working on my own, I felt less anxious and stressed. The application didn’t cause me a huge amount of stress, but it does feel a hell of a lot better to work on my own contribution to humanity.

In the end, I decided not to submit an application but the lessons I got from it felt like a good trade.

-Future opportunities are difficult to imagine, so focus on what keeps you interested and useful.

-Have different modes of growth to help change perspectives in times of burnout or complacency.

-Pay attention to what I’m subconsciously trying to do and get out of my own way if it aligns with my values.

How to Be a Better Leader: Tips from Winston Churchill

One of the questions on the application was asking us how we would handle writing a practice podcast transcript on the topic “How to Be a Better Leader: Tips from Winston Churchill.” I thought this was an excellent question to ask because it gave Clear a clear idea (no pun intended) of how this new hiree will work once everything is said and done.

When I read The 4-Hour Workweek (which is on my Must Read List), Tim suggested to have a preliminary task set up for potential hires to see how each person would work. This way you can evaluate their workflow, how quickly they can complete the project, a sample of their work, and if you like working with them in general.

Given how I saw the question, I figured the best thing to do would be to actually write out the transcript and detail my workflow. Since I decided to not follow through with the application, I didn’t finish writing the transcript, but I did do a good amount of research for it and learned some valuable lessons. Without further adieu (in a much more casual manner) here are some lessons I learned from Winston Churchill on how to be a better leader.

Never ever stop.

“If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

I’ll start with one of his most popular quotes. Churchill was no stranger to situations akin to Hell. He participated in many wars as a soldier and a Prime Minister. War can be seen as close to Hell as we can get and Churchill had experience with it on the front lines as well as being in charge of millions of lives. On top of that, the guy lived to the ripe ol’ age of 90! If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that I truly believe life is suffering and to reject that suffering is to reject life itself, so we must do everything we can to learn how to deal with that and other tragedies of life. I talk a little bit about this in my post Proclivity for Comfort. Since Churchill lived for so long, it’s safe to assume that the man has seen the innate hardships of life, which I believe can also be akin to Hell. I believe it’s safe to say that Churchill knows Hell and how to get through it. Keep going. If things get hard, keep going. If things aren’t hard, they will be. Plan for the worst and keep going.

On a slightly different note, I was also reading Austin Kleon’s third book, Keep Going, which is a solid book on how to stay creative in good times and bad. I’m pretty sure Kleon didn’t reference Churchill, but I want I mention this too since this week’s post is more about lessons I’ve learned over the last week. Kleon offers many different ways to stay creative, but the most influential idea for me was to make gifts. Basically, when you’re in a creative slump, make gifts to get in touch with your gift. When you think of creating something of value for another person, we see tons of new ways to utilize our talents.

Persistence will conquer strength, intelligence, talent and hard work. Without persistence, we are nothing. Being strong, smart, and talented can give us a leg up, but someone with more persistence will be the champion.

I feel like Churchill’s advice to keep going is amazingly perfect and simple, but to take it a step further, we should look for specific methods to keep going. Persistence is the goal, finding the methods to get there is our task. Excellent for leadership, excellent for conducting ourselves powerfully in the world.

Intentionality is for the strong.

“I like things to happen, and if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Churchill has so many quotes, but a common thread between a lot of them is his reverence for intentionality. In a phrase, Churchill believed that people want things to happen, but don’t try to make them happen. He wanted to participate in life, not just observe it. He suggests that great leaders will bring out what they want into the world despite other forces working against them. The good leader delivers results, on purpose.

What comes with intentionality is confidence. When someone knows themselves as someone who can bring about their own will into the world, then they are confident, especially in times of uncertainty. Leaders view themselves as being able to impose their will on the world and NOT the other way around. Leaders have an Internal Locus of Control. Now, this isn’t to say that we should just do whatever we please and force others to act how we’d like, this is simple a mindset to approach potential problems from. When we are intentional, we build confidence, and when we’re confidence, we build intentionality. The combination of these traits gives us a backbone, and are way less likely to fold under pressure.

Pick your battles.

“You will never get to the end of the journey if you stop to shy a stone at every dog that barks.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

This is similar to intentionality, because fighting every battle you come across, or stopping to shy a stone at every dog that barks, is not intentional at all. Getting distracted by ever disturbance you’ll come across will eventually stop you completely. Some things are worth ignoring or letting go. A good leader knows when to move on. A good leader knows when to quit. However, when the time does come for a fight a good leader must know how to conduct himself in battle, be it physical, verbal, or mental. We can’t give our attention to the barking dogs, for they are just beats who follow their lowly urges. These animals cannot see what we see and therefore their judgment cannot be taken into consideration. Haters gon hate.

Move beyond the failure.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Churchill was big on failing early and failing often. I’m not surprised because Churchill was a smart guy. I talk about The Power of Failure a lot because it is the basis for learning. Churchill, without all the modern research on learning, understood that you have to be willing to fail again and again in order to achieve something of significance.

There is no other way to heaven except through death. We must be willing to sacrifice the part of ourselves that is wrong and inadequate in order to make room for the part of ourselves that is correct and competent. Learning that we’re wrong hurts and leads to suffering, but if we can willingly confront that part of our lives then we can fasttrack our abilities to learn and develop skills. Fail all the time, but don’t let it take you down. Excellent leaders are so because they have learned how to be.

We are never done.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

This also ties into never ever stopping. Persistence is what will bring us to the promiseland, so to speak, but what comes with persistence is the assumption that there is more that lies ahead.

It makes sense that Churchill thought this way, given the events that he lived through. He saw the end of WWI, the war to end all wars, just to see the beginning of WWII. He saw the futility in trying to end the problem of problems. Our success are only successes for now. Our failures are only failures for now. He understood what matters in the face of this absurdity, to develop ourselves to have the courage to continue.

This fascinated me for a while. I couldn’t understand why someone would not want to try to solve the meta-problem (that problems exist) and would rather focus their energy in building the courage to keep fighting, but then it hit me. Success, fulfillment, the peak human experience is not defined by what we are aiming in the earthly sense. Aiming at”worldly” outcomes yields a temporary release, but aiming at virtues gives us a whole new set of skills. Churchill switches the conversation from aiming towards vaguely defined earthly success to aiming towards the virtues. This gives us the ability to contend with existence with a whole new, and more effective, arsenal. Success is a journey. Whether we failed or succeeded yesterday, it doesn’t matter. The truth is, we must do it again today.