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Your Last Day on Earth - What will you do with it?

"Live not one’s life as though one had a thousand years, but live each day as the last." Marcus Aurelius - Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher.

For the past few years, I have been a student of Stoicism. It is a branch of philosophy that flourished in ancient Greece and Rome. Stoicism takes a realistic view of the world, good or bad. It doesn't sugarcoat whatever negative things happen to you in life. Rather, it teaches you to cope with, and embrace both the good and the bad, with

Courage/Temperance/Wisdom/Justice. Many leaders throughout history have studied and embraced Stoicism for its ability to shape thoughts and decisions that are based on reality and doing the right thing, no matter what the cost. (If you want to study stoicism in action, read about Admiral James Stockdale. He was a Naval Aviator shot down over North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. A student of philosophy, especially of Epictetus, he was a POW for eight years. His stoicism and embracing the reality of his situation - torture, confinement, wearing shackles for years, got him through this.)

Tenets such as "we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality," or, the concept of "Amor Fati," meaning loving your fate, no matter what it is, are core elements of Stoicism. 

Because the alternative is to fight something that is happening to you, pretending it doesn't exist or will go away, when it won't. Whether it is something simple like you being stuck in a traffic jam when you are late for a meeting, or something more serious like a diagnosis of cancer, Stoicism teaches you to deal with what is under your control. 

I can't do anything about traffic. I can rant and rave, yell in the car until the crows come home, but nothing will change. You will still be stuck in traffic. Better for you to take a few breaths, listen to the radio, pray for a break in traffic or listen to an audio book, than get high blood pressure. 

More serious, like a diagnosis of cancer, which happened to my wife a few months ago, is another matter. But it has to be handled in the same way. We couldn't wish away the cancer. It was there. We couldn't control that. But we could control who we picked as physicians to help us through this. We could control our minds and emotions (though trust me, we went through the full gamut of disbelief, anger, sadness and resignation) and deal with this realistically. Our faith and Stoicism were really put to the test on this one. But my wife went through her double mastectomy and the prognosis is excellent for a full recovery and no more cancer. Thank God.

There is another concept in Stoicism called "Momento Mori," - You will die. The title of this article alludes to that. Marcus Aurelius is one of the most well-known of the stoics. He was emperor of Rome and the compilation of his thoughts on life and death, are found in "Meditations." If you have never read this book, get a copy and read it. Even leaders like US Marine General Mattis used to carry a copy of "Meditations" with him on every combat deployment. 

Momento Mori means we are all going to die someday. Yes, we all know this and most of us don't want to think about it. Understandable. Death is final. There is no encore. At least on this earth.

As you can see from the picture above, the reporter is part of the "YLD" -Your Last Day Network. Now think about it. If you knew this were the last day you had on this earth, what would you do? What would be your priorities? Who would you want to see? What would you be thinking about?

We live in a world that inundates us with things that in the long term, mean absolutely nothing. Serious issues - yes. The political divide in our country - serious. The immigration crisis - serious. The war between Israel and Hamas - serious. The lack of support of law enforcement in some circles - serious. The homeless problem - serious. The economy, high interest rates, our national debt - serious. But if this were your last day, would you be thinking about any of these things. 

Of course not. 

If this were my last day, I would first and foremost, think about my wife, my daughter, the girls we have "adopted" as our daughters, our wonderful dogs, my friends. I wouldn't think twice about world events, or Trump/Biden. Who cares? I would focus my efforts on things that are really important to me.

I would ensure that my loved ones were taken care of financially. I would reach out to friends to have one last conversation with them. Tell them how much their friendship and support have meant to me, both personally and professionally.

I would take a walk with my wife and enjoy each other's company. We would enjoy holding hands, and truly look at, and admire what is around us. The blue sky, sunshine, birds chirping, the feel if the breeze on our faces, the mountains surrounding our neighborhood. Things that we take for granted as we are driving in and out of our development would take on a whole new meaning.

I would focus on the most important things in life. Because I would know that when the day ended, my life would be over. 

So what is the point of all of this?

As leaders, as human beings, we are confronted with stresses and problems on a daily basis. These are real and have to be dealt with. But when you think of Momento Mori and Amor Fati, you realize what is in your control, and what is not in your control. And, what is really important in life. It is NOT the nonsense played out daily on Fox News/MSNBC/CNN. It IS the important things in your life - family, faith, friends. 

When you find yourself stressed by a lousy boss, unreasonable deadlines, budget cuts, personnel problems, health scares, economic and political upheaval, take a step back. Ask yourself "what can I control?" 

That is what you concentrate your efforts on. Everything else, out of your control, stop fretting over it. Besides, time is fleeting. Things that were priority issues twenty years ago or more, when I was at CIA or then at Microsoft, are but faded memories. How much wasted time did I stress over things I could not control. How many hours of sleep did I not get fretting over these things. How many times did I prioritize work over family, friends, life!

You will wake up tomorrow, hopefully, ready to start a new day.

On your plate will be problems, both personal and professional, that you will need to deal with. Deal with them of course. But take the time to remember that every time you wake up, healthy and loved, it is a blessing. Think on that once in awhile. Take time out of your day to look at the beauty of life around you, away from the chatter of the talking heads on YouTube and the news. Take a walk, meditate, pray, call an old friend, spend time actually listening to your spouse (smile), read a good book. Write down daily in a journal the things you are grateful for. I start each day journaling on this so my day starts on a hopefully and positive note. 

Treat each day if it were your last. Your spouse walking around the house, your pets eating from their bowls, the leaves on trees blowing in the wind, and for me, the sound of birds chirping, all of these will take on a whole new meaning. 

Will your problems still be there? You betcha. Can you put them into perspective? You betcha. 

Do it. Life is short. I have lost one wife to cancer and had a scare recently of losing Janice to the same disease. I won't take any day for granted every again. I am making sure that I don't get wrapped around the axle on things that in the long run, mean nothing. I can still lead effectively, blog, write, give speeches and contribute to the community. But I know my priorities. Do you?

Momento Mori - You will die. But ironically, it is also a great way to live.

Thanks to all of you who subscribe to this blog. We are approaching 2000 subscribers. Keep telling your friends and family about this blog and share it with them. 

Till next time. 


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