“Individual human beings die very differently. Some people die having lived a life with great purpose and few regrets. These are the people that come to the end of their lives with a deep sense of having lived a full human life.
“Others die looking back with bitterness at having missed what really mattered.” — Dr. John Izzo
Talking about death is weird. The certainty of it happening, mixed with the uncertainty of when it will happen creates an emotional seesaw that feels unstable and queasy.
But, we should pay attention to our reaction when it’s brought up because whichever way we fall on the scale determines our capacity to live our lives with meaning and purpose.
Are we afraid of death? Do we ignore its inevitability? Or, do we accept its certainty? Do we use it as motivation to find our passions and let those passions reign over the rest of our lives?
Dr. John Izzo found that those who were unafraid of death lived the most prosperous lives.
In search of the wisdom behind prosperity, Izzo interviewed more than 200 people, aged 60 to 106, to whom his acquaintances referred as people who had lived life with true meaning and purpose.
These people lived all over the world, grew up with different religious backgrounds and held a wide range of careers. Each of them carried stories of wisdom gained from the trials and tribulations of life.
After a one- to three-hour interview with each of them, he boiled down their insights to five secrets. He calls these bits of wisdom “secrets,” yet they are things we already know. As he states,
“Many of us live life in daily opposition to the wisdom we already have.”
Once we find the rhythm, we can start to bridge that gap between who we are and whom we should be:
Secret 1: Be true to yourself.
“The greatest tragedy in life is to spend your whole life fishing only to discover it was never fish that you were after.” — Henry David Thoreau
Being true to yourself sounds cheesy and clichéd, like taking advice from a generalized fortune cookie. It’s easy to roll your eyes at, but clichés are clichés because they’re true.
Here’s another way to put it: You have promise yourself to live with the strength to ignore outside opinions about all the other things the world wants you to be and know what will be best for you and your abilities.
This requires knowing yourself through an uninterrupted reflection on your experiences — a noble task in today’s age of information overload. Instead of comparing your life to those others lead, spend more time asking yourself what you want to do with yours.
“Sin” is a Greek word that means “missing the target.” Being true to yourself means finding your bullseye and creating an action plan to get there.
It’s okay to miss the mark, as long as you keep moving toward it. Ask advice of others, but for every big decision you make, ask yourself if it can take you where you want to go.
Secret 2: Leave no regrets.
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe
Not one person Izzo interviewed said he or she regretted trying something and failing. Most people said they only regretted not taking enough risks. In his own words:
“Each time we play it safe we move further away from our truest selves.”
This is not to belittle the fear of rejection and failure because most of us who have stared fear in the eye can understand how real and paralyzing it can be. But, if we can learn to look past it, we’ll see that the bigger risk is not what will happen if we act, but what won’t happen if we don’t. What’s the bigger risk?
Dare yourself to look fear in the eye, accept its presence and find out what’s standing behind its shadow.
Secret 3: Become love.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — The Dalai Lama
We can look at love in two ways: an emotion or a choice.
You can love dumplings, Instagramming your hikes and Christmas music, but to become love means to let that emotion drive our decisions. When we are confronted with obstacles, injustice or hate, we have a choice to respond with love.
Our egos might resist that response like hipsters resist coffee from a gas station. But, unlike coffee from a gas station, choosing to respond with love is as fulfilling and invigorating as a cold brew cup from Blue Bottle coffee.
Doing so will not take away the growing pains that come with the vulnerability of love, but in the long run, it will enrich your life.
Secret 4: Judge your life less and enjoy it more.
A cancer patient was once asked, “What’s it like to know that you’re dying?” He replied, “What’s it like pretending that you’re not?”
No matter what we face, we are all heading in the same direction at a rate we can’t gauge. What we can gauge is how much we enjoy the moments we have.
When we’re caught in the stress with which life comes, we can’t forget to rejuvenate the soul by feeding it. We can’t feel guilty when we take time for ourselves.
When you have a bad relationship with yourself, chances are, your relationships with others won’t be that great, either. The relationships we build are what make life most worthwhile.
Secret 5: Give more than you take.
“Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as I can before handing it on to future generations.” — George Bernard Shaw
Imagine yourself at 70 years old, sitting in a rocking chair, reflecting on your life. You’re probably tired.
Are you a good tired or a bad tired? Are you exhausted with pain or are you exhausted having lived a life worthy of praise?
We will get out of this life exactly what we put into it. If we focus on taking care of only ourselves, we will have only ourselves. Yet, if we focus on finding our gift so we can give it away, we will receive two-fold. We lose nothing by sharing our light with others.
Ask yourself what you’d like to leave behind and achieve a good kind of tired by putting these five secrets into practice.