Why I intend to live my 60th year as though it’s my last (originally published on Medium)
I’ve been plenty busy (procrastinating) building my health coaching business, which ebbs and flows as I haven’t the funds to invest in advertising and I’m an inconsistent self-marketer. I have the background to do marketing, but when I and my services are the product, here comes all the self-doubt and protection/avoidance/procrastination.
I’m not complaining. It has raised questions for me, though.
On November 30, I got a “Just One Thing” newsletter email from Rick Hanson, Ph.D. I love his newsletters — always some tidbits to enhance my happiness. This one focused on “What matters most to you?” and triggered an idea. He wrote:
“While it’s good advice not to sweat the small stuff, we also need to nurture the large stuff.
“There are many good reasons to do so, from simply enjoying yourself to recognizing the truth that one day you’ll have just A Year to Live, the title of Stephen Levine’s haunting book.” You’ll never know when you step over the invisible line, and the countdown begins: 365 days left, then 364, and then . . . But you can know that you’ve remembered the big things before and after you cross that line.
That prompted me to plan a project. I’m calling it my What Matters Most Project (#WhatMattersMostProject or #WMMP). It begins today.
On January 4th I turned 59. I intend to live this 60th year all the way to my next birthday (and possibly beyond) as though it’s my last year. I want to be much more present in my choices for how I spend my time. I want to attend to things I’ve been putting off, particularly if they NEED doing prior to my death — as in would doing it make my remaining time easier, or would it make things better for others when I’m gone? I want to prioritize my 100 Dreams List.
I have never had much in terms of financial resources having spent most of my life working for nonprofit organizations and now for myself. I value time, experiences, relationships, nature, and my mental health over most things. So “cashing in and traveling the world” has never been in the cards, nor do I think I will regret having not gone to Iceland or Norway or Peru or New Zealand as much as I think I would love to go. If I live past this year, maybe I will get an opportunity to travel. But this year won’t be about that. This year is about getting really clear on why I’m here in the first place and preparing for not being here anymore.
I imagine there will be some of the usual “getting my affairs in order,” like a will and memorial request. I also intend to do some Swedish death cleaning (Sharon Flesher has written a couple of pieces about this, and I’ve linked one below) of the multiple boxes I have stored in the garage as well as what we have in the house. (I moved in with my dad almost two years ago when my mom died, and I’ve barely made my bedroom my own.) Before I die, I would like my space to reflect me and be most useful to me while honoring the space my parents created together.
I’ve Been Swedish Death Cleaning for Two Years, and I’m Feeling So Alive
Through the course of this year, I hope to let go of habits and fears (such as my lifelong fear of judgment and rejection) so that the time I have is not wasted on bad t.v. or worry.
I spend too much time scrolling social media and watching videos, reading articles that do not add value to my life, watching t.v. or movies that I don’t enjoy, reading or listening to books that I find tedious, and insert oh-so-many additional time sucks. I have suffered a bit of FOMO for as long as I can recall, and once I invest a little time into something, I keep waiting around for a payout when there won’t be. I intend to be much more selective with my time this coming year.
I certainly won’t eschew t.v. or social media entirely. Sometimes escape is needed. Therapeutic, even. But I would like for it to be a choice rather than a habit.
I also very much want to engage with others about all of this. I want to hear from readers here about what you might do if you were only given a year to live. I want to talk about death. And life. And acceptance. And compassion. And self-love. I want to talk to those who are dying and have been given a diagnosis and probabilities and expiration dates — how has this affected their/your thinking and approach to life?
Addressing my fear of rejection — that’s a big one. I know I’m not alone. How might it feel to live openly and authentically (finally!?), unconcerned about how others perceive me? I DO realize that most people I encounter think nothing about me, or are neutral in their thoughts about me. A handful may have positive thoughts or even think that I add value to their lives. A few may think, “yuck!” Why would I hold myself back for fear of the few when more than that might benefit from or enjoy what I have to say? I am hoping that this year will help me with that.
Every day I will ponder my choices within the framework of “does this matter? Is it fulfilling? Is it necessary? If I should die on my 60th birthday, or before, will I be glad I did this thing? If I’m feeling fear, could the consequences actually be worse than death?” Or some variation of questions that will no doubt be refined over the course of the year.
So there’s the whole personal development and living life to the fullest aspect, certainly. But there has also been just so much death and loss in the past few years! And while I’ve been pondering this project for just over a month, it hits home more and more with recent news articles and social media stories of people dying suddenly and unexpectedly or collapsing into critical conditions from which they might not come back. I would like to get comfortable with — or at least less ambivalent about — death itself.
My mother’s death two years ago brought me many epiphanies and realizations along with tremendous pain and grief, some of which I’ve written about previously.
Question of the Day: What’s Your “Why?”
I Am in Love with Myself — and It’s About Damn Time
After Weight Loss: Learning to Embrace the New You (or Whatever’s Left)
Sitting at her hospital bedside, I certainly got the sense that nothing truly mattered beyond love. This opened a door to self-love that I had never before experienced.
I chose to believe in her final moments that when we die, if there was anything we struggled with — any guilt, any hurt, any limitations — those cease to exist and we become all-knowing and understanding. I’m agnostic at best, but I want to think that we become pure love energy when we transition from this life. In that way, my mother is with me still.
That I might become pure love energy when I die is a comfort, though if it’s nothingness that is (sometimes) fine as well. I’m sure to slip into the same condition upon death that you will and as all who have passed before us have — no better, no worse.
Because we are living, we will die. But before my time comes, I’d like to finally live. Completely. Unafraid — or at least bravely doing what I have previously been too afraid to do.
So I will live as courageously as possible during this 60th year as though it’s my last. I would love to have you join me in asking ourselves “what matters most?” in this life. You can follow me here on Medium. I may also start a monthly group practice based on Stephen Levine’s book referenced above, A Year to Live. Please comment or message me if you’re interested.