For the past few weeks, I’ve been carrying this coin in my pocket as a reminder.
Not because I’m morbid, or because I like thinking about death. But rather because I want to make the most of the time I have while I’m alive.
On the front of the coin there’s a skull, a tulip, and an hourglass. On the back, part of a profound quote from Marcus Aurelius:
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.
This coin speaks to me partly because of the compelling argument that Ryan Holiday made about the concept of momento mori, but even more so because I’ve felt how easy it is to take life for granted and let it pass me by.
When I think about the 50-80 years that I likely have left in my life, it’s tough to maintain a high level of urgency. Why do I need to work hard today if I’ll always have tomorrow?
It feels like there’s always going to be a tomorrow, but that simply isn’t the case. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be around for my next breath, let alone next year.
And possibly the scariest part is that this truth is just as valid for all of my loved ones. They also could leave life right now.
As Marcus Aurelius alluded to, this reality should be considered in every part of our lives.
For me, the understanding of the fragility of life, and the certainty of death serves as a wake-up call.
That’s why I keep this coin with me at almost all times.
I want to be reminded that I have limited time on this Earth to make a positive impact. I want something to help deter me from wasting time focusing on anything besides those things that are truly the most important to me.
And based on my experiences so far, this coin has done just that.
Just over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a change in my life. I’ve deleted all social media apps from my phone (admittedly probably a temporary countermeasure), and I’ve been much more conscious of the things that are draining my time.
When I feel myself starting to fall down a rabbit hole reading pointless articles online or watching YouTube videos, I’ve been better able to pull myself out of it. When I lack the motivation to get up early to get to work, I’m reminded of the limited time that I have to make an impact.
So on those fronts, I couldn’t be more pleased with the changes that I’ve seen in my life since I’ve had this reminder at my side.
But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve also actually been pleasantly surprised to find that I’m getting more value from this coin than I could’ve originally anticipated.
For one, I’ve slightly changed the way that I approach interactions.
I’ve always tried to be pleasant, but I’ve taken it to the next level lately. When I think about the possibility that any given interaction I have could theoretically be the last time I ever see that person, or any person for that matter, there’s no reason for it not to end on good terms.
That holds true for my conversations with friends and family, but also for the relatively shallow day-to-day interactions with strangers.
If there’s a chance that any given time I leave a loved one could be the last time I see them, then I want to make sure that things end positively. And if it’s possible that the cashier at the dry cleaners is the last person I ever talk to, I’d like to know that I left a good impression and made a positive impact on his day.
In a similar way, my awareness of the risks I take with my life has been heightened.
Again, I don’t think I was a big risk-taker to start, but maintaining the thought of my own mortality has made me even less likely to put my life at risk.
One particular example came a few weeks ago when I was driving in some snow. There was a slow car in front of me, so I was considering moving into the poorly-plowed left lane to make a pass.
But just as I was about to make the move, I was reminded of the coin in my pocket and I thought better of it.
Sure it probably cost me a few minutes during the drive, but when I thought about it, making a pass simply wasn’t worth the risk of putting my health on the line.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this idea of using the threat of death as a way to improve the way that I live my life.
I don’t want to take a minute of my life for granted, and when I take a step back and think about the bigger picture I gain a sense of clarity that I rarely have otherwise.
If this isn’t something that you’ve thought about before, consider giving it a try for the next 24 hours. Before every interaction you have, think about how you’d prepare if you knew this would be the last memory of you on Earth.
Whenever you find yourself giving in to the temptation to aimlessly scroll social media, or watch news that has no impact on your life, think about whether you’d truly want to waste that time if you only had a few weeks left to live.