“You’re going to die. You’re going to be dead. It could be 20 years, it could be tomorrow, anytime. So am I. I mean, we’re just going to be gone. The world’s going to go on without us… You do your job in the face of that, and how seriously you take yourself, you decide yourself.”
— Bob Dylan
In recent years, the loss of role models like Kobe Bryant and Mac Miller affected my view on death. Although death itself still feels like something far far away, witnessing these unexpected deaths made it more real than ever before. A series of unfortunate events introduced a fatalistic lens that made me ponder whether we’re powerless and that whatever is meant to happen will happen. Do we have no control over our future?
This nihilistic view of life being meaningless isn’t something I like to entertain. We will never know whether life after death is pitch black, or a portal to another life. Life wouldn’t be the same if we knew it goes on forever; something about death makes life exciting. It’s important to acknowledge death, but my role models showed me how to create meaning in our existence.
In search of a way of life
Being honest with one’s death could lead to an understanding of one’s significance in life, and the greater value that gives life its meaning. Life may not have any objective meaning, but our subjective interpretation of life makes the human experience interesting. We instinctively avoid death in our thoughts and actions, which could imply that it’s the fear of death rather than the love of life that drives our actions.
“If people complain that they don’t have enough time, why do they watch so much TV? It doesn’t seem, actually, when we look at the way people behave, that lack of time is their problem. On the contrary … when you look at how much time we waste, [it seems] that life is already too long — so long that we become complacent and we waste great swathes, so many hours.”
— Stephen Cave, Cambridge University philosopher
Being conscious of our mortality will help us value and appreciate the time that we have. With the acceptance of death, how could we interpret what lives we’re leading, why we’re leading, and how we’re leading them? I draw parallel to this with what Hunter S. Thompson said about choosing a way of life before choosing a career:
“Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”
— Hunter S. Thompson
It’s important to have an introspective moment with yourself to decipher how you want to live your adult life. Being conscious of how you want to live before deciding what you want to do to make a living will provide a lens to consider the longevity of your career in relation to your happiness. This is one way to map out the life we want to lead within the time we’re given.
This framework guides my decision-making whenever I plan my future. When I peek into the box, I wish to be creating something from nothing and inspiring people on the way. I wish to have control over my own actions and output. I wish to wake up and act upon my own will without feeling like I’m being made to do something. I wish to live freely, without feeling like I’m living someone else’s life. Some may think this is idealistic, but as Elon Musk said, “I will rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.” We only get one chance in life, but we get an infinite number of chances to try within our lifetime. So why not try?
“Some say why? Some say why not?”
— Phil Dunphy, Modern Family
To be spiritually immortal
Our actions as adults could be measured by how we use our knowledge to inspire and connect with our community. Kevin Hart shared in an interview that our responsibility as adults is to inspire young people to build a better future. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re wrong if you don’t do so, but it’s a good mindset to have as an adult.
What can I do with the knowledge I’ve gained? How can I leave a mark during my lifetime? If we could continue to inspire the next batch of kids, that’s generational wealth. We could live on as an inspiration through another person—in doing so, we are spiritually immortal.
“Wealth is of the heart and mind, not the pocket.”
— Pharrell Williams
My grandpa passed away in 2011 but his ideologies continue to exist through my way of life. In summer 2019, I got to spend time in Japan with my grandma. She shared with me an unfinished book that my grandpa was writing, which covered his journey and his learnings from life. He believed that the fundamental principles of life consist of 愛、夢、学、遊 which translates to Love, Dream, Learn, Play. This resonated with me as his younger brothers told me many stories about him at the funeral that reflected these principles. I internalized these words and packed it in the corner of my mind. They are now a tool for me to validate my actions and intentions (I have a looong way to go).
My grandpa has a big influence on who I am today and continues to live through me as a source of inspiration. I don’t see myself as a single concept since all my thinking is influenced by everything that I’ve been exposed to. I’m a product of everything that inspired me throughout my life. If so, how can I give back by contributing to this chain of inspiration?
Living with death in mind gives us a direction and framework to observe the changes that life brings. This is reflected in how our perceptions of the world evolve as we age. The young look forward, the old look back. What we value change over time, and our proximity to death informs these changes. The young have an understanding that death comes to us all, but their mortality has not become real to them. For the old, mortality starts to sink in. Perhaps the truth lies in the balance of both.
Ignoring death leaves us with a false sense of life's permanence and perhaps encourages us to lose ourselves in the details of daily life. Obsessive speculation on death, on the other hand, could detach us from the present. In the end, it is useful to think about death only to the point that it frees us to live fully immersed in the life we have yet to live (Jeff Mason, 2012).