An Essay On Living Each Day Like It’s Your Last
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
I jerked the wheel with all my might to the right, but it was too late. I opened my eyes and saw a Ford F-150 truck directly in front of me. We clipped noses, sending me in my SUV rolling across the highway. I was 19 years old, one week from a ministry trip, on my way to pick up my mom from work.
I floated up out of my body. I saw two spirits bargaining for my fate.
I woke up 3 hours later in the hospital with no memory, no cell phone, nor wallet.
It took several hours for me to move my legs. By that time I was able to finally tell the nurse who I was.
A highway patrol officer came into the hospital room and told me witnesses reported two other people in the car with me. I told him they must’ve been my angels. It took me a while to put my vision and his together, but 10 years later I’m still convinced.
It was exactly like in a movie. I guess that’s how anyone would feel about watching themself die.
Fear is Death Knocking
We get small glimpses of Death throughout our life, and we run from it by avoiding our greatest fears. We believe Death is waiting on the other side of our fears, scythe in-hand. I’m fascinated by the changes people make in their lives when they’ve had an early introduction to Death. The more conversations I have about Death the more I realize people who’ve been touched by it talk about it most comfortably. They’re often changed by it in permanent ways. It’s hard to unsee your own death.
Look at Harry Potter’s relationship with Voldemort. Voldemort was so synonymous with a death sentence that everyone who knew about “He Who Must Not Be Named” couldn’t even bring themselves to utter his name. They’d never seen him, but he killed people they knew. Harry was touched by him and survived. That’s what made him comfortable talking plainly about him. Dumbledore wasn’t afraid either, because he willingly confronted Voldemort many times. (“Voldemort” loosely translates to “stealing death” in French, or “flight of death” in Latin.) Each year, Harry’s fate depended on his intimate confrontation with death. Each clash sculpted his identity and his character. By the end of the series, Harry’s stopped caring whether he lives or dies. He learns from the phoenix to embrace Death as an essential part of growth.
Fear is death knocking. We’ve been avoiding it all our lives. Our brains are old tech that tell us we’re more vulnerable to death than we really are. Death is inevitable. Fear is a voluntary opportunity to explore death while we’re still here.
Four years of emotional instability and existential angst followed that car crash, slowly adding chaos to my life like an IV drip. I knew I developed a mental illness but couldn’t find the words to explain it. By the time I did I’d sabotaged my Christian rock band and my hairstyling career. I was living alone, working as a night janitor, and contemplating suicide. I’d spent my whole life serving God as a missionary. His silence through all my suffering was too much to bear. I gave God an ultimatum: Reveal the truth or I’m done.
Days later I was sitting in my car eating a cheeseburger on my lunch break, reading a book I bought on eBay because Kobe Bryant mentioned it in a post-practice interview on Youtube. I was ensnared by a sentence that would consume the way I see the world forever: “I will live this day as if it is my last.”
“I will live this day as if it is my last. What shall I do with this last precious day which remains in my keeping?” – Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman In The World
Several of humanity’s great thinkers say the same thing: Live each day like it’s your last. Steve Jobs, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Gandhi, Tony Robbins – I’m sure you’ve heard similar expressions from so many other great achievers. Each day we wake to a confrontation by our desires: Do we avoid pursuing what we want most, or is this the day we face our fears?
“Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Steve Jobs found a way to make Death his greatest ally instead of his worst enemy.
Can you live like your actions today sculpt the monument your life will be remembered by forever? What would it look like if you treated each day like it was your last chance to show the world how excellently you lived?
Dying With A Smile
I’ve seen Death more than once – Car crashes, psychedelic explorations, street dangers in foreign lands – My scariest thought in the face of Death: “I’m a tragedy. I didn’t get to finish what I wanted to do.”
I saw my last day. Death let me off the hook. I didn’t want to be caught doing nothing. So I set to the task of getting my affairs in order. I vowed to live a life of total fulfillment – Health, wealth, happiness, contribution. Should death call again yet early, I can die dignified. I wrote my lifelong dreams on a piece of paper and reverse engineered a plan from my last days down to monthly and weekly schedules. I gave myself a score from 1-10 in 5 categories of life: Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Economic, and Social and updated my scores each month with categorical steps to improvement. I quit that janitorial job immediately, and went into business for myself as a social media consultant. I began practicing yoga and meditation and learning Brazilian Jiu jitsu. I accepted full responsibility for my outcomes. Society was no longer responsible for the score of my life. It’s between Death and I alone.
Seneca says: “Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and weariness of the present… But he who plans every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears tomorrow.” Plan your life like you’ll live for 300 years – Then live each day like you just discovered it is to be your last.
The medicine of fear and anxiety is to plan out every day as if Death is checking to make sure. How will you be caught living?
What needs to be done in order for you to die with dignity? If you couldn’t fulfill your bucket list because it turns out you’re not going to live until you’re 100, but your life ends today or tomorrow, how should you live so you can die feeling you fulfilled a higher purpose?
We are afraid to face the truth that Death is around the corner. That’s part of the game of life. Our fears feel extremely valid. There are ways around that fear. Start running your own race – One that’s worth dying for. You deserve to die smiling. You might die tomorrow. You might live for another 100 years. Live a mini-life each day.
LIVE EACH DAY LIKE IT’S YOUR LAST
“I have but one life and life is naught but a measurement of time… If I waste today I destroy the last page of my life.” The effects of thinking and living this philosophy have compounded. Each year I can face a greater Voldemort. Sales and business hurdles, Jiu jitsu competitions, performing on stage, teaching new things – Fear is a signal of something to overcome. And in the hard times, Mandino’s words call from deep to remind me that a life of procrastination and leisure doesn’t come due today, but in the end days of my life.
We program our consciousness with every thought, action, and word, and we hit save when we sleep. Who you are tomorrow depends on who you are today.
Looking at each day like it’s one-day life has helped reshape the mental grooves of my paradigm into a version of me that can actually fulfill my greatest desires and overcome my greatest fears. It’s made me extraordinarily grateful for life. In the words of Marcus Aurelius: “Perfection of character is this: To live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.”
Life is long, but it’s over in an instant. Let’s make the most of each day. Confront Death head-on.
This day may be my last, but “if it to be my last, it must be my best.”
“I will live this day as if it is my last. And if it is my last, it must be my best. It will be my greatest monument. And if it is not, I shall fall to my knees and give thanks.”
– Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman In The World
Special thank you to several great thinkers for your feedback on this essay: Rachel Koppelman, Cam Houser, Danny Oak, Corey Wilks, Alexandra Allen, Christin Chong, Ashni Patel, Chris Wong, and Michele Serro.
Did a near-death experience change your life for the best? I’d love to hear your story. Send me an email at email@example.com