As a motivational speaker, I start many of my presentations with this question. I like to get audience members thinking about this because I think it has powerful implications. Take a moment right now and seriously consider your answer to this question.
The simple act of asking yourself this question every so often can have a powerful focusing effect on your life. Somehow when we consciously think about how short life is we get serious about using the time that we have. At least that’s what happened to me.
Five years ago I was a twenty-three year old kid going to university with my whole life in front of me. My focus was mostly on myself and having fun. I wasn’t concerned with spending time with my family or being right with myself and with my God. There would be time for that later I thought. I was wrong.
In the span of a few months in the summer of 2001, my life was turned upside down. I’d landed a great summer job as a tour guide on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and I had three days between the end of exams at university, and the first day of training in Ottawa. I came home intending to pack my bags, say goodbye to my family, and head off for a great summer adventure. Instead, that day would be the beginning of a two-year saga that would prove to forever change my life.
When I arrived home that day to pack my bags, my mom was the one who answered the door. She opened the door, took one look at me, and the colour left her face. She noticed immediately what I’d been denying. I’d lost weight, more than thirty pounds. I was frail and sick. Soon we would find out exactly why and that the weight loss was the least of my problems.
My parents wasted no time bringing me in to see my doctor. My family doctor recognized immediately that my condition was serious. He put me in hospital to be monitored while arrangements were made to get me into a hospital in Halifax to see the heart transplant team.
When the cardiologist examined me that day I was in right and left-sided heart failure. My heart muscle was becoming thick and stiff and was increasingly unable to fill with blood. As the condition got worse, my failing heart would cause my body to hold on to excess fluid and the fluid would accumulate throughout my body. First in my hands and feet causing painful swelling, and then in my lungs, making it very difficult to breathe.
When my condition was most severe, I struggled to climb a single flight of stairs without getting out of breathe. I would come home at the end of a morning of class and be absolutely exhausted. I’d need a few hours on the couch just to be able to find the energy to make supper.
When I saw my doctor that day, it didn’t take him long to make a decision about what needed to happen. After reviewing some test results he looked at me and said the words that changed my life, “You need a heart and double lung transplant and you need it now.”
It’s now five years later and odds are good that I have much longer than a year to live, but I still often ask myself “What if you only had a year to live?” Asking myself this question forces me to evaluate my priorities and remember that life is short and that I don’t want to waste a single minute of it. I work hard at making sure that I am fully aware, alert and alive every minute of every day.
Many of us walk around just ‘existing’ without really being alive. If you can think about trying to live like you only have a year to live, you’ll have a sense of urgency about reaching your goals without a sense of panic.
Many people who have had to face death will tell you that you should “Live every day like it’s your last day!” I don’t want you to do that. Imagine how exhausting it would be to try to cram a lifetime into twenty-hour hours.
Don’t live every day like it’s your last day. Just be ALIVE every day.
Here are a few action items for you to think about:
What would you do if you had a year to live? What would be important? What wouldn’t matter? Do you want to DO more? What would you do more? What would you do less? How would you use your time?
Once you get the answers to these questions, write them down and put them somewhere where you can look at them every day. They’ll help you to stay on track and remember what really matters.
Mark Black is a professional motivational speaker. He has spoken to thousands of people across North America. If your corporation, association or educational institution needs a speaker for an event, consider Mark.
Mark’s new book “Live Life from the Heart: 52 Weeks to a Life of Passion and Purpose” is now available for purchase. To get your copy of Mark’s book, go to: http://www.MarkBlackSpeaks.com