On the Shortness of Life


One year from now I will develop cancer and die.

Stop and say the words to yourself. Sit back and let it sink it. If you could see into the future, and knew how much time you had left on earth, what would you do? Would you think about the shortness of life?

For starters, most people would think about quitting their jobs. Why waste time? There’s so much more that could be done. But it’s not that easy. Most of us have families to take care of. We have bills and responsibilities. As Dave Ramsey often says, the borrower is slave to the lender. To live a healthier life is a strong second option. Kick the habits, drop the poisons, and take care of your body. Exercise regularly to develop and maintain wellness. Eat healthy balanced meals and drop the processed foods. Surely, we think, that would prolong our lives.

No doubt financial stability and a healthy lifestyle would help contribute to a longer life, but there are no guarantees that you will live to see tomorrow.

Seneca was a Roman stoic philosopher at the turn of the millennium. He became a statesman and imperial advisor to Nero. Upon charges of conspiracy, Nero commanded Seneca to take his own life, which he did dutifully. During the later part of his life, he wrote an essay to his friend which he titled The Shortness of Life. In it, he wrote about seizing the day, being in the moment, and living life to the fullest. He writes, “So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” Time has not changed much from living in those days to now when looking at life and the choices we have.

People don’t think about death enough. We see one sunrise after the next, and over the years, develop a sense of guaranteed security. “You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”, Seneca says. To take on a death mindset doesn’t mean it’s time to drop everything and quit your job. It doesn’t guarantee any more time in your life. It should be a practice that is applied daily to cause you to think. It should be a catalyst of thankfulness.

By thinking about the shortness of life, we can empower ourselves and enrich our lives. We can be thankful for our jobs, our health, and our family. Too many of us worry about the future. We worry about bills, about the next task we have to do, or work on Monday morning. A shortness of life mindset allows us to live in the moment. It makes life long and fulfilling. It starts with a choice. It starts with action. One small step after the next, after the next. Before long, your life will begin to take shape based upon that one small choice to act.

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” – Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

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