Have you heard the phrase “There are no guarantees in life?”
If you’re a living being (which I assume you are, since you’re reading this) two things are most certainly guaranteed!
Sounds morbid, I know. But there is a point to this morbidity, as you will see later in this post.
There’s no getting away from change and death.
And yet, we seem to fear those two things more than most.
Isn’t it funny how the mind works?
I remember having this sense of invulnerability as a kid. It stayed with me through my teens and my early twenties.
Death was this distant possibility — way beyond the visible horizon.
But then, as the years rolled on, I noticed folks in my grandparents’ generation leave these earthly shores.
At first, it was a trickle. And it was easy enough to ignore the first few.
But soon enough, when the trickle became a consistent pattern, the message came through loud and clear.
Death is inevitable and no one escapes it.
Seems naïve when I read these words as I write them down, but here‘s this thing:
Most of us don‘t really want to face our own mortality. And we’re not willing to acknowledge it until it’s no longer possible to ignore.
But there’s an important lesson in this (as you’ll see later in this post)
Death can be an extremely powerful motivator when you use it as a device to prompt effective change. Being aware of the fact that you have a limited time on earth can create a strong sense of urgency (and agency).
It can help you realize your dreams and focus on what matters.
Once I realized that death was no longer an intellectual concept, but rather an inevitable part of life, I found myself asking a very important question:
What was I going to do between now and that day when I left these earthly shores?
Steve Jobs said it perfectly in his very inspiring speech at Stanford :
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to make the big choices in life. Because almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, fear of embarrassment and failure, all these things just fall way in the face of death. Remembering you’re going to die, is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose”
(I’ve extracted the key insights from his speech, and tagged them (e.g. 5.22mins) so you can go right to the bits that interest you in the video):
By the way, if you haven’t already read Walter Isaacson’s book titled Steve Jobs then I suggest you do so. Steve’s story is fascinating and inspiring.
Anyway, here are the key Insights from Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford
Galvanised by Steve Jobs’ moving speech, I resolved to live mindfully and deliberately in each moment.
Over the next few months of practising mindfulness, I gradually realised that most of my present moments were spent doing stuff I wasn’t passionate about.
Though my 15 years in the corporate world had taught me a lot, it had been all about chasing society’s dream — not mine. Working within the confines of a corporate hierarchy was insipid and mostly ineffective.
It was time to use what I’d learnt to make a more direct impact. I wanted to really make a positive impact in the business world — not follow standard operating procedures.
I didn’t want to build complex models in excel spreadsheets that were brandished like weapons in thinly veiled political power plays.
I recognised my time here was limited! I needed to get started … now!
So I started a blog on productivity — something I was truly passionate about.
I discovered that I loved teaching and sharing knowledge. I loved making a difference to their lives.
This led to my decision to become an entrepreneur. I’ve never been happier.
Looking back, there are several valuable lessons that I learnt when I decided to live my life in the ‘face of death’. I gained quite a few valuable insights on dealing with change which I apply to my life as often as possible.
My mindfulness practice has helped a lot with this too.
We are surprisingly inattentive to change happening around us. Often before our very own eyes.
In 1998 Daniel J Simons et al from Harvard University and Kent State University conducted a study using motion picture cuts as visual disruption. In the experiment an actor came up to a pedestrian and asked for directions.
As the pedestrian provided directions, two people carrying a door passed between the actor and the pedestrian, temporarily blocking their view of each other.
During that time, another actor replaced the actor – a completely different person. 50% of the pedestrians didn’t notice the substitution.
The experiment was one of the first to illustrate the phenomenon of “change blindness,” which shows just how selective we are about what we take in from any visual scene — and we rely on memory and pattern-recognition significantly more than we might think.
Our memories and expectations have a much higher influence on our perceptions than we realize. We react to our perception of events.
This applies to change too. When it comes to change we are often jumping at shadows. Paying full attention to the present moment goes a long way towards offsetting this tendency.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” — Lao Tzu
Change is at the fibre of all existence. To avoid change is to avoid reality.
The best way to deal with change is to proactively seek it out and embrace it. Fear of change is natural and almost inevitable. But acknowledging the fear and then moving forward anyway is at the heart of the human evolutionary process.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to change? How do you deal with it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
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Ash Roy has spent over 15 years working in the corporate world and collected an MBA (Masters In Business Administration) from the Australian Graduate School of Management along the way.