Sometimes you feel like life is pulling you in opposite directions.
You understand the importance of hard work and grinding every day…but you want to be making progress and don’t want to waste time and energy.
You understand the need to prioritize every day, but do you focus on the short term or the long term?
You feel you have a sense of urgency, but it isn’t always displayed by the members of your team. At best, it is uneven. You want to ensure that the energy and urgency remain at a high level, but you can only bang on that drum so long before people stop listening. Before they tune you out.
Remember that as a leader, you are leading humans. They come to work every day with their own interests, ambitions, baggage, fears and personal needs.
And their collection of needs and wants is different than yours.
You try to align your team and motivate everyone behind the overall purpose of your business.
When you and your team get intentional about how you spend your time, it is powerful.
If the result is meaningful activities and connected relationships? People are engaged and support one another.
If you honor pursuit and reward progress? People are motivated.
The ancient Romans had an expression that can give you perspective and inspire action.
Loosely translated, it means “Remember you must die.”
OK, maybe a bit dramatic. More than a bit morbid.
But it frames the idea of making each day count.
This perspective applies to you — and to those whom you lead.
Sometimes you need the context of your mortality to properly prioritize.
To take action. Today. Right now.
To grow as a leader.
To grow as a person.
To grow as a team.
The Message Must Hit a Nerve
In recent years, there have been books, blogs and videos encouraging us to seize the day and follow our hearts / dreams/ passions, by people whose lives were marked with impending death. If book sales or video views mean anything, people are receptive to the underlying message.
The Stanford commencement address by Steve Jobs has been viewed on YouTube more than 40 million times. Not only were people watching it, but they were sharing it. Often.
Because Steve Jobs is an iconic figure? Maybe.
Because his message resonates? Undoubtedly.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” — Steve Jobs, Stanford University Commencement Address, 2005.
Randy Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon in August 2007, ten months before his death from pancreatic cancer. In the interim, he wrote a book, had a YouTube video of the lecture go viral, and he touched the lives of millions. His book, The Last Lecture, has been translated into forty-six languages. Pausch’s talk is a public presentation of the advice he wanted to give to his children, ages six, four and two, on living life and achieving your dreams. You can’t watch the video or read the book without developing an uncontrollable urge to hug your kids or your significant other. Hard.
Eugene O’Kelly, the former CEO of KPMG, in his book, Chasing Daylight, describes how most of us interact with other people: although physically present, we’re usually preoccupied with replaying the past or dreaming about the future. After receiving a doctor’s grim prognosis that he had late stage brain cancer and three months to live, O’Kelly resolved to spend his remaining days creating “perfect moments.” Perfect moments require you to eliminate distractions, and focus your eyes, ears and heart on the person you’re with and the conversation you’re having RIGHT NOW.
The book Top Five Regrets of the Dying has sold over one million copies and been translated into 29 languages. In the book, author Bronnie Ware, a former palliative caregiver, identified the single biggest regret among the dying was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Trying to live a life that someone else wanted for them. No time for a do-over. Wasted time. Regret.
Jobs. Pausch. O’Kelly. Ware. Four different resources. Shared by millions.
We want meaning in our life. We want to live our lives, and not living according to someone else’s expectations for us.
We want to connect with people who mean the most to us.
We want to matter.
Therefore, we want today to matter.
The Stoics used memento mori as an expression to create a focus of meaning and priority to each precious day. Life is too short — to waste time on the trivial and inconsequential.
How Does This Apply to You as a Leader?
A primary role of the leader of any organization is to build and maintain a sense of urgency. Leaders need to convince others to join them, and to actively work to reach shared goals. When everyone’s urgency is matched and in-sync, the whole organization generates much more than the sum of its parts.
While you try to drive business outcomes and achieve goals, remember that you are leading humans.
And pay attention next time you look in the mirror. Yes, you’re human, too.
As humans, we seek connection. We’re social animals. Foster connection and understanding.
We want to do something meaningful with our lives. Pursue ambitious goals. Make a difference in people’s lives. Your employees. Your family. Your community.
Take your day off auto pilot. Be intentional about how you spend your time and who you spend your time with.
Time is precious. Use it productively.
What will you do today to make progress on your goals?
While we wait for life, life passes. — Seneca
Be present. When you’re with someone, be fully present. This is particularly true for the people you love the most. If you’re like me, I often spend my day paying close attention to customers and clients and then go home to the people I love the most… and don’t have the discipline to pay attention. I’m on cruise control.
After I read Chasing Daylight, I blocked out time on my calendar with close associates and my family members. I tried to stare into the depths of their souls when I spoke to them, and scared the crap out of them in the process. It requires a little modulation…
It sounds a little like Jimmy Valvano in his famous ESPY speech, but make sure you show up for life, and treat every day as an opportunity to learn, love, laugh, and lift up someone else.
The Time is Right. Right Now.
The Rent song “Seasons of Love” describes a year as 525,600 minutes. Yes, I did the math. It works.
How many of those minutes will be spent dwelling on yesterday, and a steady dose of shoulda, woulda, coulda?
Speaker and author Nigel Risner says, “the past is a place of reference, not a place of residency.”
Too many of us are stuck watching an old movie on continuous loop. Others times, we’re so focused on a daydream that we miss the beauty of life and the potential perfect moments that await discovery — every day.
We don’t take action, because we’re waiting. Maybe tomorrow. Just not now.
Think about your biggest life aspirations. How many of them are you putting on hold because the “timing” just isn’t quite right?
Focus on today. Focus on now. This is the day the Lord has made — rejoice and be glad in it. 525,600 minutes. Don’t waste them. Starting now.
Start that business. Launch that side hustle.
Step out on stage.
Give the presentation. Post the video. Ask for the order.
Call someone you love.
Upgrade the talent on your team.
Mentor the young employee with the big upside.
Apply for the dream job.
Take up a new hobby.
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” — Seneca
Don’t put it off.
The time is right.
The time is now.
4 thoughts on “Mortality is a Master Motivator”
A timely piece, Karl. Thank you. This is another reminder of living like there’s no tomorrow. God has given us one life to life. We have no time to delay to accomplish His work. “Show up for life” every day and see what comes.
Terri, the concept takes on another level of urgency when we consider what God wants us to accomplish while on earth. What has he called us to do? Who has he called us to be? You’re right – we have no time to delay!
A powerful message with great citations. As a guy who has heard the “C” word a couple of times, among other life experiences, there’s not a word here I didn’t connect with. Regardless of our station in life, we should “Memento mori.” So take heed to Karl’s encouragement and “go fish”…and I don’t mean the waterborne variety.
Scott, you have life experiences for a couple of lifetimes – and yet, I know you’re continuing to impact others with your writing, your work and your example. Keep pushing. You’re making a difference – and providing a great model for others to follow.