December 31, 2022

How Do You Measure a Life?

Last week, I read a really fantastic novel that was hard to put down – The Measure. The premise is that every adult in the world mysteriously receives a box with a string, and the length of the string indicates how long they are going to live. It’s really interesting as people contemplate how the boxes and strings came to be, whether to open their box, and how society changes and people live their lives differently if they know when they are going to die. The book made me contemplate: would you want to know your date of death? Do you think it would better focus your energy on living your best, most productive, happiest, fullest life?

Highly recommend this book!

As I read The Measure, it really surprised me that there were so many characters choosing not to open their boxes. To me, it seems like a no brainer that the more information you have, the better. Even if it’s sad information (like that you are going to die soon), having that information can help you make better choices about the time you have left.

Long time readers may remember that a few years ago, I had a health scare where I experienced aphasia – I lost my ability to write / speak for about 30 minutes, and was talking / typing gibberish in that time. It was terrifying, and I was really scared I was having a stroke. I went through about a month of rigorous testing to figure it out, and it turned out to be a rare form of migraine that wasn’t at all harmful; I now take magnesium supplements and haven’t had an issue since.

In that time, though, I pondered the various scenarios – what would I do if the doctor told me I had a brain tumor and only had a short time left to live? As I thought through the worst case scenarios, it ended up being one of the most positive experiences of my life, as I realized there was very little in my life I would change. Sure, I might stop saving as much in my 401K, but I’d already been living a great life, traveling the world, helping others, trying to leave a legacy, etc. At the time, I loved my job so much that I don’t think I would have even stopped working – how many people can say that?! The only real thing I would have wanted to change was using my terminal diagnosis to guilt trip more friends / family to finally come visit me in Colorado, my happy place 🙂

Going back to the original question – while I think I would want to open my box and know my lifespan, that’s not something we have the luxury of choosing in the real world. Instead, we have to make the best decisions we can without that information, knowing that we have no idea how much time we have left.

Things in my life have evolved since that migraine experience in 2017 – for example, I don’t love my job as much since COVID, and probably wouldn’t choose to keep working if I really didn’t have to. But I still remember that satisfying feeling of not changing anything even if your time is almost up; to me, that’s the way I always want to live my life.

Even if I don’t get the choice of opening a magical box to predict my death, I can choose to live a life that balances the long-term and the short-term, with as few regrets as possible (BTW – Dan Pink’s The Power of Regret is another awesome read). So one of my goals for 2023 is to make some changes that will get me back to that ideal state.

What about you – would you want to know how much time you have left? What would you do differently?


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