Design Towards Death

I listened to a TED talk yesterday, BJ Miller’s “What Really Matters at the End of Life.” It was a soul-touching talk, and I am immensely grateful for coming across it and being able to detach myself from the mundanity of the everyday and, for the first time in quite a while, view my own life through a more macroscopic lens.

It’s easy to get lost in the perpetuating everyday obligations: classes to attend, assignments to complete, relationships to manage, meals to eat. These ordinary things constitute “life,” after all.

Perhaps everyone has dreamed of a more exhilarating experience than the sort of mundanity and repetition that make up the majority of one’s time here. Wealth, fame, adrenaline-driven adventures—the common sort that seems to appeal to people simply because it’s usually what people precisely lack. When people are asked what makes them choose what they do—the careers, projects, initiatives they’ve devoted themselves to—they often reply with something along the lines of fulfillment, desire to help others, conviction that they’ll make some impact locally or globally.

It’s difficult for people to concede to mediocrity, because mediocrity implies insignificance, and insignificance is the cruel reality that denies their tangible emotions, ambitions, experiences, memories, and more broadly, existence.

They pursue the extraordinary then, so that they can distinguish themselves from the mediocre, and circumvent the kind of regret elegantly described by Prince EA:

“It’s not death most people are afraid of. It’s getting to the end of life, only to realize that you never truly lived.”

Ah, we’re finally getting to the point here.

The fear and insecurity that overwhelms humanity lie the realization that the inevitable destiny is death, that in the grand scheme of things, the worries and frustrations and joy and fulfillment that preoccupy the present moment are fundamentally transient.

That it really doesn’t matter at the end of life.

In response, Miller in his TED talk proposes an alternative view that struck me deeply: because death is inevitable, we might as well design our lives towards it, so that given the limited and unpredictable amount of time we have left, we can make the best use of it.

I really like that perspective.

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