“Ars longa, vita brevis.” (Art is long; life is short)
I’m not much for jewelry—usually all I wear is a watch—but I recently added a bracelet to my wrist.
It’s a piece of black cord with a small grey skull, held together with a fisherman’s knot. My skull bracelet isn’t particularly stylish, but it does serve a purpose:
It reminds me that I’m going to die.
Maybe after I finish writing this I’ll walk home and get hit by a car like my friend Kyle. Or maybe I’ll die of a heart attack at age 48. Or maybe I’ll just die in my sleep when I’m 102.
I’m not saying I know how it’ll happen. I’m saying I know that it will happen.
Knowing I’m going to die doesn’t make me sad; instead, it gives me energy, makes me feel lighter. Any burden the world has put on me (or I’ve put on myself) is immediately lifted when I remember my death.
Everything suddenly looks just a little bit better: colors look brighter; people look friendlier; risks look less risky.
That last one is important.
Not a week goes by where I don’t get an email from someone who’s nervous about taking a risk. Usually it’s starting a business, but sometimes it’s breaking up with someone, or switching careers, or quitting their job, or starting a blog, or writing a book.
I often write back and ask questions. I try to give them things to consider.
“Why do you want to do this? How can you test the idea first? What’s the best/worst case scenario?”
Sometimes they write back to let me know they pulled the trigger. Or they write back to let me know they thought about it, but ultimately decided against it.
Both types of notes feel good to read.
But when I don’t hear back, I assume the worst. I assume they never asked themselves the questions. I assume they talked themselves out of it. I assume that this huge, amazing thing they wanted to do—this thing they just wrote 1,000 words about and sent to a stranger—is never going to happen.
When I don’t hear back, I want to email them and remind them that they’re going to die, too.
Still, I get it. Taking risks is scary.
Early in my career, I’d get so nervous before interviews that I’d often cancel them minutes before they were supposed to happen.
People thought I was a giant asshole. Really, I was terrified.
I’ve gotten better with time. I still get nervous when I get up on stage to talk, I still get nervous for interviews, and I still get nervous when I sit down to write something I know thousands of people will read.
But if I’m lucky, at some point, I look at my wrist to check the time. I see the skull staring at me, I see the seconds ticking away, and I remember that I’m going to die.
Might as well give it a shot and see what happens.