How to Stare Death in the Face and not Flinch | Seneca
A short reflection on how to align yourself with the inevitable | Memento Mori | Stoicism
A man cannot live well if he knows not how to die well.
— Quote by Seneca
How provocative of Seneca. What does it even mean “to die well”?
I think he did not mean the actual act of dying. Not a heroic death in battle while protecting your comrades, not a painless death in your sleep, not a comforting death with all your loved ones gathered around to say their farewells.
I think he meant it more in a metaphorical way. When you die, nothing remains of you but the memory of you in the hearts and minds of the people that you have touched deeply enough in your life, and also, the effects of your actions over time.
Maybe you smiled at someone on your way home and made their day that much better in a world with people so focused on themselves.
Maybe you showed determination and resilience during a period of great stress at work and inspired others to fear less but do whatever they think is right.
Maybe you listened to a friend in a period of great desperation and gave considerate advice.
And maybe you are the most brilliant mind in your respective field and/or touch the lives of thousands of people for the improvement of humanity.
Small- or large-scale impact, your continued behavior over time will determine how you will be perceived. Does it really matter how many you have impacted as long as you influenced them for the better, doing what was in your power, always striving?
It might not always be comfortable to do what is necessary to get where you want to be, far from it. You might need to suffer through some substantial challenges and stick to your guns (aka. values), even when people try to exploit you. You might need to cut old ties, that are dragging you down so that you can be satisfied in the end and look back without regret.
Let’s draw a cross-reference since Seneca’s quote is very much reflected in Stephen Covey's principle to “Start with the End in Mind” (from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).
I.e.: If you want to be an elite athlete, you need to start training very early on, cultivate a certain mindset, and accept that there will be many missed social events and other opportunities on your way to the top.
What End should it be for you then?
That might be a tremendous question to ask someone. You might not have an answer to this. Yet.
Just kick off the thought process though. Write down what comes to mind and come back to it later. Tomorrow or in a week. Do you still agree with what you wrote down? Maybe have another try and really think about what is important to you in your life on a non-materialistic scale.
If you identify what you truly want and why it will be simple (not easy) to derive a plan on how to get there. Once you clearly identify a problem (the “problem” here is not having what you finally want) the path on how to get there will also become clear, as Viktor Frankl explained in Man’s Search for Meaning. You can and will, of course, iterate and adjust the plan as you evolve and change throughout the course of your life. Remain honest with yourself, though. Don’t give in to cheap desires that flare-up, keep your eyes on long-term goals and how to achieve them. Living in the moment is a virtue, but falling for short-term rewards isn’t.
So, map out what you want. Not today, not tomorrow, next year, or in 5 years. Map out where you want to be in the End.
What do you want to be able to look back at?
What values do you want to maintain throughout the course of your life?
Are you already living up to your own standards?
Are you already choosing the long-term payoffs that might be hard and tedious to come by?
Maybe you are and that would be amazing, write down what drives you anyway. It will help to give you a frame of reference and sense of purpose when life gets tough.
It takes real courage to be this honest with yourself and really define who you want to be, but it is always worth the effort.
Me personally, I have a list of the three major drivers in my life. I look at that list every day and try to align my actions with it. Each day I reflect on who I am and where I want to be. What’s on the list, you ask? That’s a topic for another day 😘
Start with the end in mind and imagine what will make you content, looking back at your life.
Strive to be the person you want to be remembered as.
Now We’d love to hear from you.
What situation have you dealt with where you thought about how people would remember/perceive you before acting?
Or maybe you have another great quote regarding the practice of Memento Mori? Don’t hesitate to contact us through the quote submission form 📝
Want more? Check out last week’s reflection