THE BLOG
10/24/2014 11:25 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Would You Live Life Differently If You Knew You Were Going to Die?

Man Contemplating His Future | Shutterstock

The other day, I started watching Breaking Bad. I realize I'm one of the last people on earth to see the ratings giant but I found one character fascinating.

Walter White.

Walt has an ordinary life. He works in a job below his pay scale and ability, has a social life that stinks, and spends most weekends at work or in the shopping mall. It's a safe, steady life but one full of monotony and boredom.

When Walt finds out he's dying, he jumps into action to change the course of his life and focus on what really needs to be done. Sure, he makes a bad decision there, but the point is that he re-evaluates his life and figures out what his priorities are once he gets the bad news.

Walt's predicament got me thinking about death and the way we live our lives. Death comes to us all sooner or later but why do we always wait for bad news before we launch into action?

Mark Manson touches upon the power of knowing your time is up in '7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose'. He believes death is a great motivator for thinking about what's important. And it's not hard to agree.

Because most of us live a life just like Walt's.

We work our butts off and we hang out at the mall. We watch too much TV and we skip exercise in favor of the bag of chips or bowl of ice cream. We know we could do better but the day-to-day has a habit of getting in the way. We'll change our routine tomorrow, research a new career next week and look for greater meaning in our lives once the kids have gone to bed.

There's no ultimatum. No deadline. No pressure. So we plod through life accepting the status quo even though, silently, we're craving for more.

But what if, like Walt, we had a limited time left on this earth. Would we re-evaluate the things of importance to us? If we knew this was it, that our days were numbered, would we take back the control and fight for more?

Of course we would.

We'd write that book, complete that course, travel around the world and maybe even discover an exciting new lifestyle abroad.

Or we'd add greater meaning to our lives in other, less extreme, ways. Perhaps we'd say "no" not as much, be kinder to ourselves and to others, embrace what we love in life, and focus on the people and things that matter most.

We'd look at our lives -- the lengthy commute to work, the long periods away from home, the corporate crap with its unrelenting hours, the way we define success -- and we'd say "not interested," "no, thank you," and "no more."

We'd strive for more, push harder, look deeper. We wouldn't accept the way things are so we'd adjust the edges, widen the boundaries and search for greater meaning and fulfilment, knowing that our time on this earth was limited.

But our time is limited and it is finite so shouldn't we live life like this all the time?

Oftentimes fear is the culprit. Fear of the unknown. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of change.

We already live in uncertain times -- politically, economically and socially -- so we cling on to any semblance of order and control in our lives. We work hard to provide for our families and find ourselves caught up in the daily 9-5 grind.

In my early 20s, I worked in a job going nowhere. By 28, I'd spent the best part of my early years in a town that didn't inspire me. As I hit my thirties, I led an existence that left me wanting for so much more.

I needed that important kick up the bum and the idea of change was terrifying, paralyzing. So much so that I chose the easy option and the path of less resistance. I stayed put.

Looking back, I needed to face my fears and be strong, confident and brave -- all traits that simply didn't come easily to me.

We all wait to the last minute to act. People just do.

I mean, when was the last time you turned in an essay four weeks early or finished that company report months ahead of schedule? Rather than leave it so late, it has to be better to get on with things before our time is up.

We're not all going to climb Everest or swim the English Channel but what's wrong with making a few small changes along the way? A tweak here, an adjustment there, because small changes can still have a big impact on the quality of our lives.

Rather than work 9-5, what about trying 8-4? Now you might spend only two hours in the traffic where before you spent more than three. You might get home in time to pick up the kids from school and have a better chance of taking them to the park one afternoon. The old adage ''work smarter, not harder" has never been truer. And, in these times, flexible working is key.

So we need to start living life on our terms and identify what's important versus what doesn't actually matter. Consider that our time on this planet is finite and start to live our lives with the kind of haste that normally follows bad news.

What will you do differently? What legacy do you choose to leave?

To learn more about living a less ordinary way of life, visit In Search of a Life Less Ordinary. Become a subscriber here.

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