07/15/2014 07:14 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2014

Dare to Be 100: Living Inferior Lives

My personal philosopher is William James. HIs writings nourish and inform each day.

He noted "we live lives inferior to ourselves." Such a daunting claim is intimidating. But true. James himself lived an inferior life because he was only 68 when he died.

I hold the firm conviction that all of us inherit the capacity of 100 good years. Such a birthright has been deeded to us by millions of years of evolutionary challenge. 100 healthy years are ours to claim if we don't mess it up, which is also our heritage. We mess it up by derelictions internal and external. Very few of us live to our potential.

Until now most of this inferior performance can be blamed on ignorance. We simply did not know how to live to be 100. Now we do.

This knowledge fulfills at last the Oracle at Delphi's challenge, "hold this precept most sacred: know yourself." Until now our self-knowledge has been obscured by conflation of the changeable with the unchangeable. The Serenity Prayer preaches "know the difference." Now we do. Fate has been replaced by choice. No longer are our foreshortened lives the results of bad luck. They result from poor choice.

In 1993 Mike McGinnis and Bill Foege wrote the key paper "Actual Causes of Death in the US" in the AMA Journal. In it they clearly indicate that our inferior lives, our premature deaths are not due to what is recorded on the death certificate: heart disease or diabetes or cancer, but to behavior, to bad choices, which are the precursors of disease.

Our human potential has been foreshortened by actions that are changeable. To me our highest responsibility is to reach for, to seek our potential, to change the changeable. Not to do so disgraces us. Failure to pursue our potential discredits our very essence.

James was right.

McGinnis,JM,Foege W. Actual Causes of Death in the US,1993 JAMA 270:2207-2212.