I recently shared Memento Mori with a little zing to it.
Let’s just say, the responses were… animated.
Here’s a visual describing the conundrum:
But before we go any further, you’re probably wondering: What’s a business book?
As a starting point, we can use these four that I grabbed off my bookshelf. (TBH, as someone who rarely reads non-fiction, they’ve all been a slog.)
But let’s extrapolate more broadly.
A business book could be a memoir (Shoe Dog), a leadership classic (High Output Management), a self-improvement staple (Atomic Habits), a finance “how-to” (The Little Book that Beats the Market) or a productivity bible (Getting Things Done).
All these books have a simple promise: They’ll make you better tomorrow.
They’ll either teach you a skill, make you a better investor or improve your odds of succeeding in life.
So let’s return to our illustration.
So with a year to live, would you ready any of these books?
The answers were a resounding “Hell No.” (It turns out, many just hate the genre of business books.)
But roughly 30% said yes.
A few folks said they’d read books on estate planning.
One person said they’d read Essentialism, to focus on what could be pared down
Others just loved the genre for its intrinsic value.
(And a bunch of people said they’d be too stoned to read.)
But this question wasn’t actually about books. It was a question about striving.
Which brings up a much meatier question: If you had a year to live, would you still strive?
What does it mean to strive?
But first, let’s invert the question and pull our protagonist back to the post-pubescent age of 18.
There’s an argument to be made that this 18 year old should read books on investing, productivity and personal development. After all, they’ve probably got a good 60 years ahead of them.
But what happens when they hit my age? (43 years old with two young kids and a growing business.)
Maybe you strive to provide better opportunities for your kids. Or to maximize your career potential. Or to leave your little dent in the universe. (Or maybe your ego and ambition are on a collision course.)
(I gotta admit, it felt super strange moving the slider on myself… to the middle.)
Then what happens when you become an empty-nester? For me that would be in 13 years, at age 56.
If you keep pushing the stick figure forward, at some point striving becomes pointless. It’s time to cash in these hard earned chips.
But when is that point?
Why this thinking is flawed
As someone who’s very outcome-oriented, I wonder when I’ll “turn down the dial” on my own striving. I really enjoy working, building a business and my ancillary hobbies. But I’d be lying if much of the striving wasn’t ego-driven. I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing, but the illustrations prove that this logic can devolve quickly.
But the bigger flaw is that this thinking assumes you’ll live to your statistical life expectancy (roughly 80 years old). And we all know, tomorrow ain’t guaranteed.
In his (in)famous post The Tail End, Tim Urban distills his own lifetime into some recognizable metrics. He assumes he has 9 elections left to vote in.
And 56 more Super Bowls to watch:
I remember a Twitter exchange with my friend Ted Rheingold, who left us 5 years ago due to cancer. He warned us all against this post – and assuming we all had decades of Super Bowls left in us.
I recently revisited many of Ted’s old posts and found this moving quip on living for tomorrow:
I have no bucket list. Life is the bucket.
Which takes us back to striving. Striving is the means… to an end.
But it’s clearly not the end.
So what is?
On May 3rd, we’ll be examining our complex relationship between ambition, productivity and time during our 10th cohort of Supercharge Your Productivity. Here’s more information on this powerful experience of goal setting and prioritization.