A Reflection on Mortality: Why I’m Replacing My Goals with an Obituary

The end of each year brings great reflection and excitement for the possibilities in the year to come. We take this time to set new goals and resolutions in hope of finding that slice of happiness and success. As I sat down to take on this process again I had more questions than I did ideas and goals. My excitement had been replaced by a malaise towards this process. As I started to write down my thoughts and questions it was apparent that I needed to completely throw out the traditional thinking of goals and resolutions and start from scratch.

I decided to look to familiar sources of wisdom, the Bible and philosophy, specifically stoic philosophy. What I found was a focus on mortality, being sober minded, and wisdom. Both the Bible and stoic philosophers were rooted in mortality and reality. They believed that this led to the highest awareness of gratitude and purpose. Our mortality is the great equalizer, Marcus Aurelius stated this best in Meditations, “Both Alexander the Great and his mule-keeper were both brought to the same place by death. They were either received into the all generative reason or scattered among atoms.” Nothing we accomplish in this world will change the fact of our mortality.

The great King Solomon who is considered one of the wisest and richest men in history also gave us great insight in the winter of his life in the great book of Ecclesiastes. In the end of his great life King Solomon was brought to humility in realizing it was all “Meaningless, Meaningless, chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes).” There is countless wisdom to learn from the great minds of history and how we should approach our brief time in this world. To learn from what they found in facing their own mortality.

This is not meant to be morbid but a shift in thinking away from the traditional goal setting mentality. Its about being rooted in reality and allowing for that to be a place in which we live from true purpose and focus. Rather than chasing our tails year-after-year towards goals that are misaligned with what we truly want to accomplish.

King David lived a tumultuous yet amazing life, one in which he rooted himself in mortality as well “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Pslams 90:12). The famous Philosopher King, Marcus Aerilius, remained rooted in reality during his reign “Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long as you live and while you can, become good now.”

As I look to set my goals for 2017 this new line of thinking and wisdom has derailed my traditional approach. We become worn down and unsatisfied due to the fact that there is always another goal right behind the one we just accomplished, it truly becomes a hamster in a wheel process. Are we really evolving as humans or just continuing to chase our tail tricking ourselves that we will one day catch it as long as we set the right goals?

As I reflect on the last year and think through the wisdom laid out above I realize how futile our goals are, they set us into the future. A future we do not even know will come. Yet the world tells us we need goals and that those that focus on goals lead to greater success. By what standards and whose scorecard I ask? I can say I want to do “this” by the end of the next year but what happens when the end of this year never comes? Or when next month destroys all that was hoped for? If setting goals is done in vain then is not setting goals an escape from responsibility? Where does one draw the line between responsibility and escapism?

This year I vow to be sober minded and focus less on the future and more on my inevitable mortality. Knowing that today could be my last day and hoping that I get another to be the best man I can be. God has blessed me beyond what I could have imagined and my goals have taken me to places I never would have dreamed. But what I have learned is that this is an insatiable appetite, nothing is ever good enough in the world of goals and planning. I’m not saying that being unsatisfied with ones lot is inherently bad, in some cases we should be unsatisfied, it becomes a matter of focus and expectations.

I circle back to this question of what do goals and planning look like in world where we are rooted in the reality of uncertainty and ever shifting circumstances? In a world of inevitable mortality? Where is the line of responsibility versus escapism? I think it comes down to purpose, who we want to be. What person do we want to look at in the mirror in the morning. If we died tomorrow how would we be remembered for a short time after our death. What would we want our obituary to read?

For me this is not about legacy or leaving a mark, history has taught us that very few get that privilege. This is about being rooted in reality and humility in our inevitable mortality. Its about realizing that our goals and accomplishments in the grand scheme of history are not as important as we think they are. This does not mean we should not strive to leave our mark, quite the opposite. This is about having the freedom to really pursue our purpose as we shed these unrealistic thoughts of our lives and mortality. It is then that we truly have the freedom to pursue our purpose without the future of “what could be” getting in the way.

This year, rather than focusing on what I want to accomplish I am focusing on who I want to be and think as if I will not make it through this year. I’m forcing myself to realize that some of the work I think is important, really is not. It is me chasing the wind. This year I am scrapping my goals and writing an obituary in hope that this keeps me focused on what truly matters in this brief visit we have in this great world. I hope some of you join a few of the greatest minds in history and take up this approach to facing our mortality in a way that brings us great freedom and courage to pursue our respective purpose.