Friday, May 20, 2011

Nothing Lasts Forever (Especially You)

A footprint in sand lasts less than a day. That same footprint on the moon may last 10,000 years, but it also will eventually fade into oblivion.

Even the most memorable works of art, carved into stone, seemingly indestructible, will be reduced to stardust someday, as the Sun becomes a red giant and swallows the earth.

It's easy to forget that nothing lasts forever. Perhaps even more unsettling is the fact that this includes you. Oh, sure, depending on what your beliefs are concerning an afterlife, you can argue that your soul lasts far longer, maybe even forever. But your physical self, the vessel that experiences all of your senses, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and day-to-day tasks, will not be around more than probably 100 years or so. After that, you'll be rotting in a hole in the earth somewhere, or turned to ash, or if you're Ted Williams, sitting in a freezer somewhere until you have been long forgotten and somebody pulls the plug on the building like it's a broken refrigerator.

This doesn't give you license to sit around and do nothing. You may think in some nihilistic little corner of your brain that because we're all destined to become dust again, what the fuck does it matter what you do with your time on this planet? Bullshit. This old solar system still has billions of years left on it. By “opting out,” you deny a significant percentage of humanity the possibility of benefiting from what you have to offer. Be it in a fulfilling job that you hold down, or the art that you produce, or a charity that you start, or even by making somebody else's day or life better, you owe it to everyone to give your best all the time so that someone might benefit from what you have to give.

Additionally, because nothing is truly permanent, the stakes for taking risks are far less than you think. Getting up in front of that big auditorium and giving a speech doesn't seem like such a big deal when extrapolated out to its cosmic significance. People-pleaser, like I am? It doesn't matter—these people all shit, fart, and die like you do and will. Once you accept that we're on this temporary planet for a temporary period of time, the risk of embarrassment goes down exponentially and the sense of urgency increases exponentially.

Assume the number of days you have left in your life is “n.” Every morning, you're faced with n-1 days left in your limited life. When you have a “lot of days left,” it may not seem like a big deal, but as you get closer to the end, the number of days you have left decreases exponentially until you reach zero. The big problem with this calculus is that you have no way of knowing where that end point is. It could be tomorrow, it could be fifty, seventy-five years from now. The point is, that day will come, so you better live your life like that day is just around the corner.

Take (calculated) risks. Do what you want to do with your time. Spend it with people that matter to you. In the end, it's all just dust. It's all temporary. Especially you.

Agree? Disagree? Think I'm nuts? Let me know in the comments.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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