In the spring of 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford University. It had been a year since he had first been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (At the time he had been successfully treated, and the cancer had not yet returned.) But what he revealed that day about death showed just how much the inevitability of it affected what he did with his life.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
The tragedy, of course, is that Steve Jobs was cleared away before he was old. He had more to give. And now all we can do is wait for the new. Or better still: make it ourselves.