"If you had exactly one month left to live, what would you do?" — That's what I was asked today by a friend who sadly lost a very close and dear family member this year. Little did she know that she was talking to someone who had lost four of his friends to accidents and suicide during a short time period of about 6 years when I was between 14 and 20 years old.
At this point I strongly encourage you to take minute and think about this question. What would you do if you had only 30 days to live? You could do anything. Would you take all your savings and travel to the top 3 destinations you always had planned to visit? Would you take out your list of "100 things to do before I die" and tick off as many as possible? Not many people get the "option" to know that their end date is actually set. So what would you do if you knew?
My friend was theorizing that she would be losing the fear of the things she had been afraid of all of her life. No more fear of overdosing on drugs. No more fear of HIV when having sex. No more fear of death when river rafting, sky diving, or bungee jumping. If your end is in sight, why would you even care? You got nothing to lose. Reality is that we live in a society in which we constantly hear and read about the "X things one needs to do before he/she dies". So it wouldn't surprise me if most of you would think similarly.
While I was certainly excited about all the options listed above, I couldn't see myself doing that. So I took that one minute and thought about it. If I really had only one month to live, I would consider that my last chance to leave behind a legacy before I'm forever gone. My last opportunity to impact other peoples' lives. The last time I could do something for what I could be remembered for once my body rots under ground.
With that thought on my mind, I asked her in return: "If you had only month, would you use it to maximize the benefit for yourself? Or would you use it to maximize the benefit for as many people as possible?" An interesting question as I find. And it also reminded me of the recent suicide of Brittany Maynard who was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer and was given only 6 months to live. At the young age of 29. She used her situation to raise awareness for the importance of "death with dignity," or assisted suicide as it's also know.
I look at my life and I truly hope to live through it without complications (i.e., reach/exceed the average life span). Not for the sake of living, but to have the opportunity to positively impact as many as possible. And once death strikes, I hope to have built a legacy that continues beyond my mortality. So in theory, you have ±80 years to have that kind of impact and build that legacy.
This all would change if you were given only one month to live. The downside is that one month is not long. The upside is that if you end up under such circumstances, you have the unique opportunity to attract peoples' attention — similar* to how it was the case with Brittany. Or Zach Sobiech who died at the tender age of 18 and whose (highly inspirational) last days were recorded and widely shared. Or Randy Pausch whose "Last Lecture" was viewed over 17 million times on YouTube. In that case, you won't get the 80 years to have that impact that would leave behind that legacy, but you would have one month and a lot of people's attention to do so.
With that in mind, would you maximize your own benefit on your last month in life or would you dedicate it to leaving behind a legacy? You can maximize your fun, but everything will be over before you know it. Or you could use your situation to raise awareness for a cause. For either your illness, or your beliefs, or whatever is dear to you — something that will live on even when everything of you is gone.
Sadly, among the many that die, only few know or see it coming so directly. I'm not saying that's necessarily the better option, but if your answer to the title of the post is to maximize the impact you have on other peoples' lives, then take this mental role play as an encouragement to live your entire life by the objective to leave a legacy and not just in the moment you see your death happening sooner than you thought – because it's guaranteed to happen sooner or later anyway.
*a quite negative case was the recent story of Maik Mahlow, a German entrepreneur who claimed he was dying of cancer just to get media attention and to promote the sales of his company.