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Smell the Coffee: What if next year were your last?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A co-worker suggested that with the Mayan calendar predicting the world's end in 2012, I should do a column about what people would do if they actually believed this was the last year of their life."Personally," said the co-worker, "I'd sell everything I own and use the money to be a nomad, travel the world, see as much as I could."I liked her answer. My own would be similar, except since I couldn't leave our many critters behind, I'd pack the lot of us into an RV and travel the U.S. -- something I've been dreaming of doing for years.For the record, I don't believe the Mayan calendar theory. I mean, my own calendar ends on Dec. 31 -- every year. Who's to say the Mayans didn't simply believe enough was enough, or their chisel broke, or they ran out of rock? Still, I was intrigued with the idea of how people might behave differently if they thought this year were their last.The late Steve Jobs once said that being handed a death sentence brings to the forefront what is really important, that it frees you to be who you really are."Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered," said Jobs, "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 to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."The amount of time we have is such a crapshoot it seems curious that we aren't better about pursuing what means the most to us. We never know when the anvil with our name on it is going to drop.But like most people, money -- or the absence of it -- prevents us from doing what we most want to do. I spend much of my own days chasing the dollar, seldom catching enough of them to cover even the simplest of needs, much less something more.
And yet, if money weren't part of the equation, what would be the more?Thinking about that reminded me of the lyrics to a Tim McGraw song about a man in his early 40s reacting to a bad diagnosis. According to the song, the man went skydiving, climbed the Rocky Mountains and rode a bull named Fu Man Chu for 2.7 seconds."I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."And then the man in the song says, "Some day, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying."On the surface it might seem depressing to go through life with the mindset that you're dying, but at the same time, I can understand what Jobs meant about it being freeing. He called death the single best invention of life, calling it life's change agent. Having the end be near can force us to put aside the everyday distractions to focus on connections with those who matter to us, and to pursue the things that we love most.I like the idea of facing 2012 as if it really were the last year. I like the idea of choosing what's important, and then finding the courage to go live it. No regrets. No waiting for the right time to tell someone how you feel, saving the good dishes or fancy dresses or expensive wine for some special occasion that might never come.
I want to find that middle ground between making a living, and living.Today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.Reach Karin Fuller via email at
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