Thoughts About Mortality and Decisions

I just turned 35 and hopefully have a long happy life ahead of me but, none the less, it’s important to consider your own mortality and take that inevitability into account with plans.  It is a reality we all face.

The recent death of my 45 year old cousin and my brother’s cancer diagnosis last year gave me pause.  I have those risks too.

We all turn to dust eventually, we get a blink of time on this earth to do something. Yet how many of us really embrace life, take risks and live up to our ambitions?  As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, to be a theoretical physicist to solve the grand unified theory, and to build lunar robots. Those dreams eventually died and were replaced with something much more subdued.

As Gandalf said:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

It’s important to realise that there is a choice that we have the power to make.  And we can make these choices consciously or they will be made for us.

I think most people including myself do a poor job of identifying the choices they have in front of them. We fall into habits that negate the need to make some routine choices. We often miss options from false choices – “are you going to buy the red car or the blue car?” – No, I want a bike, or to move to a place where a car isn’t needed, or can you special order a purple one.  We can find ourselves with the illusion of choice that makes it difficult to identify where the real options are.

Looking back I made some big choices – dropping out of MUN and transferring to Waterloo at a cost of losing a year of post-secondary and at 5x the tuition price.  I picked up and moved clear across the country to Vancouver without job prospects after making a list of 20+ places around the world and assessing the pros/cons.  And invited Heather to come for that adventure.  All great decisions.

A history of choices compound into a path through life.

There was a time I seriously investigated buying farmland in Spain and moving there.  These days I’m trying to figure out if it’s feasible to live on a boat in the Caribbean during the Canadian winters.  Deliberate choices like these could be made leading to a very different path through life.  I think it’s important to be able to make big life decisions like that, to never feel stuck in your current situation and control your own destiny to the greatest extent possible. Having the power and confidence to make decisions like that deliberately is a key value I have.

Now at 35, I have spent nearly 15 years in the tech industry.  It feels like a long time in some respects – 4 different jobs in 4 different provinces over that time.  Yet consider that with a retirement age of 65 I’m only a third of the way through my working career.  So much can be accomplished in the coming 30 years, BUT that doesn’t mean there is time to postpone. The risks of dying increase with every year, so it’s important to front-load life with all the best stuff without mortgaging your future.

Keeping mortality top of mind adds a sense of urgency – why settle for average or play it safe.  People, including myself, are generally more risk averse than is prudent. Our psychological loss aversion bias needs to be consciously counteracted sometimes. We shy away from losing sight of shore and cling to the comfort of familiar surroundings. When if we had risked more money and hustled a little harder something truly great could have resulted. We habitually overstate the risks and underestimate the rewards to our own detriment.

The thought I want to leave you with is this: If you knew your risk of dying over the next 12 months was say 5% would you continue to do what you’re doing? would you take a longer vacation? spend more time with your kids? work harder? save more money? spend more money? Would you think, screw it, we only get a few turns around the sun I’m going to follow my dream to start a rocket company and land a robot on the moon before my time is up.