What Would You Do If You Had Only Five Years To Live?

What would you do if your doctor told you that you only had 5 years to live? How would you change your life? What would you do differently? Where would you visit? What would you tell the people you love? What hatchets would you bury? What relationships would you try to mend. 

Make a list of these things. Go do it now. Come back when you’ve written it down.

Take a look at your list.  You know what you have there? A list of the things that are truly important to you, of your hopes and dreams and aspirations, of the people you love, and what you would like to tell them. You probably have a list of things that you haven’t done but would like to do and maybe, just maybe, might someday.

Now imagine that there’s been a mistake. The doctor tells you that you have a year to live. What would you do now? How would you change your list? Who would you speak to? Who is really important?

It gets worse. You’ve only got a month now. Take a pen to your list. Refine it. Put your affairs in order. Settle what you can. What must you do? What goals can you still achieve? Think about it.

I do this exercise at this time of year every year, not just because I have a morbid turn of mind (you already knew that!) but because it provides me  with a map and a compass for where I want to go over the next five years, for where I want to go with my life. I’ve done this  every year since I read it in a self-help book over a decade ago. I can’t remember which book, mores the pity, because I would like to attribute it if I could.

I take those lists and I try and do the things on them. I do this because it works. It helps keep me focused on my goals, on the things that are important to me. And that’s important because so often in life we do what we think is expected of us, what our parents, friends, spouses, children, bosses want. We try to impress people, keep up with the Jones, bury ourselves in a welter of busy-work and material acquisition.

I take those lists and I try and do the things on them because by doing so I make my life into what I want it to be.  And you know what? I have written some of the novels I wanted to write. I have travelled to Tokyo. I do tell my wife I love her as often as seems reasonable to a dour and emotionally stunted Scotsman like myself.

I was going to talk about my goals for 2012 today but I thought I would talk about this instead because someone might find it as useful as I do. You see, the clock is always ticking. So ask yourself what you would do if you only had five years, one year, one month or one day to live. Because I can say this with utter certainty, some day you will have only that amount of time left. You may as well make the life you want. You get only the one.

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10 Replies to “What Would You Do If You Had Only Five Years To Live?”

  1. Found this tonight when I googled this exact question…..
    It is a hard list to make. So much to think about.
    I’ve asked my 11 year old daughter to help.
    Apparently, we’re going to Disney! Funny, that wasn’t my first choice, but it’s a good one. I’ll keep it.
    Not so much interested in traveling abroad. So much to see in my own country I’ve never seen!

    But, you’re so right. We only get one shot at this. Life is not a dress rehearsal and most of us live as though it is.

    There’s just never enough time.
    Thanks for a starting point!

  2. This looks brilliant. Love the new-look website, & your excellent photo. I hope to be back in Edinburgh towards the end of July.

  3. I live in Surrey, just south of Guildford. (Lorenzo the illusionist was one of my favourite characters in an early D&D campaign of yours, BTW).

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