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27 Things to do Before You Die

August 24, 2009

From time to time I will indulge myself in the tacky genre of self-help-leadership-development books. Usually I skim through the pages quickly to see if I can find one or two ideas of substance that might come in handy later on, perhaps some catchy quote I can rip off to make me sound smart and sophisticated at an upcoming business conference cocktail reception. I’ve discovered that if you want to appear smart in business, you really only have to be about five minutes ahead of everyone else with any given category of information. And since most people do not like to read, this is not so hard.

Recently I was paging through one of these books, and I came across an exercise under an inconspicuous little heading that said, “27 Thing to Do Before You Die.”

This struck me as irresistibly intriguing, even though it was really just more of your standard-fare motivational crap. But this particular author appeared to be a bit more ambitious than most. Usually you will hear your friends and relatives talk about the one or two things they want to do before they die. Not three. Not five, not even ten. But this book was asking for twenty seven. Isn’t that being greedy? This exercise was way too tempting to pass up, especially given my recent bouts with a mid-life existential crisis. “This will be fun AND fulfilling!” I told myself. So off I went to my writing corner, busily scrawling out a list of what would surely become a multitude of interesting and exciting dreams that were so reflective of my dynamic and magnetic personality.

Numbers one through five were easy. They were all the things I complain about anyway that I am either currently working on, or those nagging ideas that for some reason I have never managed to get around to. Like, getting a book published, for instance. Which should only be a matter of time, since my Blog has so handily dominated the “Business-Inspirational-Memoir-Humorist” genre that is so popular with publishers these days. And also there is the simple pleasure of taking my wife to an opera production at the Met. That is simply a matter of purchasing the tickets and saving the date. No big deal.  Or, how about becoming a CEO?  I’ve managed to make it to the senior officer/executive post for several years, but have not yet taken the Chief role (Oh, but just you wait!). Then there are all those European travel plans with the family that keep falling by the wayside. I’m just waiting for value of the dollar to rise against the Euro, I keep telling my wife.

Six through ten were not so hard either, especially after I gave myself permission to just let go and dream big, even if I didn’t think it was really ever possible. The Family Lodge in the Adirondacks? Check. The enviable art collection? Check. The ocean-side vacation home? Absolutely. And yes, I WILL speak fluent German before I die. How hard could that be, if I just put my mind to it?

The ideas stopped flowing so freely after #11, so I decided to enlist my wife in the exercise. Not that she would be able to tell me what I wanted to do before I die (although she does seem to know me better than I know myself sometimes), but maybe hearing her own views on the subject would further stimulate mine. So, we turned on some opera music, poured a couple glasses of Merlot and started cooking Chicken Cacciatore. That always seems to get the juices flowing.

As we traded dreams and ideas, I sheepishly began to notice how materialistic and ego-driven many of the previous items on my death-to-do list were. Humbled and repentant, I began to focus on generating more meaningful, spiritual priorities – opportunities where I could give back, which of course should have been at the top of the list to begin with. I may not be the most spiritually pure Christian, but at least I am honest (in other words, I still did not change the order of my list). Maybe it’s the Merlot talking, but here comes the week-long spiritual retreat at the monastery at number thirteen. I have a friend who does this regularly and I always find myself jealous (spiritual jealousy- is that a sin?). Next, I thought about the many missions and service trips that I have conveniently avoided for all these years, fervently sending on my daughters as proxy. Next time, it will be me.

There. That felt better.

By the time I reached number seventeen, I was so spiritually pumped up that I found myself creating the very admirable but pathetically generic goal of “Inspiring people to live better lives.” (But I really do mean it.) Number 18 was “Get a cat.” I am currently prevented from fulfilling that particular dream because my wife and daughter are allergic. If I’m the one dying, then I should get my cat.

That’s all I’ve come up with so far. Eighteen. I have nine more to go. And I don’t want to flake out by just adding new countries to the list of destinations I’d like to travel to. I didn’t think this exercise would be so challenging. What does that say about me? Maybe I’m just too comfortable with where I’m at right now. Perhaps I don’t have enough vision. Or, maybe this was just another tacky and ridiculous motivational exercise meant to sell a book that tells us we are capable of far more than we will ever be able to realistically achieve in life.

In any case, the Chicken Cacciatore we made that night was delicious

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2009 12:20 pm

    I think “The Last Lecture” also has spawned some of this self analysis. And the Bucket List movie. These are not such bad things for us. The book sounds intriguing too. The more we think about what’s really important, the closer we find ourselves to God.

    I saw a good World Magazine Post this morning about this very subject

    http://online.worldmag.com/2009/08/24/what-would-my-last-lecture-be/

    David
    http://www.redletterbelievers.com

  2. August 24, 2009 10:17 pm

    27,
    what an interesting number

    age 27, a pretty good age to be

    highway 27, you can drive from ft wayne indiana to miami florida…though ohio, keeen tucy, tennesseeeeee, and geeeorgia. now that would be a good trip!

    27 amendments, there are that many to the constitution. do you know them all?

    27 weeks, in that in the womb, a baby’s lungs are maturing and he or she weighs about 2 pounds.

    27 ways, one can come up with 27 ways to say “i love you” to…well, to someone that they love.

    do another list…

    let go and think little.

  3. September 22, 2009 6:53 pm

    hmm,
    I wonder what God’s list would look like for you…
    I mean for me… too.

    Our Father smiles at us, no matter what we do… but… I wonder what makes Him smile bigger.

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