There's this thing that the stoics say: Memento Mori. “Remember that you will die.” It's a little dark for my tastes. 😉
BUT I do think something like it very frequently, and it has guided a lot of my decision-making during this past decade of teaching high school, building a writing career, grasping the diverse fields that inform my work, and starting a family. From the outside, folks will tell me sometimes that it looks like I'm doing it all.
But I'm not. At all.
The thing I think about, instead of memento mori, is the view from a deathbed.
There's a single question that's guided me in lots of the big choices of the last decade. It's this: If I get the chance to end my life on a deathbed, reflectively looking back on how I spent the days I had, will I be glad for how I've spent them?
This imagined scenario is why I've abandoned the workaholisms that typified the first portion of my career as a teacher and the first portion of my career as a writer.
- 90% of the things I read in our literature that I'm supposed to do as a teacher? I don't do them.
- 90% of the tactics I've learned that are supposed to help grow a blog? No.
- 90% of the things I'm supposed to do in order to raise a good family in the twenty-first century? Probably not.
My percentages are not exact, but my point is: “Supposed to” is as wispy as the wind when you've taken on the habit of asking, “What will I be looking back on from my deathbed?”
In the forge of this persistent question, simple principles have been tempered into swords in the fight against the harried haze that so many of us call life these days.
- I don't need to be understood or heard by other people; what I need is to understand and to hear. The deeper my understanding goes, the more I find that folks understand me. But I can't control other people and whether or not they “get” me or approve of me. I've grown okay with that because on my deathbed, I'm not going to care.
- I don't need to be successful; what I need is to be useful. The more useful I am to others — useful as their teacher, their friend, their colleague, their husband, their father — the more successful the world will say I've been. That's fine — but the world's opinion is not the point. Usefulness is. The target remains usefulness because on my deathbed I will care very little for my faded renown and will care very much for how genuinely useful I've been to the people I was fortunate to meet.
- I don't need to become updated on the latest trends; I need to apprentice myself to the timeless fundamentals. As a teacher, I pursue growth in the same six areas of practice, year after year. I work to motivate my students inside of their hearts at the level of belief — not at the level of a catchy lesson or nifty pedagogy or having all the right eduspeakish phrases. In my home, I seek the maturation of my children: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, physically, volitionally. I seek to bless my wife and enjoy the journey with her. And these fundamental pursuits are more than enough to occupy my attention; I've still so much space for growth in them. And I know, that if all I accomplish in these domains is to grow in expertise in these areas, I will be a good and useful teacher, a good and useful father, a good and useful husband.
The ten disciplines for time management
Principles like these have come not just from the deathbed question, but also from what I call the ten disciplines for time management. I've shared these before in the Time Management Course, but this October, for the first time ever, I'm going to lead a group of people through them in a live, cohort-based version of the course.
This won't be just another click-and-play course; it'll be a community of colleagues seeking to make their next years truer, deeper, better, and simpler.
Details and waitlist are here. Trailer is below.