Your days are finite. One day, they will run out. As a friend of mine likes to say, “You know, the death rate is hovering right around one hundred percent.”
Todd Henry has given the world a call-to-action with Die Empty. The book is one big reminder that one day you (yes, you!) will die and he imparts some useful tools to help you discover what you’re meant to do and then to do it to the best of your ability.
The phrase “die empty” could easily be misunderstood to mean spending every ounce of yourself on your career, in an attempt to squeeze a little more effort out to the team. This could not be further from what Todd Henry hopes this book will accomplish.
The average man does not know what to do with his life, yet wants another one which will last forever.
It’s not about getting everything done today
It’s not the same as “live like there’s no tomorrow” Opportunity is always accompanied by its twin sibling: responsibility. Today you have a chance to make a difference through your work, but you must also be mindful of how today’s actions will affect tomorrow’s outcomes, and how your work impacts the lives of others. You must be conscious of how today’s choices beget tomorrow’s regrets.
You have a responsibility to leverage your passions, skills, and experiences to make a contribution to the world. You also need to make sure that you are delivering on your expectations and honoring the people who are paying you to produce results. But as you’ll see throughout the book, the tension between these two forces can often be remedied with a subtle shift in mindset, which will also lead to more satisfaction, and, ultimately, better work.
Your days are numbered, finite and someday they will run out
This is indisputable. We live with the stubborn illusion that we will always have tomorrow to do today’s work. It’s a lie. We need to live with a sense of urgency about the work we do today. It matters not just because an opportunity lost today is an opportunity lost forever, but because the way that we engage in our work ultimately affects the way that we engage in our life as a whole. As you grow in your capacity to engage in your work, and as you discipline yourself to make continuous growth a part of your daily approach, you will find that latent capacities arise in every area of your life. Don’t waste the opportunity.
You have a unique contribution to make to the world
This is not self-help mumbo jumbo; it’s the truth. It’s easier to dismiss this notion than to own up to it and do something about it. You possess a one-of-a-kind combination of passions, skills, and experiences; there is something you bring to your work that no one else could. If you relinquish that power, then it will never see the light of day and you will always wonder “what if?” The price of regret is incalculable.
No one else can make your contribution for you
Waiting for permission to act is the easy way out. Everyone has to play the hand they’re dealt. This means that you can’t make a habit of pointing fingers, blaming others, or complaining. As painful as it can be, unfairness is baked into every aspect of life, and to make a contribution and empty yourself of your potential, you have to come to terms with it and refuse to be a victim.
Cultivating a love of the process is the key to making a lasting contribution.
Your contribution is not about you. You cannot function solely out of a desire to be recognized for what you do. You may be rewarded with accolades and riches for your work. You may also labour in obscurity doing brilliant work your entire life. More likely, you’ll fall somewhere in the middle. There is an overemphasis on celebrity and recognition in our culture, and it will eventually be the death of us.
Avoid comfort or “the golden handcuffs”
If making a significant impact was easy, it would be commonplace. It’s not common because there are many forces that lead to stagnancy and mediocrity. For example, some people, whether co-workers, managers, or even friends, may not want you to fully engage in the pursuit of great work because it places an onus on them to do the same. If you begin to rise above the pack, they will quickly try to bring you back to earth. Also, organizations often make it easy to settle in, providing you with a good salary, a nice title, or a sense of stability, the proverbial “golden handcuffs.” It’s easy to fall in love with these comfortable perks, but the love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing comfort as a by-product of your labor, but you can’t make it your chief goal. Greatness emerges when you consistently choose to do what’s right, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Take a stand, don’t shape-shift
You are better positioned to make a contribution if you align your work around your values. Don’t be a mirror, passively reflecting the priorities of others. You must dig through the rubble to the core principles that guide your life, come hell or high water. Then commit to engaging your work with a clean conscience, knowing that you are holding true to those principles. There is plenty of room to experiment and try new things, but if you don’t stand for what you believe in, you will eventually lose yourself in your work.
Your “sweet spot” develops over time
Your understanding of your “sweet spot” develops over time like the film in a darkroom In baseball, there is a place on the bat called the “sweet spot,” the best part with which to strike the ball. It will send the ball soaring a lot farther than if you hit it even a few fractions of an inch off the mark with the same effort. Similarly, you have a “sweet spot” in your life by which you will add the most unique value through your efforts. Too many people want to come out of the gate with a clear understanding of their life’s mission. There is no one thing that you are wired to do, and there are many ways you can add value to the world while operating in your sweet spot. However, these opportunities will only become clear over time as you act. They will develop slowly like the film in a dark room, giving you clues as you experiment, fail, and succeed. You have to try different things, and devote yourself to developing your skills and intuition, before you will begin to see noticeable patterns and understand your unique value. Patience is required. This is a long arc game, but it must begin now.
You must plant seeds today for a harvest later
What you plant today you reap tomorrow, or further down the road. You must structure your life around daily progress based on what matters to you, building practices and activities that allow you to plant new seeds each day, with the knowledge that you will eventually see the fruits of your labor. While the universal principles outlined above are not overtly expressed in the remainder of the book, you will find that they inform many of the specific practices you will learn. In the end, my hope is that you will embrace the importance of now, and refuse to allow the lull of comfort, fear, familiarity, and ego to prevent you from taking action on your ambitions.
Why the richest People are found in the cemetery
People die with their Ideas
I’ve struggled to write this blog, and in full disclosure, I realize I’ve got some things working against me. Here’s the honest truth: no one really wants to think about death, let alone adopt it as some kind of motivational slogan. But the corona virus and the depressions and illness that is surrounding us is making me really ask difficult questions.
It’s not exactly the kind of feel-good, warm and fuzzy sentiment that large public gatherings are typically designed to cultivate. It would be much safer (and perhaps more lucrative) for me to stay squarely in my lane and continue to write about Human resource only. I continue to encounter professionals every day who are abandoning their contribution and forfeiting their best work because they’re stuck or deceived into believing that the path they are on will eventually become more bearable.
It pains me to think about their unfulfilled potential while knowing that implementing a few simple, daily practices to eliminate areas of ineffectiveness could set them on the right path.
Don’t go to your grave with your best work inside you. Choose to die empty.
Your Body of Work When you’re gone, your work will stand as the single biggest testament to who you were and what you believed. By “your work,” I don’t just mean your occupation, but anyway in which you contribute value to the world using your available resources. This, of course, includes every task you do and project you engage in, but also every time you encourage someone else or contribute to a relationship, every instance in which you make an effort to grow your skills or develop your mind, or every time you go the extra mile even though you are exhausted. Your body of work comprises the sum total of where you choose to place your limited focus, assets, time, and energy. Naturally, your worth as a person transcends the value you create, but your work is the most visible expression of your priorities. As you consider your current body of work and the sum of the value you’ve created, is it reflective of what you truly care about? Forget about your title, pay grade, or how the world would rate your relative success or failure compared with what’s considered “normal.”
The only way to effectively gauge a day’s work is to answer the question “Can I lay my head down tonight satisfied with the work I did today?”