I think one of the reasons why we are so scared of death is because of the certainty that our plans will get interrupted. That feeling of not having enough time to do all the things that we have in our heads.
And that feeling is even worse with unexpected death situations. I am constantly afraid of any of my familiars having an unexpected death. I imagine how difficult this would be.
These unexpected situations imply a lot of improvisation, as you need to take care of all the pending issues the person who died left.
We have no choice during these extreme situations. We need to assume the responsibility and do everything within reach to fill the void of that person.
We are not aware of the great capacity we have to improvise, think under pressure and respond to external factors for which we were not prepared. It’s only when we experience the death of someone close to us, or knowing that death is coming for us (or for someone close to us), that we really understand our incredible ability of resilience, improvisation, and adaptability.
Imagine we could transpose that way of improvising, planning and assuming responsibilities when we face death, and apply it to other areas of our life and our work.
Thinking about death could be very effective and productive if we learn how to take advantage of that. That feeling could be the key to kill those fears that are preventing us from doing the things we have always wanted to do.
Imagine you have a job you love. And you have a boss, Karen, who you also love. Someday, you would like to be like her. She makes her job and responsibilities look easy, but you know they are not.
You admire her, you want to be like her, but at the same time, you are afraid of asking for more responsibilities. You feel very comfortable with what you do, and you are terrified by the fact of having to leave your comfort zone to assume new responsibilities in your job.
What would happen if she suddenly dies? What would happen if she has a heart attack and, with no choices to make, you have to take care of her whole job responsibilities?
It’s not a matter of choice anymore. You HAVE to do it.
My guess is that you will start thinking in a sort of plan to tackle down all the things you need to do. Maybe you will make a list and write down all the things, starting to prioritize according to importance and urgency.
You will start to improvise and to find out (and ask for help) on things that, 24 hours before, you thought you were not able to do.
Of course, it’s easier to say it than to do it. And, being such an improbable situation, it’s difficult to put it into action.
But let’s break this example down, to see if we can extract something or we can define a process that maybe we could start using to deal with difficult/scary situations.
The single fact of simulating the hypothetical death situation can bring benefits to our work/life routines, even if that scenario never comes to reality (I hope it never happens that to your boss).
Actually, it’s a very practical thing to do. That’s the beauty of this exercise: Without the need to live the actual death scenario, we can learn the lessons that an extremely ‘under pressure’ situation can teach to us.
Thinking about a death scenario could become a powerful way to come with new ideas and improve our capacity to execute and improvise until we materialize those ideas:
Imagine one thing you have always wanted to do, but for a specific reason, you have never had the courage to do it or you have never been able to do it.
- Who do you know who is already doing or who already achieved this thing you want to do?
- Imagine you work with this person.
- Imagine this person dies.
- Create a list of the first 3 things you would do if this person dies and you had the responsibility of taking care of this person’s business and responsibilities.
Now that you have a projected scenario and specific items you would do, why not apply those things right now?
This strategy works because it inverts the order of which we are thinking the idea.
Normally, first we would think about an idea, and then we would give it context. But the fact of not giving this idea a context or an actual scenario in the first place is the reason why sometimes is that difficult to think about how to execute it.
In this case, first we are first thinking about a context and a specific scenario: The death of someone, and how this situation will force us to apply these ideas we had in our heads but we never really thought on how to materialize. Now it’s a matter of obligation.
So, as scary as death might be, thinking about its consequences it’s also a powerful way to come with interesting ideas and to improve our improvisation capacity and act and be flexible to act in different types of scenarios in our life and our work.
Now, thanks to Karen and her fake death, we have a new perspective on how to cross that barrier and start executing…