It is 3.30am in the morning and I have just woken from quite a disturbing dream. With my heart and thoughts racing, I had trouble falling asleep again and so I simply had to get up and write this post as well as an email to a friend I have not spoken to in about 15 years.
I dreamt that I was getting organised for my death in 4 weeks’ time. It wasn’t scary. Though I know I was sick, I was not afraid of death. Instead, I was frantically making a list of the people I needed to speak to, what to say and everything I could think of to prepare for my imminent departure.
The first person I was literally dying to talk to was this old friend from school. So many things had been left unsaid. He and I, we share a lot of memories from our early teens. We even went out together aged 10 maybe, innocently, just holding hands. For a reason that I simply cannot remember, we fell out when we were about 16 and have hardly talked since. Over the last decade, I have repeatedly dreamt about him and his family. Tonight, in my nightmare, I decided that I couldn’t go without telling him how much I had cared about him and how upset I was about our lost friendship.
So just before writing this, I wrote an email to him. Yes, I do have his email address. [Hey nosey, if you must know what happened with it see the P.S. below]
Interestingly, in this dream, I wasn’t worried about money, work, being good enough or any other day to day stuff that seems to be so utterly important otherwise. All I was concerned about was the relationships I’ve had, with ex-boyfriends, family members, relatives, and most prominently with friends.
This reminded me of a deeply impactful coaching exercise I once participated in:
[Note: Please find a quiet place, where you can write and think undisturbed for 30 minutes.]
1. In this exercise, start off by listing everything you would like to DO, BE and HAVE within the next 20 years. Take your time. Write down everything you can think of. Buy a house, earn a degree, write a book, study a language, have children…. what would be most important to you if your time was limited to only another 20 years?
2. After spending a good 3-5 minutes writing that list, turn over the page and make a new list of all the things you would like to accomplish, if you had only 10, not 20 years left to live. Again, take some minutes to compile these points.
3. Now, start a new page again and list everything you’d like to do be and have if you only had 5 years left to live. What would fall by the wayside? How would your priorities shift?
4. You guessed it: Turn over the page again and start writing down all the things you’d seriously get down to, if you only had 2 years left to live. Again, take your time.
5. Now, it gets a bit more uncomfortable. Imagine you only have 9 months left to live. How would you want to spend your time? What would become a priority? Who would you want to visit or spend time with? What would you like to see?
6. Even more difficult: picture yourself knowing that you are going to leave this lifetime behind in 6 weeks,… What does now make the list?
7. Keep writing on what would truly matter to you if you only had 1 week, 1 day, 1 hour, 30 minutes left to live. Where would you want to die, who would you like to have with you? What would you have accomplished then? What is the legacy you are leaving behind?
[Please make sure that you have a mechanism in place to take you out of this thought and exercise. Be gentle with yourself. Talk to a close friend or partner about it.]
Just as with this exercise a few years ago, it became clear to me once again after my dream, that what matters most to me is love. The people we love, want to be loved by and the relationships we care most about.
Even if you don’t want to take the time to go deep into reflective mode and do the exercise above, ponder these to gain perspective on what truly matters to you:
- Who would have to speak to if you had only 4 weeks left to live?
- What issues would you feel desperate to resolve?
- Which letters would you write and to whom?
- What would you finally release from your chest?
- What would you do with your current work situation?
- What would you want to spend your day doing?
- What would you change in a heartbeat?
Luckily, we don’t have to go so soon, but we never know how much time we really have.
You can change it in a heartbeat.
Don’t leave it until it’s too late!
P.S. If you wondered what happened with the email to my old friend from school… I never sent it. It was in my draft folder until I received this blog post from my dear friend and inspiration Chris Guillebeau in my inbox a day later (coincidence?). So I have decided to rewrite the letter and submit it at The Things You Would Have Said.
P.P.S. I have two coaching spots open at the moment and would love to invite you in. If you think that yes, actually, life is too short, let me know by simply hitting reply to this email.
Image: Audrey Hepburn at her most stunning, last seen on Life.com