In December 2020, I was listening to a podcast episode of the Tim Ferriss Show with Jim Collins, when they got around to a fantastic question that author Rochelle Myers once asked Jim: If you had ten years left to live, what would you stop doing, or do much less of? It caught me off-guard amidst the already great conversation, like a magical music piece I was hearing for the first time among great radio play I was listening to, that just froze me to devote my attention to it. I don’t know if you’ve ever had such moments, but I can tell you many such stories in discovering classical music almost systematically by going through a library of it, and being frozen when certain phrases or openings came on. This was that equivalent in speech, via podcast.
If I had ten years left to live,
what would I stop doing,
or do much less of?
I thought it was a really insightful question because the timespan was not so short that people could just throw off the simple answer of “quit my job”. That’s probably the most common, and generic, answer you’d probably get if it were something like just a year left to live, as true and authentic as it might be. There’s just not insight or deep thought required for it. I also thought the question was revealing because lots of people have ideas about what they would do with a somewhat limited time left to live, like travel more, but they probably haven’t thought a lot about what they’d have to stop doing to get some or all of that time required to do whatever they want to do. As obvious as it might be, people probably don’t think that just because you have a limited time left to live, it doesn’t mean you get more hours per day, more days a week or month or year, to just keep on doing everything they do now and do those other things they want to do. No. You would have to free up some time for it, and this question is a great way to incite you to think about those activities. There wouldn’t need to be a sudden change, and soon, like stop wasting time on social media, to accommodate more free time. There might not even be need to be a “stop” doing something all together, just a lot less. Additionally, it would also have to be feasible, too, to sustain you for ten more years, making realistic answers to have a plan to go with it like an answer for how would you be able to work less soon to free up time while still being able to live a lifestyle you can enjoy? Finally, it could apply to everyone, from the young to the retired, as everyone can improve their lives not to be more efficient, but to get more value for their time and activity.
For some people, especially those without a lot of freedom for choices of activities in their lives like those who have to work excessive hours to make ends meet, take care of kids all the while, and so on, the answers to this question might be easy. It’d be all those activities for which they don’t have a lot of say over right now. For those who have a lot of time and choices in life, like me, it’s a much tougher question, likely pitting love of one thing versus love of another, or curiosity for one thing over another, or maybe just getting rid of some bad habits with more urgency, since I can probably make those changes now if I really wanted to with enough desire.
I’ve pondered the question Rochelle asked Jim the odd time here and there for a few months now, but I don’t have too many definitive answers yet. It’s a hard question for me! I couldn’t wait longer to share the question in a blog post, though, and didn’t want to hold on until I had some enlightening answers to impress you, if I would ever have such an answer. Still, some of these would be surprising if you knew me, and I’ve already hatched plans to make some happen:
- Stop working. The most common answer works for me because as far as I still am from retirement, I can live for ten more years the way I want without additional income. I have adapted to a lifestyle where I can find joy at its low costs to buy very little besides life’s necessities.
- Stop cooking. I spend way too much time cooking my own meals when I don’t need to. I’ve always joked that if I won the lottery, the first “thing” I’d get is a chef. If I only had ten years left to live, I don’t need to win the lottery for that. I would just spend what people would spend on their food and drinks budget, maybe a few luxury gifts, on food I won’t have to cook.
- Reduce social media use even more. I’ve got Facebook well under control to post only once a week on my profile, filtering what other posts I get to see to limit my time so as to have to charge my phone only once every five nights. However, I’m currently doing an experiment to track new words and terms I learn through the year, posting it on Twitter as a “record”, for a few designer e-books, that it takes enough of my time that I can go back to doing without it after 2021.
- Run less. I do enjoy my running and harder training, but to be honest, I can live with a lot less running. I’ve cut it down dramatically in the past ten years already, but I can still cut it a lot more, only going for primarily inspirational runs rather than primarily exercise runs. The exercise will always be valuable, though, of course.
- Stop blogging. I enjoy the blogging but I’ve done enough of it to stop tomorrow and be proud of what I’ve done if I needed to. These writing exercises, I do them as the “bad writing” and “deliberate practice” I need to produce to improve, although I don’t intend for it to be “bad”. These writings aren’t the equivalent of the “morning pages” Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist’s Way. I do spend time to think and craft these pieces some, and feel really good about a few pieces already. I just hope some people can enjoy what could otherwise might be considered “wasted” effort.
How hard is this question to answer for you, and what are some of your answers?