In his teens, the late great Steve Jobs read a quote that would resonate with him for the rest of his life: "If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you'll most certainly be right."
In an address to Stanford's 2005 graduating class, Jobs explained why the quote held so much sway over his decisions, and he proposed that the concept of death can help guide us throughout our lives:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
While people have been offering up the "follow your heart" advice for ages, Jobs thankfully put a new (and much more useful) spin on it. For those of us with hearts that are a little harder to read than your average compass, the Apple co-founder suggested that you just need to pose the right question.
Ask Yourself a Tough Question
If it was the last day of your life, would you want to do what you're about to do?
Steve Jobs stood in the mirror and asked himself that very question every morning for nearly two decades. "Whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
Notice how he said "for too many days in a row." There will always be noes, because there will always be unpleasant things to deal with in your life. If it was the last day of your life, you probably wouldn't want to spend it going to jury duty -- but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go.
Instead of looking at your yes or no answer on a micro level, follow Jobs's approach by zooming out and looking at the larger trend. If you experience an entire month where your answer is no, for example, it might be time to look for a new job or career, or make a significant change.
Face Your Fear and Reap the Benefits
Before he departed, Jobs acknowledged that thinking about death can be hard -- especially when it's your own: "No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent."
While it's difficult to imagine leaving behind friends and family, Jobs pointed out that, by considering the idea of your own death, you can help ensure that you live your best life, here and now.
Follow his advice, ask yourself the difficult question, and start taking advantage of "life's change agent." When your time really does come, you'll be glad you did.