If Today Were The Last Day Of Your Life…

by derek on May 10, 2007 · 18 comments

The last couple of days I have been working on my annual goals and personal development plan at work. Part of that process is re-evaluating my short-term and long-term career goals.
This afternoon I was chatting with my Dad about career goals and the differences between being passionate about your career versus simply having a job that provides for you and your family.
As we discussed various aspects of career planning, my Dad brought up a commencement address given by Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005. In that address, Jobs mentioned the following:

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Simply reading this passage from Jobs has given me a new perspective as I develop my career goals. Are my current goals something that would allow me to wake up each morning and answer “Yes” to this question or are they goals that were defined simply to satisfy the requirement of my development plan?
Unfortunately I do not really have a clear-cut answer to that question right now. As much as I enjoy the work that I do, lately I have been wondering if this is my true calling (or if I even believe in a *true calling*). If I were to discover that this is not my true calling or that I am answering Jobs’ question with a “No” too frequently, what course of action do I really have?
If today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today? If you said “No”, what do you think would need to change in order for that to be true? If you said “Yes”, what steps were necessary for you to get to that point?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Damien Riley May 10, 2007 at 11:41 pm

Great post. Very thought provoking.
My answer part A is: “yes” if I was to die I would want to be going to work tonmorrow.
My answer part B is: the steps necessary for me to get to that point . . . were:
1) Being open to trying teaching as a sub almost 10 years ago.
2) Being willing to jump into the job and learn as I go . . . being willing to change and admit wrong and get help when needed.
3) Defining why I am there. Not just “for the kids” but a mission statement. For me it is raising each kid one bar on the California Standards Test. Seeing them make progress is like food to a starving man.
I think universally (because how many teachers are going to read this?) the concept I would throw out there is that of setting a mission statement for what you do. Life’s a journey not a destination, but you can’t get by anyhow without a why (or something like that ;))

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derek May 11, 2007 at 12:33 am

Damien, thanks for sharing your feedback. It is quite thought provoking and I have to admit I’ve spent a considerable amount of time today thinking about it myself.
It sounds like you would fall into that category of people that are passionate about their career and you took a chance that paid off handsomely for you.
There have been a few chances that I have passed on over the years and others that I have taken, but I try to be very calculated about it as my wife and two kids are relying on my income to provide them food and shelter (among other things).
But I really like your suggestion of setting a mission statement for what you do.

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Stephen May 11, 2007 at 2:40 pm

I guess there’s always something better I could be doing, but I normally don’t even know what I’m having for lunch, let alone the rest of the day. A bit of X factor keeps things exciting IMHO. Now having said that, in the big picture, I love what I do. I just wish I started sooner.
However, if everyday was sitting at the beach with a laptop and a Corona, do I even need to answer that question? Now if only I could get someone to keep handing me beers as I consume them and keep shade on me 😉
If I died today, I could say that I died free…like a true Jaffa Warrior! (Sorry, I get geeky sometimes 😛 )

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derek May 11, 2007 at 4:13 pm

If you pay me well enough to continue supporting my family, I’ll hand you those beers and adjust the shade as long as I can help myself to the beer as well.

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Stephen May 13, 2007 at 7:08 pm

Question is, who would take care of your family if you’re plastered? Plus, if you’re hosed, you won’t be able to hold the umbrella straight 😀

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derek May 13, 2007 at 9:36 pm

Since you’d be paying me so well, I’d outsource the umbrella holding to cheaper labor! 😆

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Shawn Knight May 15, 2007 at 11:58 pm

While you’re paying folks… someone is gonna need to look after you to and make sure you don’t drown or somehow manage to bury yourself under all those empty bottles! Sign me up!

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Tejas May 16, 2007 at 3:47 am

My life has been on a stagnant note for a very long time. Unfortunately, I cannot change a lot about it [Long story..].
However, I have tried to learn many new things, and have been successful at a couple of them. To many it seems like not very exciting thing, or a wastage of time…but it does bring joy to me, as time I have plenty.
Often the answer is NO, but..every evening I kind of sum up a happy day I left behind.
–T

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derek May 16, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Tejas, try not to doubt yourself and continue to learn new things that interest you.
With a wife and kids to support, I often feel there is not a lot that I can change and it is true that I cannot just up and quit my job to pursue something, that doesn’t mean I have to sit still and not be proactively trying to find that ideal situation.
Here is to many more happy days for all.

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Tyler Ingram May 16, 2007 at 12:32 pm

If today was the last day for me to live, no I wouldn’t spend it here in front of the computer. I would go out and have fun. I’d call up one of my best friends and hang out with her all day long.. I’d drag her away!
But if i were to live every day like it were the last.. I would need to be rich I think to be able to enjoy the time 😉

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derek May 16, 2007 at 1:05 pm

That is the tricky part of this question…you need to have some balance because most people would want to live it up and have some real fun if they knew this was their last day. But I don’t think that is a realistic approach for every day living.
The balance is in finding work that you can be truly passionate about and enjoy to the point where you are living your dream on a daily basis.

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Tejas May 16, 2007 at 2:58 pm

As a matter of the fact, that’s exactly what I am trying to say. Despite there isn’t much I can change about the days, I am still happy..I still enjoy..and when I look back to the day spent..I deem it a very happy one! 🙂
So..my current situation may not be termed successful in general opinion, I refuse to consider it as a permanent halt and just a temporary transition period – which got prolonged a bit. 🙂
Thanks for the nice words..knowing that someone completely unknown is wishing you good, is always nice.
–T

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Programming Blog May 29, 2007 at 6:03 pm

I like that quote. I would listen to my favorite songs with my loved ones… nice post

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Zen August 8, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Definitely thought provoking isn’t it?
Zens last blog post..80 Things That Make Me Happy

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elizaveta@job search September 15, 2009 at 8:39 am

The article raises really interesting issues. But rather complicated ones, too. Hardly anyone can tell for sure they do what they really should. So, perhaps, we should work harder and do our job better and then our answer will be “yes” more often than “no”.

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