The Action Corps

A Year to Live

Part One

I won’t ask what you’d do differently if you had a year to live. We’ve heard that question so much we no longer give it thought. I won’t even ask how much you’d pay to live another year. People get terminal news every day, and there’s often a price tag involved for a special operation or a new expensive drug.

No, I’m going to ask a different question. Although it’s similar to these other “what-if” questions, it has a different focus. And then later, I’m going to ask an even more important follow up.

Here’s the question: if you had a terminal condition that would take your life in a matter of days, and there was a way to extend your life for a year that had a very exorbitant cost attached to it, what would that year of life have to look like to be worth the price? Focus on what would make that year of life worth the price.

To understand the question more fully, let’s first discuss the price because you’re going to wonder. There’s no way to know what it will cost until after you’ve chosen how to live that last year. It may involve money, but it may just cost a limb. It may cost the life of a loved one, or a life prison sentence for an innocent person. The cost of living one more year might involve giving up one of your senses like sight or hearing. Or maybe your spouse would lose the house when you’re gone. You don’t know what the cost of that extra year is, so just focus on what kind of awesome life would outweigh any cost.

Before you begin to answer the question, let’s now consider how others might answer. That woman who lives down the street would find this news to be a great big relief. She would welcome an honorable, not-in-her-control exit. For this woman, the question of cost is moot—there’s no price so low that she would pay it. This would be her chance to get out—she won’t even consider this question.Tom, on the other hand, won’t consider my question, either, but only because there’s no price or condition he wouldn’t pay or agree to. Tom is mortally afraid of death, and he’ll cling to it regardless of any cost. Scott, on the other hand, is going to negotiate, or at least attempt to. He wants to know what the exact cost is and what circumstances apply to him, and what country he would live in, and how old would he be. For Scott, it’s all about getting someone else to describe that year before he’ll make the deal or pass.

Theresa also won’t play. She believes that life is all destiny, that we have no control, and it doesn’t matter what we do or want—some external force, be it God, fate, or the universe, dictates all the outcomes, even the choices we make. Theresa will stop reading right here and switch over to funny cat videos or spend time scrolling through Pinterest. Nothing is really in her control anyway.

Now it’s time for you to jot down some features of the year that would make that unknown
condition/price worth it. To restate, if you had a terminal condition that would take your life in a matter of days, and there was a way to extend your life for a year with an unspecified, exorbitant cost attached to it, what would that year of life have to look like to be worth a high cost? If you want this to be really worthwhile, I suggest you bookmark or save this page and close it up now. Actually write down a description of your life during that extra year. It doesn’t matter if you write it long-hand or in the Notes app on your phone. You can compose a narrative or list bullet-point descriptors. It can be only the most important qualities of that life, or every idea that occurs to you, then superseded by the next idea. The point in writing it down before moving to the second part of this is so that you can experience that year in just a small way. When we record ideas, thoughts, events, goals, or concepts, our subconscious mind experiences them or re-experiences them. Even if it’s only for a couple minutes, I want you to live that specific life that’s so worth any price or sacrifice.

It’ll be worth it! So stop now. If you have time to read the rest of this, you have time to imagine that life and come back later and finish.


Part Two

Statistically, about twenty percent of you actually stopped and wrote something down. And of the eighty percent who just kept reading, only twenty percent will take the time to go back and do the written portion of this exercise. I’ll address the remainder of this piece to those who continue to get something out of this.What did you write? What did you discover? What did you experience? Sue wrote about living in the mountains with clean air and trees—lots of trees. Dustin wrote about traveling all over the world and seeing cultures, landmarks, and countryside. Kerry wrote about spending time with her children, being heavily involved in their education, teaching them, training them, and having life-changing experiences with them. Peter wrote about training with a master for a year before obtaining his black belt in martial arts. Rick wrote about a year with no drugs or alcohol during which he became kind and dependable before meeting and marrying a woman he loved more than life itself, and then he built a successful company because now he had someone to support with it.You could have written anything you wanted. And I hope you did. You didn’t know the cost. You may have written about losing 100 pounds before training and running a marathon if that is something important to you. And if later you learned that the price for one more year were both your legs, you’d know that a year with legs would be non-negotiable. If you wrote that a year of teaching, writing, and sharing your faith would be worth nearly any cost, then you know you wouldn’t do it if you had to give up your spiritual connection.

I promised I’d follow up with a second question. It’s difficult to ask succinctly. Now that you have a glimpse of the life you’re willing to give nearly anything for, what is the price that’s stopping you from actually living that life? If you wanted connection and closeness with family, are you willing to sacrifice time or money? If you envisioned love and companionship, are you open to learning how to make yourself more lovable? If you wrote about financial success, are the costs of risk, failure, research, trial, and error too great?

Oftentimes, the cost involves paying a mentor or teacher, a coach or counselor. It might entail swallowing pride in asking a family member or friend for guidance. The best way for you to learn could be through a college degree or series of workshops. The point is, the price for living life the way you want usually involves learning from and following someone else.

Your ideal life is going to cost you dearly. No achievement or joy comes without a price. If you’re the type that wants a spectacular life handed to you, then your price is your self-sufficiency and self-respect. Is it worth it to you?

Look again at the ideal life you wrote about. What did it entail? Do you really want it? Are you going to pay the price? Or is avoiding the sacrifice more important than your ideal life?

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About the Author

Kevin is the director of The Center for Counseling, Recovery, & Growth in Torrance, California where he serves as therapist, receptionist, interior decorator, graphic designer, HR manager, light bulb changer, poet laureate, company spokesman, and CFO.

One Comment

  1. Pat Mothner Says :
    Posted on August 8, 2015 at 11:49 am

    I am reading this on my 65the birthday. I did write about my year. It reinforced many things, things that I can do and have begun doing, but can do with more dedication and urgency. It also challenged me. One thing, a long trip with my soon-to-be husband, seemed impossible financially. But it’s not. It would just have cost. It would mean declaring and living with a priority, and saying that other things that also cost money are not so important. Thank you for challenging me today, and making my Birth Day more meaningful.

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