You’re Going to Die: A Children’s Story

By Timothy Furstnau (2000). Film by Dennis Palazzolo and narrated by Vito Acconci.

One day, you’re going to die.

Your life will just end, right then and there. You will be no more.

It probably won’t be pretty like in the movies or in fairytales. Maybe something extraordinary will happen, but probably not. Sometimes people have enough energy to say or do something meaningful right before they die. And that’s nice. But that is uncommon. Usually, people just die.

And you’re going to die, too.

Some people will say nice things to make you feel comfortable before you die. Others will tell you wild stories that say you’re not actually going to die. But those people are only nice, not honest. Because you really are going to die.

There are many ways to think about dying, different stories to tell and different things to think dying is like.

But death happens to people on the same way, no matter which way they think about it.

Everyone dies and is no more.

Because we are so good at making up stories and believing them, you may even begin to experience dying in a way that may fit one of your stories.

And that is okay.

But then you’ll die and it won’t matter what story you had. When you die, you won’t be able to see if your story was right or not, because there will be no story and no person to believe or compare stories.

You will be dead.

You won’t go anywhere and you will not even stay in the same place, because there will be no “you”.

There won’t be anything and there won’t be even nothing, because you won’t be there to feel that there is nothing.

There won’t be forever because you won’t be there to feel there’s forever.

You will be dead.

And you won’t be able to think; “Gee, I’m dead”. Because you can’t even think or feel or be anything besides dead when you’re dead.

Death can happen at any time.

Sometimes little babies die. Sometimes mommies and daddies die. And when people get too old, after they have had lot of life, they die.

And you’re going to die, too.

Sometimes it hurts when you die, and other times people don’t feel a thing. We only know what people say and do right before they die.

After you die, you won’t feel anything. Not even pain.

But people who are still alive when you die might hurt because you are gone. And that is ok.

People love other people and it usually hurts when people we love die. We even comfort ourselves with those stories that the dead person is not really dead. And that is ok too.

But of course, everyone dies.

And you will, too.

When you say, “I want this” or “I feel this”, you are talking about yourself… You might think yourself different from the rest of the world or you might think you are just a little part of the world. But when you die, yourself dies and so does your view of the world. So you won’t have a world or a self or any thoughts about either because you just won’t exist.

When you die, you won’t feel sad anymore, you won’t worry anymore, you won’t care about anything, or want anything. You won’t even enjoy being dead, because you won’t be anything, only dead.

That is why you should love life.

There are lots of things in life that seem bad, but since life only happens once, and there is only one “you”, love life while you can. No matter what happens.

If you feel sad, at least you can feel sad. If you are worried, at least you can be worried. You exist. You are alive.

If you love life this way, when it comes time to die, you will be happy because death is the perfect end to life. Life is only good because death ends it.

So live and love life…

Because you don’t even know how, when or why, but since you’re alive…

You’re going to die.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

I am re-reading Max Weber’s classic sociological work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

The main thesis (as I remember it from grad school) is that the Enlightenment represented a splintering of Worldview such that traditionally shared belief systems about God, humans, and the role of human beings relative to the rest of nature could no longer be taken for granted. As a result, Protestants (guided by the notion of a ‘priesthood of all believers’) began searching for external validation of the extent to which their beliefs and actions were true and good. And the form that external validation took was the creation of wealth.

Fast forward to today, the effects of this shift are felt more than ever before. The proliferation of worldviews that has taken place since the Reformation is tremendous. Everyone is looking for validation. I believe that this need for external validation is at the root of how important social media has become since its invention. And it is most certainly this need for external validation that is responsible for most economic activity in the West.

We want meaning. We want to to be worthy of salvation. And we look for external rewards as a way of signaling in our value.

But all of these signals are ephemeral. The money I make today provides me with validation in the moment, but what about the next? The attention I get on social media provides me with the relief of approval now, but what about later?

We are all striving for evidence of our salvation, even if we don’t have a clear or shared conception of what salvation is. The popularity of super hero movies is a symptom of this widespread neurosis. We all want to be special. We all want to be chosen. We all want proof that ours is a life worth living.

The best and worst career advice I ever received

If you don’t wake up every morning feeling like you’re about to be fired, you’re doing something wrong.

I received this piece of advice from a mentor early in my career. It stuck.

What he meant to convey was that complacence does not breed success. A ‘fighting for your life’ mindset ensures productivity because you are constantly working to prove your value by adding value to the organization you serve.

This advice was accompanied by the following:

Change your job every two years.

Until recently I didn’t make the connection between these two pieces of advice. I assumed that the former was a mindset, and that the latter was simply a tactic for achieving rapid career progression (since it is usually easier to earn more pay and more title faster by changing employers rather than staying with the same one).

But the two pieces of advice are not unrelated. In fact, the former makes the latter NECESSARY.

Living in constant fear is emotionally exhausting. It’s hard work waking up every morning hoping that you’ll prove your worth, and going to sleep each night (if you CAN sleep) questioning whether your efforts have been enough.

Living in constant fear of failure is also incredibly damaging to work relationships. It means holding others to the same impossible standards to which you hold yourself. It leads to a lack of empathy as results trump all else. And it leads to a micro-management leadership style that stifles innovation on the part of others.

If I’m fighting for my life, I’m going to do everything I can to remove risk associated with reliance on others. Fear leads to a command and control approach to leadership that we have come to learn is actually pretty ineffective.

After about two years of living in fear at an organization, you are going to hit a wall. You’re going to burn out. More than that, you’re going to burn others out as well.

After two years, you’re exhausted and in desperate need of a reset. And the fear of being fired has built up to the point that you are CERTAIN that it’ll happen any day now, and so you take things into your own hands. You start planning your next move.

And after two years, you’ve done so much damage to your relationships with colleagues and burned so many bridges that any future you once felt you had now feels foreclosed.

So every two years you change jobs. And every two years that change in jobs comes with a better job title and bigger salary. My mentor’s advice pays off. But it’s also toxic and unsustainable.

How do you break the cycle?

First, stop doing that. Recognize that the toxic effects of your fear of being fired are actually making it MORE LIKELY that you will be fired. Not because of poor performance, but because you have become cancerous: hyper-productive individually but at the expense of the health of those around you and of your organization as a whole. At some point the only way for an organization to preserve itself is to excise you.

At the end of the day, you don’t have control over your destiny at a business. What you DO have control over is the extent to which your behavior is harmful, and the extent to which you are likely to be fired because you’re an ass hole.

Second, rethink your role. Is your purpose to preserve yourself? Or is it to support the overall health of your organization? By rethinking your role in terms of the latter, you create a space of empathy. You become concerned with the interests and feelings of others. You listen rather than barking orders. and you become invested in the success of others as the NUMBER ONE measure of your own success.