At a conference this week, I had the good fortune to hear Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, give a talk Be a Laser, Not a Lighthouse. The ninety minutes were chock full of great advice, but Todd shared one of his own mantras that stuck out to me: “Die Empty.”
We avoid death like, well, the plague. More than not wanting to die ourselves, our culture doesn’t like to discuss death or even see others that are grieving death. For example, after my father died in the winter of 2010, I had a friend tell me only three weeks later that I had grieved long enough and needed to pull myself together. Nevertheless, chances are good that we will all walk through that gate–as Todd said, “the probability is hovering right around 100%.”
Throughout our lives, we dream universes of opportunity and spend our days acting them out. Our days are limited, so we are drawn to iconic commands carpe diem. “Sieze the day” makes a great movie line, but how often do we truly sieze the moment?
As Todd told the story, he told the story about talking with a colleague after a meeting, and the colleague asked him, “what is the most valuable piece of real estate?” Todd thought for a minute and responded “Manhattan, Dubai, Japan?” The colleague responded, “the cemetery…because that’s where all of the world’s best ideas and inspiration go to the grave.” Todd said at that moment he made a sign with only two words: Die Empty.
Immediately, I thought of a story from my childhood. Growing up in the 80’s I would beg and borrow for a few dollars when my parents went to the mall. I would steal away at the Aladdin Arcade and judiciously choose a few games in which I would invest my precious tokens. Carefully, I would select a few games to play and ultimately end up at the Skee Ball Game trying to get a better return on my investment, but three or four tokens seldom netted me more than a quarter’s worth of candy.
One time, my father was especially generous, and he gave me a five-dollar bill to spend at the arcade. I promptly went and changed the bill for tokens. If I remember correctly, I received 5 or 10 extra tokens for buying $5 worth–this was payday! I started out with my usual routine playing a few games, winning a few tickets and cashing the tickets in for some lower valued item, but rather than spend all of my tokens, I planned to “save” them for my next visit to Aladdin. Unfortunately, that day never came. In fact, when I took my bucket full of change to the bank earlier this year, in addition to my voucher I was given and handful of the now defunct tokens.
You see, the potential value of the tokens eroded over time. Likewise, our dreams have potential value in the moment, but they atrophy through our lives. So when Todd read his command, “DIE EMPTY,” it resonated through the chambers of not-yet-executed-dreams in my mind. Our time is finite, and we must cash in our dreams before they go to the grave.