Stoic philosophy has gained unprecedented popularity as of late. Due mostly in part to these two gentlemen. If you don’t know the stoics and aren’t one for deep philosophical pondering of the world I recommend starting here. If you are I recommend starting here. Regardless of what you do, I highly recommend embracing stoicism. One of the major themes of stoicism is developing a love for life or everything that happens to you (amor fati). The sister theme of stoicism is to contemplate your own death (memento mori).
I would like to share my own relationship experience with embracing these principles and how they have enriched my own life. At the age of 21 I entered into Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School. I graduated the course in between my junior and senior year of college. Upon returning to the small school down the road from Yale, I took a course on “The Sociology of Death, Grief, and Bereavement.” We did ridiculous things in that course. We wrote last letters to loved ones. We re-enacted funerals. We studied the psychology of death. It was in my opinion something that best prepared me for life as a platoon commander and life in general.
While I was taking the course I was convinced I would be in Iraq or Afghanistan soon after college. That thought was a scary one. Mostly because I was sure I would quickly and frequently interact with death on a daily basis. More scary than the loss of my own life was contemplating the loss of life of a Marine under my charge. Yet I frequently contemplated in my own mind what it would mean should I die overseas. What would that do to the people who cared about me? What would it do to the legacy I desired to leave behind (#letsleavealegacy). In response I convinced myself that I would assuredly be dead by 30. I full-heartedly accepted this as my fait.
I cannot begin to describe to you what that has done for me in life. This past July I celebrated my 30th birthday. Today my wife and I announced that we are not only welcoming our second child into the McCarthy family, but it will also be a girl. Each and every day I practice the gratitude that comes with reminding yourself that you are living longer than you ever expected. Each day on this earth for me is a gift. Now, I am not in the slightest way, shape, or form, advocating for everyone to convince themselves that they will die within 10 years in the hope that they survive an appreciate life more as a result.
What I am advocating though, is that you do remind yourself. One day you will die. One day this world will end for you and nothing will be left but your memory. Many of us fear contemplating death. I promise, to do so opens up your mind to the greatest appreciation possible for the life you have on this earth. In a world full of instagrams convincing us we don’t have enough it is a truly miraculous thing to understand that soon, none of it will matter for anyone. This is not to further the argument that millennials should forget about their goals and quit their job to pursue their passions as a dude/chick living in a van traveling the world. More on that in another post, but this is to further the argument that we should appreciate our journey in life.
Take this story for an example of appreciating life while capturing your goals. Katrín Davíðsdóttir one of the fittest women in the world looked at her coach at the end of winning the Crossfit Games, and said, “I don’t feel any different.” He reminded her that happiness does not lie on the other side of achievement. It lies in the journey. Contemplating your own death is about appreciating the journey that is this life. Every day, moment, and second. Memento Mori.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.