If it’s true your life flashes before your eyes just before you die, what follows in that first moment after death?
Statistically, it’s possible nothing follows. Your consciousness ends. It’s all over for the sentient being that is you.
Statistically, it’s also possible something follows, and the sentient being that is you somehow continues to exist. And maybe your whole life replays just before death because in the first moment after it the person you became meets the person you could have become.
Depending on how you’ve been living your life, that can be an unpleasant thought. I’ve been living my dream life of cupcakes and conquest, and this thought experiment still scares me. All I know is that at the end of my time here, I’d like to feel Mae West’s “enough”: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
How do we make once enough? This might be one of those questions that leads to better questions. Or maybe the answer after a lifetime of inquiry remains “I don’t know.” Pre-lifetime-of-inquiry, I definitely don’t know. I suspect though it involves a lot of no: of both saying no and having no said to you.
Dickens once wrote when rejecting an invitation from a friend:
‘It is only half an hour’–‘It is only an afternoon’–‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes–or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day… Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.
He wasn’t alone. White declined an invitation to join a committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower with a thank you and a joke: “I must decline, for secret reasons.”
I say no a lot. I say no to invitations, to offers, to work that takes up time but doesn’t get me closer to my dreams; in short, I say no to anything I wouldn’t want to be mid-doing if it became the last thing I did. If my answer to a dinner invitation, project collaboration, or client request is not an unqualified, enthusiastic, have-to-do-it yes, I say no.
This position is a privileged one: I’m an immigrant with parents who came to the US and had to start from scratch; they couldn’t say no, so that I, in time, could. They showed me that fortunes can be made, lost, made again, and lost again, but that time is always more valuable. In the hierarchy of precious objects, it’s to me the most precious. Lost time is lost. It can’t be made up or made again.
Saying no, and saying it often might be one of the most important things you can do for your dreams. We all have far less time than we think, and we need more of it than we know. This adage is especially true for anyone committed to creating, building, solving, or living.