Overcoming the fear of death

Leadership has many components to it. A good leader must have emotional, psychological and even spiritual maturity in order to inspire others and to lay a good path ahead.

The best leaders, and the ones best prepared for this century, will be those people who will have understood and overcome the fear of death.

Tall order, right?

Here are some things to think about, pieces of advice that have helped me overcome this fear:

(i) The fear you feel about death is not actually about death. That sounds a bit like a riddle, so I will break that down.

When most people feel afraid about death, they feel afraid because (i) death represents an unknown, (ii) it represents something outside of their control, (iii) they feel afraid of possible pain that might come with death, and/or (iv) it challenges a fiction that we are immortal, and have all the time in the world to live our lives.

When you break that down, it is clear that these things are not really about death. It is totally natural to fear those things that we don’t know or can’t control -- death included, but also other things in our lives that are like that.

And of course, it is natural to be afraid of pain, but death itself does not bring pain (death extinguishes life).

So when you really boil it down, what people are probably most afraid of is (iv): that thinking about death makes us remember that we are mortal.

And for many people, that is a really scary thing.

Thinking about our mortality, our impermanence, brings up deep questions about why we are here, what our purpose is, and what we hope to accomplish in this lifetime.

But don’t be afraid of those questions! Those are the questions we need to look at, and ultimately address.

Don’t be afraid if you feel your mortality. That fear is a good thing.

(ii) Live every day fully, as if it were your last. There is a real wisdom that comes from treating each day as a gift, and living it as if it were your last.

If you had knowledge that you would die soon (but didn’t know the actual day) how would your day-to-day behavior change?

When I adopted this mindset, my life changed practically overnight. I started prioritizing those things that I wanted to urgently accomplish before it was my time to go.

I stopped watching TV and minimized my phone time, as I immediately recognized these as time-wasters from seizing the day.

I reprioritized who was in my life, and why, because I realized that negative, draining people were really impacting my life in harmful ways.

These days, if there are things I want to say to people that I haven’t said yet -- then I say them. If there are things I want to try that I haven’t tried yet -- then I try them. And if there are goals that I haven’t prioritized yet that are important to me, then they become the focus of my day-to-day experience.

Living every day as if it were your last does not mean acting irresponsibly, or living behind problems for other people. Quite the opposite. From an ethical perspective, I think the worst thing a person can do is to leave behind problems when they die. So living every day as it if were your last encourages you to live responsibly and to ensure that when it is your time, the people who you leave behind will not feel cursed by your absence.

(iii) Think about death as a transformation, not as an ending. Death is all around us in Nature. We see animals and plants die practically every day. We read about death every day in the news. Yet somehow, life goes on.

I would challenge you to think about death not as a permanent ending, but as a transformation into another state. Nothing goes to waste in Nature, and things that are dead are ultimately recycled and reused to power the living.

Whether or not our consciousness goes somewhere else is a mystery that no one can answer. But whether our consciousness goes black, or whether it goes somewhere else, is a little besides the point. We know from our own observation that life and death are two sides of the same coin of existence. Death produces life and life produces death. We are part of that cycle as well. It’s useless to fear the inevitable. Rather, we should think about death as a teacher in helping us discover a deeper purpose and in achieving our Life’s Work.