“How shall we live?” is a challenging question. But an interesting variation is to ask: What kind of person do you want to be when you die?
When I think about the kind of person I want to be when I die, the question that is most pressing to me is this: Did I do my best?
To me this means two things: 1) Given my current strengths and weaknesses, knowledge and skills, and internal and external resources, do I consider myself at this moment to be the best human being I am capable of being? 2) Am I making the best contribution I am capable of making with my life?
Those two questions have helped me handle the mortality conundrum. They account for the possibility that I could die at any time and for the fact that much of life is outside my control. I feel I can die at peace with myself if I can answer yes to these questions.
Whenever my life reaches the point where I cannot honestly answer yes to both questions, I know I’m off track. And by probing into why I fail these tests, it becomes clear to me what I must change in order to restore the yes.
Whenever I can answer yes, I know I am at peace with the possibility of death at any time. And to me this translates into a feeling of being at peace with life itself.
At this particular moment, I feel I can honestly answer yes. But I also know that at many times in the past I’ve had to answer no. And most likely at some point in the future, I’ll find myself again answering no. When that happens I will have lost my sense of peace and will once again need to summon the courage necessary to regain it.
“Doing your best” is not a static destination. It’s an ongoing journey. Sometimes you’ll lose the path on your own. Other times you’ll be thrown from the path by forces outside your control. Either way it can be difficult to return to the what you feel is your very best path, especially if you’ve been away from it for so long.
In any situation the greatest good you can do is your best. I believe that when you know you are doing your best, regardless of what happens to you that is beyond your control, you will be able to retain a pervasive sense of inner peace. You can ask for nothing more than to be doing your very best at this particular moment in time. If you have that, you want for nothing. And if you want for nothing, the natural consequence is peace.