One day you will die

Feb 08 2007 by Max McKeown Print This Article

It's a sobering thought that 56 million people die every year. They leave. And one day you will join them. Dead. Dead (like Marley) as a doornail.

I mention this because it seems to be one of a number of fundamental considerations that should guide the choices of each day - one of the others is that we are alive. The gap between the two is all we can count on. And we don't know how long that is until the end is very close.

What would happen if we were all more aware of our finite existence? Would we do it in the streets (as the Beatles sang)? Would work come to a stop? Would anyone care about the presentation to the board? Or the 360 appraisal? Would we come to the office energized? Or not come at all? Would the boss be told the truth about his failings to his face? Or would his weaknesses be forgotten in a Bono-style outpouring of redô love? (

My own death clock ( estimates that I have about 1,848,070,000 seconds left to live and will check-out on Wednesday, September 2, 2066.

Not bad although I am aiming to join the "120 Club", a Cuban organization founded by Fidel Castro, for those who are already more than 100 and want to live "to a seriously ripe age" including the recently departed Benito Martinez who reached at least 119 and claimed to be 126. A result, he claimed, of "no cigars or alcohol - but good food and a fair share of women." (here)

Avoiding death will require me to evade it's most common causes (here) which together account for nearly two thirds of all deaths in industrialized countries: heart disease (28.5%), cancer (22.8%), and Alzheimer's (14%) by refraining from tobacco, alcohol, fatty foods, and laziness.

If I can managed to creep beyond the century mark the most likely killer will be infection leading to pneumonia which gives credence to my suspicion of hospitals where more people die of infection than in all forms of accident e.g. cars, plans, boats, falls etc) and adoption of even a moderate vegetarian diet will add another 4 years to the total.

Accidents only account for 4% of deaths (or lifetime odd of one in 23)( here) with nearly half of these involving a motor vehicle many of which involve drivers falling asleep at the wheel (since I have done this twice, the lesson has now hopefully been learned) particularly if I drive an SUV (which is almost mandatory with four children) because if I am three times more likely to die if I rollover in one!

Fortunately I am not a taxi-driver, convenience store worker, or petrol station attendant because they lead the way for workplace murders (1 in 30,000, 1 in 45,000, and 1 in 60,000 respectively), nor am I frequent visitor to South Korea where drivers are 20 times more likely to be killed driving than in the UK or the US. Intriguingly - while we're on the subject - German drivers are more likely to die on the road than Italians, a blow to fondly held stereotypes.

Of course, it's worth saying that 120 years old (at death) would represent a dramatic step forward. Before the 'health transition' of the modern era (the introduction of sewers and near elimination of infant mortality) life expectancy was about 30 years although this mainly reflected the high levels of infant mortality rather than a difference in the ability of humankind to live longer (here). Hygiene plus diet and exercise largely determine the lifespan of a population.

All of which (along with the accompanying meditation on mortality) goes some way to explaining feigning of illness to avoid work. The so-called 'sickie" or "duvet day" puts work in its proper place - behind life as a means of providing resources, bolstering the ego and structuring time.

Each year in the UK, the (damnable) CIPD does battle with the unions (here) over how many of the 200 million sick days are lost due to fake illness each year (including national "sickie day") and how many are just honest employees battling to recover their health. The (predictable) CBI conducted a poll showing that firms estimate 15% of the sick days are not genuine at a supposed cost of a couple of billion pounds.

There are other possibilities aren't there? First of all, employees may be increasingly concerned about passing around viruses and germs - and so actually saving the company money. But even if you assume that 1 (or 15%) of the 7 days the average worker (who is he? How did he get through the application process?) takes off each year then perhaps it suggests overwork? Maybe a personal piece of business process reengineering to get the overscheduled, under-fulfilling day back? Or boredom, or unhelpful holiday scheduling? How do we know that they don't make the work back up when they get return?

Doesn't it seem better to take a day than blow-up or melt-down (like NASAs Nowak (here) 3 children, 13 days in space, has been charged with attempted murder of love rival or the guy that started Iraq war)?How do we know that over a working lifetime, taking 30 days to just do any old spontaneous thing isn't good for organizations who crave innovation? Or that it isn't just evidence of the rational man in action - deciding that all things considered life is too short not to grab a little back once a year?

There are only so many days and so much to do including figuring out what life is about (like this list of 25 including swimming with dolphins, seeing an active volcano, flying a jet, or walking the great Wall of China, or heading out on an African safari, (here). Maybe one day per person per year isn't nearly enough. After all - one day you will die, so you might as well live first.

more articles

About The Author

Max McKeown
Max McKeown

Max McKeown works as a strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world. He is a well-known speaker on subjects including innovation and competitive advantage. His latest book, #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now, was published in July 2016.