What would you do if you knew you were going to die soon?

Jeff Harry
5 min readFeb 5, 2020


With the recent passing of Kobe Bryant, it made me ask myself:

What would I do if I knew I was going to die soon?

As my friend, Julie Stroud, eloquently said:

When someone young and famous like Kobe Bryant dies, our collective denial about the impermanence of life is cracked open. We have a momentary opportunity to see the preciousness of life and the inevitability of death as they truly are. While that window of consciousness is open, before the veil of denial descends again — as it will, I invite you to ask yourself about the choices you’d be making if you *knew* that not one moment of life is guaranteed.

We have a tendency to fall into a cycle of mourning. It starts with shock and sadness, followed by gaining a glimpse of understanding of how precious and fleeting life is. Then, depending on how close we are to the person that passed away, these feelings begin to dissipate. You find yourself going back to your every day life even while feeling off-kilter. Perhaps during it, you hear or even say platitudes like “you gotta make every day count,” or “just a reminder to live life to the fullest.” Rarely do we actually follow this advice.

What if during that “window of consciousness,” we asked ourselves the hard questions: What have I been putting off? What does a fulfilling life look like and am I pursuing this? What has this person passing away taught me about how I should live? So, I started a play thought experiment, posing the following question to myself:

What if I knew I was going to die within two weeks?

If I had only two weeks to live, I would quit my job, spend as much time with my family, friends, and close loved ones. I would contact anyone that I felt like I didn’t have closure with and tell them what I appreciated about the time we spent with each other. I would ask the people I’m closest to, to travel with me to a destination I’ve always wanted to go to. I would document what my hopes and dreams would be for this world, both in writing or video form. I’d create videos for future generations of my family to watch so they knew who I was. I’d eat all my favorite meals. Fill my day with as much play as possible. And just create great memories in my last two weeks on earth.

Then, I went a step further in my questioning:

What would I do if I knew I was going to die in the next year?

If I knew I was going to die in a year, I would care more about leaving an impact. I would see all of my friends face to face at least one more time and connect with anyone that I don’t have closure with. I’d do a bunch of my bucket list items: Visit Machu Picchu, do a TED Talk, fly in space, break a play world record, get married, travel across the entire world in less than 3 months, write something of value to share with the world, spend time with family and close loved ones, and try to create as many amazing memories before I have to go. I would document the entire year, either through writing or in video, so I could pass it along to future generations of my family hopefully passing on some wisdom I learned that could help them.

I started to notice how similar my answers were. I answered these questions below to see if that pattern would continue:

What would I do if I knew I was going to die in 10 years? How about in 50 Years?

I realized all the answers were relative. Frankly, when I read them back to myself, no matter how many times I rewrote the answers, I never felt satisfied. It had the same feeling of making a bucket list of adventures you feel one day you’ll get to, but deep inside you know you won’t.

While going through this experiment, my friend Angie Cole, pointed out a crucial pattern that I failed to notice. All of my answers were about doing. What would I do? The answers were about achieving or reaching some goal/destination. I wasn’t answering any questions about being.

The question of doing is fleeting and we are never fully satisfied simply doing. Whether I had 2 weeks, 1 year, 10 years, or 50 years, in each scenario, I didn’t have enough time to DO it all. There was always more TO DO. That makes sense as we all know people who pursue money that never feel they have enough. Others who pursue accolades/accomplishments, yet rarely are ever satisfied. Being is achievable. Not in the distance future, but right now. At every moment, you can decide how to be. And by simply being, a lot of doing can incidentally get done.

If you think of your favorite musicians, favorite sports players, what do you love? Do you love what they have achieved or do you fall in love with them for who they are and who they have chosen to be.

So what would I do if I knew I was going to die soon is an impossible question to answer in a fulfilling way. The question worth asking is:

How do I want to show up in the world today?

Then, I don’t need to focus on living my life to the fullest or making every day count. Why add that pressure? I can simply be.

So, how do I want to show up in the world today and every day, in a way that communicates how grateful I am to be alive?

I want to show up full of joy, fun, play, and carry a sense of gratitude and adventure each day. I want to see strangers as friends I haven’t met, challenge the BS status quo, and create indelible memories that bring smiles to people’s faces.

Now, that is a goal worth striving for.



Jeff Harry

Workplace Positive Psychology Play Whisperer / Helping Fortune 500 Companies Build Psychologically Safe Workspaces Through Positive Psychology & Play