Memento Mori (translated as “remember death”) is a powerful idea and practice. In this post, I make the case that it’s important to think not just about your death, but to clearly define what it means to be finished in whatever you set out to do.
We are mites on a marble floating in the endless void. Our lifespans are blinks in cosmic history. Furthermore, for many of us, our contributions are likely to be forgotten soon after we rejoin the earth, if not sooner.
This is great news.
Whenever I’m feeling nervous or embarrassed, I start to feel better when I realize that nobody in front of me is going to be alive 100 years from now, and I doubt that they’ll be telling their grandchildren about that time when Richard made a fool of himself, because I try to make a fool of myself often enough that it’s usually not worth telling people about.
Knowing that we are finite is also pretty motivating. I feel less resistance to starting new things. It doesn’t have to be perfect, in fact, it’s probably going to be average. However, it’s my journey, so it’s special to me, and I probably (hopefully?) learned and improved on the way.
It’s important to think about the ends of things, even when we don’t necessarily want things to end. Endings are as much a part of life as beginnings are, to think otherwise is delusion. Endings tend to have a reputation for being sad, but they don’t always have to be.
For example, some developers of open source software get stuck working on their projects for far longer than they expected. It’s unfortunate that creating something that people enjoy can turn into a source of grief and resentment.
Specifying an end of any endeavor is an important task. If no ‘end state’ is declared, it’s possible that a project will continue to take up time and effort, perpetually staying on the back-burner of things you have going on, draining you of resources until you are no longer able to start anything new.
Spending time thinking about what your finished project will look like sets a target for you to achieve, which is a point I’ll elaborate on very soon. This exercise, along with evaluating where you are currently on your path toward achieving your goal/finishing your project, are immensely useful for getting your brain to focus on the intermediate tasks that need to be finished in order to get to that idealized ‘end state’.
All in all, while it’s sometimes nice to simply wander, it’s important to acknowledge that you are always going somewhere, even when you think you’re standing still. You should be the one who decides where you go, not someone else.