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What Would You Say If You Had Only 5 Minutes Left To Live?

Mountain Jump

A friend emailed me recently saying that he had to give a five minute talk titled ‘What would you say if you had five minutes left to live?’ Wow! A difficult task indeed…

Here though is my attempt.

With just five minutes to live I would tidy up my past and (with a degree of hubris) attempt to share a few bits of advice for an imaginary, still-living version of myself.

It always seems a pity when people pass away with words unsaid and unfinished business. To leave people behind feeling resentful or hurt or confused. So using a couple of my remaining minutes for thank-yous, apologies and clearing up of any festering misunderstandings or brooding silences would be time well spent.

With just three unforgiving minutes to go I would turn to the future. And, I suspect, in those three minutes I would finally realise what a privilege it is to be alive. I would probably live those minutes as fully as I should have been living all the lazy, ungrateful, grumpy ones that I had wasted over my life. I think I have enough time for a short aside.

By chance I once came across the gravestone of Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon. On it was written this, “Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you cannot conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless…”

Now, with just two minutes to go, what advise would I pass on to an imaginary “me” who was not just about to die? Nothing here is particularly new or spectacular, but they are the things I wish I had done more of in order to make my life more full, more rounded, more worthwhile, and happier.

  • Life is precious. It is short. It is wonderful. It is fun. It is filled with limitless possibility.
  • Do good things for other people. You don’t have to do this all the time, for we are not saints. But do it more often than you have previously done. And you may be surprised how good it makes you feel.
  • Stop caring about stuff. With just one minute left before I die I cannot believe I wasted hours and days earning extra money to buy a bigger car, a bigger telly, and jeans with a fancy brand badge sewn onto them.
  • In all the spare time saved by not needing to buy expensive stuff I would encourage myself to spend more time outdoors, climbing up hills, sledging down them, jumping into rivers, walking the streets of my home town talking to people. Read more books, listen to more music, watch less lazy TV.
  • Laugh more, whinge less.
  • Run more, eat less.
  • Take time now and then to stop and watch the sunrise or set, watch the power of a summer thunderstorm, look up at the full moon, or kick your feet through a pile of crunchy autumn leaves. The world is a wild and beautiful place. And it is easy to forget that when we spend so much time indoors.
  • Don’t settle for “good enough”. Make your life as interesting, varied, exciting and challenging as possible. You will regret it if you do not.
  • Strive to live each minute as though you had but five more minutes to live.

And then, being English, I’md go and put the kettle on.

What Would You Say If You Had Only 5 Minutes Left To Live? Share your thoughts in the comments section…

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  1. Just about said it all Al. All I can add are the words a friend of mine has on her website.
    “Live, Love, Laugh like there’s no tomorrow, for one day you’ll be right!”

  2. Sambhram Patel Posted

    “And then, being English, I’d go and put the kettle on.”

    Nice One. 😀

  3. Lovely article. It made me pause for a moment.
    I then got up of my backside and away from this dam computer and went to cuddle my son who was quietly constructing a pretty amazing spaceship out of Lego and then went over to my daughter giggling her head of at Shrek & Donkey acting like lunatics.
    My wife wasn’t here so that’ll wait!
    Life is good and the smallest things seem to reset one’s mind.
    Thanks Al!

  4. As James Dean said ‘Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die today’! Awesome article Al : ).

  5. james harris Posted

    Should be “run more, so you can eat more”

  6. Mitch Stokes Posted

    This very good piece…. I don’t normally do comments but I’m in Las Vegas at the moment in a reflective mood looking down from my 33 floor room on the strip, watching all the “excess” going on and this article really got me thinking what the hell am I doing here !

    I would also say to an “imaginary” me…..simplify your life, get rid of needless possessions, concentrate on the here and now, find a job that is also your passion, take more risks, do more for others especially those close to me, be true to yourself, go out and see the “real” world, breathe life right to the last breath and make sure that when you die you are completely worn out.

    Oh and don’t bother going to Vegas, you won’t like it !!

    • I love the way blogs attract comments from across the world. This maybe my first one from Vegas. Thanks a lot!

      • Mitch Stokes Posted

        No worries….I’m on a round the world trip at the moment (took a sabbatical) and have been travelling since April last year with my partner and 18 month old baby girl (she was 8 months when we left the UK). Vegas was a convenient stop over before jumping in a Helicopter for the Grand Canyon……….. surprise surprise no wifi at the bottom of the Canyon otherwise I would have posted from there. great books by the way, I’ve read all 3 and found them inspiring….and the blogs which I regularly check out. When back in the UK in March I will get to one of your events Cheers Mitch

  7. Perhaps the ‘deferred pleasure’ strategy wasn’t so clever and really just procrastination in disguise.

    On the bright side though, no more Scotland Six Nations games to suffer :).

  8. This post stuck in my mind and actually created a welcome thought diversion. I have also thought hard about if this should be posted here or kept private since it gives away more about how I think than I would normally share this openly but there are two factors – it seems only fair since others have posted theirs and well … I might not get a 5 minute warning !!!!

    So what would I do ….

    A 2 minute look back …

    Probably about 30 seconds worth of apologies. Mainly to a small but significant number of people I hurt – never on purpose but my negligence and my lack of thought does not form an adequate excuse. In particular to anyone who made the mistake of trying to love me at a time my life was in total chaos. My marriage ended in the worst way possible and I accept my share of responsibility for that – I am truly sorry.

    The next 90 seconds would be to say thank you. To family & friends for the good times, the adventures, the madness, the support, the understanding, the forgiveness (see above for why that one is important), for inspiration, for guidance and generally for a life less ordinary.

    A 2 minute look forward …

    With the benefit of death looming it would be good to remind folks (and my future self) to acknowledge the good as you go through life since 5 minutes at the end is not nearly enough, do what you enjoy since you will be good at it, challenge things that “feel” wrong since they probably are wrong if you feel that way about them, highlight that attitude far outweighs skills when it comes to living (skills can be learned), wasted time is the greatest waste of all, look after the world around you since good planets are hard to find, embrace challenge and adventure since it will help you sleep better at night.

    The last 60 seconds …

    Tell my daughter to smile when she sees mountains – since, if given a choice that is where my spirit will be. Reassure folks that a life we no regrets is a good one and that I will keep them a seat by the fire (that assumes I am wrong on the mountain spirit option). Remind someone that I want my ashes tipped from the top of Crowberry Tower on the Buachaille Etive Mor (windy day preferred).

    And being Scottish …pour a last dram of the Usige Beathe, raise a toast the north wind, to absent friends then say “cheerio” !

  9. I doubt I would come even close to everything everyone has written here.

    With the shock of having only 5 minutes left I suspect automatic images of loved ones and scenes from my life would start flashing by.. my skin would flush both hot and cold… heart racing.. shortness of breath and if I were to think any racing thoughts at all it would be similar to “oh, oh… here we go!” as the darkness (or lightness) swept through me.

  10. J. Johnson Posted

    Hi. I found your site on Sunday and yesterday I started and finished reading your first book. I read your second book until I passed out in the wee hours of the night and I am look forward to diving back in when I get out of work. What an amazing life you have lead and your writing possesses a unique charm. I laughed and cried with you. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

    I don’t believe in thinking about the things I should have done in my 20’s, thus I am making BIG plans for the things that I will do in my 40’s! Gotta wait for the kiddos to go off to college before I can set out on any major excursions.

    If I had 5 minutes to live, I would give my kids big hugs and kisses and tell them how much I love them.

  11. Hamish Moffatt Posted

    “Strive to live each minute as though you had but five more minutes to live.”
    How many of us would ever go to work in that case? Some, but would the rubbish ever be collected or the office toilets ever cleaned?

  12. A fair point Hamish. Most of us have some constraints on our lives (working and cleaning being good examples) but equally most of us can choose how we fill the gaps …and that is where the real living occurs for me anyway.

  13. This kinda reminds me of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture! That’s pretty incredible viewing if have a spare hour.

    I’d probably say ‘See ya’… and go for a last walk.

  14. Thank you for interesting post. And theme. How often we left undone business and unsaid word? Only peoples who live full life don’t afraid of death. In such moment you feel that you have done everything you can and you won’t change anything
    For me – maybe I will call somebody just to hear his voice if he wouldn’t be near.

  15. I would call my mum and tell her I am sorry.

  16. I was looking for an answer to my interview question when i bumped this page.
    thank you for the lovely article and I enjoyed the comments.



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