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Leading Cause of Your Death

The leading cause of death according to the CDC is heart disease.   The leading cause of death to according to Denise Ryan is forgetting what makes you feel alive.

Like many of you, I worked hard last year.  I worked weekends and evenings, it was the biggest year I’ve had yet and I’m proud of it.  But when I look back in five years, will I remember it?  Will I remember the insights gained?  The proposals submitted?  The e-mails answered?

You know what I remember when I look back over the years?  Seeing a pride of lions in South Africa.  Standing in the coliseum in Rome.  Holding a koala in Australia.  Looking across the Badlands in South Dakota.  That’s when I feel alive – when I’m experiencing something new, seeing something amazing.  The truth is – that’s why I work so hard.  So I can do more of that.

But it’s easy not to do it.  It’s easy to buckle down and work harder.  To push for an even bigger year next year.  To postpone the adventure until my inbox is empty; I’ve caught up on my reading; and my website is optimized.  Sometimes I get so caught up in doing the practical, I forget to live.  Should I add that I’m wrapped pretty tight and am intensely competitive even if I’m only competing with myself?   Know thyself, people.  Know thyself.

If any of this resonates with you, this article may save your life.  I want you to take some time and consider each of these points.

Is what makes you strong, making you weak?  I’m pretty disciplined.  Now that I have my FitBit, I will hit the 10,000 steps a day goal unless my legs are broken.  (Notice I said legs plural, if one is broken I think I could still hop.)  I’m FAR from perfect, but I do pretty well in the discipline area.  Here’s the problem, if I take a two week vacation, that’s two weeks I’m not working.  That’s two weeks of income I’m giving up.  I may earn less than the previous year.  That seems a little bit like failure to me.  ARGH!

The discipline that can serve me so well is killing me.  I have to literally talk myself off the ledge.  So what if I make less money?  Making more is just an arbitrary goal I set for myself.   There’s no guarantee I’d book speeches on the days I’d plan to travel, so I might not be giving up income.  And finally, isn’t the point of working so hard, getting to have grand adventures?

What makes you strong?  Is it also making you weak?  Consider.

There will NEVER be the perfect time to live.  You know the excuses you make.  My current excuses have to do with ISIS and the refugee crisis.  I want to go to Greece.  I want to see the Acropolis, the ruins of Delphi, the gorgeous coast.  I didn’t go last year because the county was in such a financial crisis.  Well, well – look at it now.  Still having financial trouble, now swarmed with refugees.  Waiting has made things worse.  What if ISIS decides to start destroying history there?  What if I miss my chance to walk where Socrates walked?

What excuses are you making?  When do you think will be the perfect time?  How long do you want to stay on life support?

Please note that I’m using travel as my example.  Your sense of truly being alive may come from something else.  Google “peak experiences” – those are what I’m talking about.   I want you to have more of them; I want you to LIVE.

Living someone else’s life is just a slower death.  You can only be really alive when you are brave enough to be true to yourself.  For example, I hate bowling.  I do.  I think it’s mostly because wearing group shoes really creeps me out.  There’s also lame food in bowling alleys.  Every time I’ve gone it’s because I let someone guilt me into it.  “”It will be fun,” they say.  “We’re all going,” they say.  Every time bowling still sucks.  So now I just say no.  I won’t go.  I tell them to have fun.  I don’t care what they say; I will not be guilted into it.  Who said we have to do what other people want us to do?  Who said we need to compromise?   How will anyone learn who you are if you always do things you don’t really want to do?

I agree completely with Joseph Campbell’s advice to follow your bliss.   Anyone who wants you to give up your joy shouldn’t get to go on your journey with you.  And I have always believed that guilt is a bad reason to do anything.  Every time I’ve done something out of guilt and not out of joy, I’ve regretted it.  And I don’t want anyone ever to do anything for me out of guilt.  I’d rather spend a week alone in the hospital than have five people hovering around my sick bed wishing they could be out bowling.




Think about your own life.  I know you have done things out of guilt – put up ALL the Christmas decorations.  Visited your evil step mother.  Stayed home when you wanted to go out.  Gone out when you wanted to stay home.  How did you feel?  Did your actions save the world or just suck the life out of you?  If you’re like me, when I’m someplace out of joy, it’s obvious.  When I’m there out of guilt, it’s like the real me isn’t there at all.  (I’m hooked up to the monitors, but my spirit has left the building.)

Live to the point of tears.  You’re probably guessing I’m not a crier.   (I have to admit, I prefer to avoid things that make me sad – go figure.)  But there are some things that bring tears to my eyes – the Bellagio Fountains, Cirque du Soleil, the stars on a clear night, the Sistine Chapel.  Beauty, awe.

What makes you feel deeply?  How could you experience that more?

Imagine we are at the end of 2016 and I said to you, “What did you do this year that shows me who you are?”  What do you want to tell me?  Don’t just read these words – take a minute and come up with an answer.

Here’s what I want to tell you:  I spread my arms as wide as I could and grabbed all the life possible.   I walked in the shadows of Gods and great men in Greece.  I let tears run down my cheeks on Las Vegas Boulevard as I watched the Bellagio Fountains.   And I lived…..oh, how I lived.

Your turn.

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6 years ago

Hi Denise,
Powerful message, so many of get caught up in the past or the future, that we forget that all we have is the NOW…. NOW is the time to make things happen, NOW is the time do things you enjoy.

Thanks again

Katie Davis
6 years ago

Powerful poignant message, this reads like the words of sentiment for my plans for 2016….live my best life!! Thanks for writing and sharing! Love and hugs!

Jill Coy
6 years ago

This is an awesome message, and one that we need to read during the first month of every year! (But not because we feel guilty if we don’t read it! 🙂 I hit the big 60 during 2015, but that number neither limits nor defines me. And, as a five-year cancer survivor, I am very aware that the time is NOW to do whatever nourishes my soul and brings me joy! Thanks for reminding me to stay committed to joy, and true to myself.

David Madigan
6 years ago

WOW !! I’m thinking that this message is one of the best if not the BEST . I’m 80 now , and the phone continues to ring for Economic Development consulting . Our clients do not accept “advice” from our Hugo Boss Gucci shoe youngsters . Had a valve replacement last year [ a pig valve because I love NC BBQ so much] and I’m told good for another 20+ years . Best keep the same phone# and e-mail address !! Love ya and keep the messages coming .