❝For it matters not, how much we own - the cars...the house...the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.❞ -Linda Ellis
When was the last time you were in a cemetery? If you’re like most people, it was at the last funeral you attended. But perhaps you were there visiting a late loved one. Or maybe you just like to take leisurely strolls through graveyards. Whatever the reason, you may have noticed tombstones with two dates separated by a dash.
The first date is the date the person was born. The second date is the date the person died. This you probably knew. What you might not know is the symbol in between the two dates, the dash, is the most important part.
All people in the cemeteries have dashes; they have stories. Hopefully, many of the stories still live on with their loved ones. And, like all good stories, they came to an end.
Your story, on the other hand, hasn’t been entirely told. You are still living your dash. You still have a story left to live.
Most people want their dash to be meaningful. Some people, like Viktor Frankl, claim that people's most important drive is toward meaning. We can pursue meaningful lives by focusing on the three components of meaningful living defined by Michael Steger.
The first is a sense of purpose. This is having something to do with your time that matters. It’s a motivational aspect of meaningful living that gives you something to aim for.
The second is a sense of coherence. This is having a life that makes sense. It’s difficult to feel that life is meaningful if nothing is predictable and everything is chaotic. Understanding your life story, including your money story, will help build your sense of coherence.
At the intersection of these three components is a meaningful life; it’s your meaningful dash.
Unfortunately, many people reach the end of their lives and feel like they misspent their dash. Bronnie Ware has defined five regrets that tend to be the most common regrets people experience on their deathbeds. She wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying to bring awareness to these regrets so people don’t have to wait until their deathbeds to reorient their lives.
The most common regret people had at the end of their lives was that they didn’t live a life that was true to themselves and instead lived a life that was expected of them. In other words, they did what they were supposed to do. They conformed.
Another way to say this is that they didn’t live a life that aligned with their values.
The second most common regret is that people worked too much or too hard. These people may have achieved financial success, status, and power. And yet they often found themselves without the time nor energy to enjoy their success.
The third most common regret people experienced was not expressing themselves. They had things to say but kept quiet. Perhaps they didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or cause any trouble. Or perhaps there was a fear of being fired or canceled. Nonetheless, when they reached the end of their lives, they wish they had made their opinions known.
The fourth most common regret people experienced on their deathbed was that they lost touch with their friends and family members. Humans are social creatures, and social connection is a primary psychological need for us. Losing touch with our friends starts out innocently enough. Life happens. We get busy. Yet we always think there will be more time to connect with people in the future. Until there isn’t.
The fifth most common regret people experienced was that they didn’t allow themselves to be happier. Sometimes this means they didn’t realize that happiness was a choice. Other times people put off their happiness until they reached some goal. And yet when they made their happiness contingent on achieving a goal, they always found there was another goal to achieve before they could finally be happy.
WHAT YOUR DASH REPRESENTS
You now have an advantage. You understand that you control more of your dash than you think you do. Further, you understand the most common ways people wish they wouldn't have spent their dashes if they could do it over again.
This allows you to learn what is most important to you and what brings you a sense of meaning and joy. Because nobody gets to their deathbed wishing they spent more time with their money or regretting not buying more crap.
Imagine yourself, after having lived a long, meaningful life, being able to say to yourself, “I did it!”
What do you want to be able to say that about?
MONEY IS A TOOL
Once you know what you want out of life, you can start to view money as simply money. Money is nothing more than a tool. It’s an important tool you need to know how to take care of and handle, but it’s just a tool.
This helps break from the idea that money is a goal.
If you view money as a goal and your main purpose in life is to collect money, you get to the end of your life with a lot of money but no time left to enjoy it.
Everyone’s dash will come to an end and we will someday meet the Grim Reaper.
And the capital-T Truth is that the Reaper doesn’t care how much money you have. The Reaper doesn’t care how important you were. The Reaper doesn't care how successful you were.
You can’t take it with you.
This is what is at the heart of most of the top regrets; prioritizing the wrong things during your dash.
In case you are wondering, this is not an excuse to live only for today and pay no attention to tomorrow. There are future versions of you that are dependent on what you do today. Thus, it’s important to strike a balance between living for today and living for tomorrow.
It’s uncomfortable, and some argue risky, to run out of money while you still have a lot of time left.
Enjoying today while preparing for tomorrow is critical.
The most important symbol on the tombstone is the dash.
How do you want to use your dash? How do you want others to view your dash?
You get one life; live intentionally.
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References and Influences
Adams, Scott: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Ariely, Dan: Predictably Irrational
Ariely, Dan & Jeff Kreisler: Dollars and Sense
Barker, Dan: Life Driven Purpose
Baumeister, Roy: Meanings in Life
Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks
Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote
Ellis, Linda: "The Dash"
Glasgow, Joshua: The Solace
Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Irvine, William: Guide to the Good Life
Irvine, William: A Slap in the Face
McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose
Newcomb, Sarah: Loaded
PositivePsychology.com: Meaning and Valued Living Masterclass
Sinek, Simon, David Mead & Peter Docker: Find Your Why
Sivers, Derek: Hell Yeah or No
Sivers, Derek: How to Live
Steger, Michael & Pninit Russo-Netzer: Meaning360
Vos, Joel: Meaning in Life
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Whelan, Christine: The Big Picture
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.