Death as an Advisor

When I was a teen, my dad and I were reading the books of Carlos Castaneda who wrote about his experiences with Don Juan of the Yaqui Indians. Decades later one of my friends told me the books were works of fiction. Well, if that’s true, I am glad I didn’t know back then. I learned a lot of philosophy from those books. One of the things that has stuck with me all these decades is the idea of using death as my advisor. Don Juan told Carlos that an immortal apprentice is the worst kind of student because they think they have all the time in the world to learn and do things so the student gets lazy and procrastinates.

My teacher Tom Brown Jr. of Trackerschool said that his teacher, Stalking Wolf (aka Grandfather of the Lipan Apaches), kept telling him that in two weeks he would be leaving to go back to his people. Because of this two week deadline, Tom and his friend Rick (who wanted to learn everything Grandfather knew) spent every moment after school and on weekends with Grandfather, doing their best to “suck all the knowledge out of his head” while they had the chance. Grandfather told them that story for 10 years. Grandfather knew that in order to push Tom and Rick to throw themselves into learning with passion, the boys needed to believe the time with their teacher was limited.

As I get older the reality of a limited lifetime looms larger in my mind. What do I still want to do? What do I want to share with the world?

I have a few books I would like to write. I have some artwork I want to create and offer. I have grandchildren I want to spend time with so they will always know how much they are loved my their grandmother.

Learning to plan for success from the perspective of death — or I could say from the perspective of my future successful self, really opens my eyes to the urgency needed to get me up off my laurels. If I am going to do every thing I want to do, and have everything I want to have, I am going to have to do it and give it myself. I can’t wait for someone else to do it for me or give it to me.

This past week I attended a goal setting class online with Teresa Haag, an amazing artist’s coach. She taught us how to plan for successful achievement of our goals by working backwards as we plan. Instead of just working, working, working, hoping that someday you’ll reach your goal, you imagine the person you want to be, and plan from the perspective of your future successful self. Teresa even had us draw a portrait of our future, wildly successful, selves, which could be symbolic or representational.

The future you is not afraid of the goals because future you has already accomplished them! Then Teresa had us break our goals down into pieces: first huge chunk could be lifetime goals. The next big chunks would be what I need to do each year or multiple years. After that, smaller chunks, like what I will need to do each month, week, and day. Then finally into very small specific chunks like what time of the day I will do this, and how much time each day.

This method reminds me of how a great cook plans a big meal. The end result must be envisioned first, then the preparation and cooking of each item of food needs to be planned for by planning backwards with the end result in mind. This way all parts of the meal are ready at the right time and at the right temperature..

By making death our advisor we plan the rest of our lives from the perspective of the end result. By knowing what we want to have done at the end, we can plan backwards with all the steps necessary to achieve our goals.

As I implemented Teresa’s teaching this week, I discovered how much time I actually have. When I don’t block out time for surfing the internet or watching TV, I wonder how I will fill the hours! By planning my year from an already finished perspective, blocking out time each day to reach my goal, I see how much time I actually have and how completely reachable my goals are. The only thing that could stop me from succeeding would be if I quit. I’m not going to quit.

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