Five Years To Live

What would you do if you only had five years left to live?

Obviously, this is a question we don’t like to think about.

It’s dark.


And it forces us to examine our lives in hard, often painful, ways.

But it’s also an extremely clarifying question – if we allow it – because it cuts right to the core of what’s most important.

I’ve been asking students in my courses to freewrite on this topic for years, but I received an email recently that had me second-guessing this approach.

“Your assignment was extremely emotional for me,” she wrote. “It cuts a little too close to home.”

Upon further probing, I discovered this student had just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer.

This also cuts close to home.

When my mother was diagnosed, the question became not-so-hypothetical for her either.

“Evenings are the worst,” she told me, “because it’s quiet and all I do is think.”

And yet…this thinking has caused her to be more selective about how she spends her time.

More intentional.

More affectionate.

It’s easy to see that my mother is – quite literally – demonstrating the point of the exercise.

So maybe it’s a good one after all.

Because when it comes right down to it, we really can be scared straight.

Therefore, even though it’s hard, I’m going to keep asking you:

What would you do if you only had five years to live?

Because you can do more of that.

Starting now.


P.S. I’m sharing my own freewrite with you below. The words in bold are things I’m focusing on at the moment, which allows me to hone in on pieces without becoming overwhelmed. As you answer this question for yourself, please share your thoughts with me. I’d love to support you on your journey. Xo


If I only had five years to live, I would kiss my boys every second. I would create journals and videos for them, writing down or recording something I’d learned or something I was grateful for each day. I would set aside special time for this every evening, knowing that through my words I would still be around in spirit to guide my sons – and they would know I was able to find gratitude and happiness to the end.

I would travel with my husband, spending time with him alone drinking wine and making elaborate, from-scratch dinners like we used to do as newlyweds. I would finish all of the photo albums, collecting the stacks of random pictures throughout our house and in our computers and pull them into a beautiful collage of our life together. I would have all of the “unfinished” conversations with my extended family, letting them know how much I appreciate them and have learned from their examples.

I would take walks in the woods and travel to sacred places around the world.

I would pray, drink fabulous green juices, read amazing books, and continue to write each day, never allowing my condition to be an excuse to give up. I would savor everything – especially hugs, coffee, holidays, nature, and fireplaces – taking regular conscious pauses to be mindful in the moment. I would take more fantastic road trips with my best friends. I would volunteer. I would speak with courage. I would send more handwritten thank yous and remind myself constantly that the end is not the end.