The Ultimate Challenge

Posted on January 6, 2015 by Robert Ringer

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An acquaintance of mine recently told me how depressing he thought it was that so many famous people passed away in 2014 — Robin Williams … Joe Cocker … Tony Gwynn … James Garner … Mickey Rooney … Shirley Temple … Joan Rivers … to name but a few. No question about it, when someone famous dies, it’s a harsh reminder of the swiftness and finality of death. And that, in turn, causes you to think seriously about your own mortality.

Death is not only an integral part of life, it’s the one absolute aspect of life that everyone can count on. In all of human history, no one — no matter how rich or famous — has managed to escape death. And since we cannot escape it, I try to look at it philosophically through a positive lens.

For example, without death, to what would we have to compare life? Death, after all, is what gives life its value. Just as we could not fully appreciate light without darkness, neither could we fully appreciate life without death.

Further, even though death appears to be the antithesis of life, is it possible that death has a meaning? No one can say with certainty, because the only thing certain about death is that it will make its appearance in everyone’s life. Attempting to understand death is not only frustrating, but distressing. So much so that Sigmund Freud believed death to be the chief source of anxiety.

Paradoxically, death, which is antilife, causes us to actually wonder about the meaning of life. Could there be such a thing as life after death? And, if so, what form does such life take? Or is death nothing more than a soulless, meaningless black hole of nothingness? Many claim to have seen the other side, and perhaps some have. But the reality is that such claims cannot be substantiated.

Another thought: Even if one’s accomplishments in life have had a major impact on the world he leaves behind, from his perspective after death, his earthly deeds become like the tree that falls in the forest. True, the rest of the human race is left behind to see and hear the fallen tree of the deceased, but he himself cannot. Or can he? The jury is still out on that one.

Finally, death is a reminder that no one escapes the inevitable, and that, no matter how positive we may be, we are powerless to alter certain events. We can, of course, stack the longevity odds in our favor by making good decisions, but longevity is not a replacement for immortality. Mortality is the default setting for all living things.

Now for the good news. We are the most remarkable collection of atoms in the world (and possibly the universe!), because we have the ability to reflect on our own existence. We also have the ability to make choices; i.e., we are not restricted to instinctive actions.

This includes choosing how to prepare for, and react to, the inevitable. In a world filled with more tragedy and uncertainty than ever before in human history, it is one of life’s great challenges to master this preparation.

From time to time, a harsh reality will, without warning, collide with our desires and our best-laid plans, and that is where a positive attitude can play a major role. By positive attitude, I’m not talking about trying to convince yourself that nothing bad will ever happen to you or your family, but to work on developing the strength and wisdom to handle bad things when they occur.

I said that mastering preparation for the inevitable is one of life’s great challenges, but it would probably be more accurate to say it is the ultimate challenge. I personally choose to look at death not as preparing to die, but preparing to live. How so? Because the best way to prepare for death is to put it out of your mind and become totally engrossed in living. If you can’t change something, why think about it, let alone being stressed over it? Why let it rob you of valuable time you could be investing in the joys of life?

A better idea is to focus your thoughts on how to live a full and meaningful life. You will find out soon enough what’s on the other side. An old Scottish proverb sums it up perfectly: Be happy while you are living, for you are a long time dead.

Robert Ringer

+Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

21 responses to “The Ultimate Challenge”

  1. Burt Dubin says:

    Right on Robert!

  2. Scott theczech says:

    Very encouraging indeed! Not only is this a reminder that life is precious and time valuable, it is also helps give me hope.

  3. Paul Anthony says:

    Mortality is humbling. We must face the fact that the universe can survive without us!
    The universe may be millions of years old, and it did okay for most of that time – before I was born.

  4. Paul L. Fruend says:

    Your article on death was one of the best I ever read, That's if you believe we all came from nothing. That we are all a soulless, meaningless, nothingless, that will go back to nothing, and that we really never did have a reason or purpose to live.

    I don't believe I am a body with a soul. I believe I am a soul, living only for a short time on earth, in a body.

    My real "Ultimate Challenge," and my focus is, where " me" (my soul) will spend eternity, which is for ever.

    Life is meaningful, it's man's "second" chance to spend eternity with the creater of everything. (The choice is ours.)
    Yes, we all have an expiration date, and I believe my choice is better, and I'm not a meaningless nobody without a purpose.
    Your example, "without death, to what would we have to compare life? Death, after all, it is what gives life its value. Just as we could not fully appreciate light without darkness, neither could we fully appreciate life without death." Just might be the the same reason our creator, created "Heaven" & "Hell."
    Looking at our world today, obviusly most people will not choose Haven.

    • Yes, I too believe that we are essentially SPIRIT temporarily living in a physical body for the purpose of learning and growth. EVOLUTION THROUGH INVOLUTION, ie, we evolve ourselves by involving ourselves on the material plane of being. Growth is what our lives "ought" to be about while alive in one's body. That, I BELIEVE, enables higher, better status in our more real life after physical death… our return to our TRUE HOME.

  5. PBottino says:

    My take away is the Scottish saying. Your last 4 or 5 blogs have disappointed me. They are too bland. I have purchased all your books – the first one being more than 40 years ago. The American Dream put fire into my soul. It inspired me to turn my life around, to pursue an education and to get smart. I wish your daily musings were more personal and passionate. I admire you so much! I feel you have so much more to give to us. Please, please find your passion and share with us. I look up to you. Thank you.

  6. Serge says:

    George Burns had engagements way past his 100th birthday, he had to stay alive, a real busy man. I believe he enjoyed his long life and his cigars too.

  7. Miriam miriam says:

    "Every life comes with a death sentence." Quote from tv show, Breaking Bad.

  8. Rick D'Amico says:

    One of the most accomplished media moguls once told me, "Life is tough, and then you die and the first 100 years in the ground is only the beginning." It's a quote I've had on my desk for some time. Thanks for refreshing the thought in my mind Robert. Time is slipping by!

  9. Of course there is a difference between KNOWING and BELIEF, but, our GROUNDS FOR BELIEF make the difference between superstition and rational thought. I "believe" in continued human life after physical death, and there IS evidence… quite apart from religion. And the same goes for reincarnation. Look, for example, to the work of the medium, John Edward. I am currently looking for an agent for my book manuscript, ONE THING FOR CERTAIN, and I discuss the inevitable at length. But, one must believe in the truth-value of extra-rational processes in order to do any close thinking, unlike close-minded non-thinking. Too many people simply lack depth and cannot travel far in the realm of thought. In a word, humanity is NOT very evolved. And therein lies the problems all humans experience. Materialism, unfortunately, inhibits human growth, and that is sad. If Money is your God, you probably will not grow deep.

  10. Mpho Rammusi says:

    Very thought provoking but I believe that the is a God (infinite intelligence) and when you die you go to either hell or heaven according to how you choose to live you life and spent your valuable precious time

  11. Robby Bonfire says:

    I don't put much stock in anything Sigmund Freud stated and believed, not after learning that he said that sex is the primary instinctive drive inherent in all people, when in fact it is survival which is our primary instinct.

  12. Robby Bonfire says:

    The best positive attitude toward the aging process inevitably leading us to death's door, for me, is to quote your age, if you are 40, as "20-twice," or if you are 54 as "27-twice," etc. I have been doing this for years, along with telling people that I am psychologically 30 years of age.

    My uncle in Fallbrook just turned 90. When we spoke on the phone on his birthday I congratulated him for being "45-twice," and I told him that there is nothing wrong with being 45, it's a wonderful age. I find that people really appreciate this psychological approach when you share it with them. Certainly makes you stand out from all the other birthday well-wishers.

  13. j-a-y-s-m-i-t-h says:

    The meaning of life seems to be inversely proportional to ones age. I contend that the last few moments have the least meaning.

  14. Maria says:

    LOVE is all there is. No time, no death. When we love unconditionally – purely, without reserve or hesitation – we not only become Love, we are Love. Love is the secret of longevity and immortality. LOVE IS LIFE on whatever side of the veil of illusion. Love, not death, is the ultimate truth and challenge. Dare to LOVE and LIVE!

  15. Liz says:

    When I was in my early 20s, I had a persistent anxiety about dying, along with wondering what was the good of life just to end, until one night as I was falling asleep the thought came to me that millions of people had already died and every living thing on the earth dies and that if they could do it, I could to. Silly, isn't it? But it fixed my anxiety.

  16. jame says:

    The meaning of life seems to be inversely proportional to ones age. I contend that the last few moments have the least meaning. click here

  17. jame says:

    LOVE is all there is. No time, no death. When we love unconditionally – purely, without reserve or hesitation – we not only become Love, we are Love. Love is the secret of longevity and immortality. LOVE IS LIFE on whatever side of the veil of illusion. Love, not death, is the ultimate truth and challenge. Dare to LOVE and LIVE!
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