This past weekend I watched a movie on Netflix called “One Week”, starring Joshua Jackson as the main character, Ben Tyler. Stunned by a sudden diagnosis of end-stage cancer, Ben mercilessly assesses his current life circumstances, impulsively buys a motorcycle and takes off on a cross-country solo trip.
The moment he heard the chilling words from his physician, Ben’s first two thoughts were: “I want to call off the wedding” and “I don’t want to go back to work”. Funny how an expiry date on your life can throw things into perspective.
I imagine most people wouldn’t want to spend their last weeks working. Still, if someone deeply loves what they do and the people they work with or serve, work could potentially figure into those last days in some form (assuming sufficient energy to do so, which applies to everything discussed here).
I wouldn’t want to spend my last days at a medical clinic (other than if forced to be a patient), but I’m quite sure I would be Facebooking and Tweeting to my community and would probably post an article or two sharing lessons learned and insights gained through such a profound experience. Maybe even a podcast… I love this work and could see myself doing it until my last breath.
Since I get paid to dance flamenco it counts as work, too…I’d probably throw a one-night flamenco juerga with my closest flamenco friends and mentors and favorite local musicians, dancing the most powerful Solea solo of my life, before heading off to a gathering of my closest friends and family on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
What about you? If you had a week left, would you go anywhere near the work you’re most involved in right now? What does that say to you?
What about the people in your life today? Are they people you would spend your precious time with if you knew you only had a week or two left? How would your life be different if you focused on prioritizing time for “last week of life” people?
In the movie, Ben had been going through the motions of a successful life and was engaged to a woman he was very fond of. After his diagnosis, he discovered he didn’t love her enough to spend his last days with her – not a very good sign for a future spouse.
In one scene the couple argues with spectacular Banff National Park as their backdrop. Ben explains to Samantha:
“It’s not about the cancer; it’s about the life I built for myself. Why am I over-insured? What do I care so much about being responsible all the time? Why do I give a $%&* about the appliances we’re putting into our kitchen?”
(Yes, I took notes during the movie – proof of how much I love this work)
Society conditions us to believe it’s about the house, the prestigious high-paying job, the granite countertops. Yet when a health crisis or other huge jolt comes along, suddenly the things many of us focus on or worry about or covet every day seem of no consequence at all.
As a strange coincidence (are there any coincidences, really?) almost exactly a year ago I had a brief breast cancer scare and posted my thoughts about how, if necessary, I might spend my last year. I now think that that exercise is less effective than focusing on how you’d spend your last week; the latter pushes you to get excruciatingly clear about the most important elements of life.
I asked my communities on both my personal and professional Facebook pages (www.facebook.com/drsusanbiali ) how they would spend their last week and was fascinated by the answers. Some examples:
– “ride a quarter horse, Grand Canyon by helicopter, watch several fave movies, 2 day party for family & friends at some very nice hotel in South France…Duomo & Medici Tombs Florence, Michelangelo’s Pieta, St Peter’s”
– “travel to Ireland and gallop across the countryside” (what is it about horses?)
-"I would reach out to people who are enduring specific challenges in life and give them the wisdom I have learned to take me as far as I have gone”
– “I would write letters to my children and spend every last breath with them – maybe even record videos for them”
– “I would try to right all my wrongs and make sure I spoke the words to everyone I love, so they wouldn’t have to question how I felt about them”
– “After making love to my husband often, making my son laugh over and over and breathing in everything amazing about him, and eating all the cheese fondue and chips and guacamole I could stomach, I’d write letters to people who have touched my life”
Do these inspire you? What would be on your list? Get out your journal, if you have one, and write it down.
At the end of the movie, the narrator comes into view and says:
“If you knew you had only one day, or one week, or one month to live, what life boat would you grab onto? What secret would you tell? What band would you see? What person would you declare your love to? What wish would you fulfill? What exotic locale would you fly to for coffee? What book would you write?”
Perhaps most importantly, what do your answers tell you about what you need to do in your life, today? I would love to hear your thoughts on this – please let me know by commenting below!
Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope I’ve helped you move closer to living a life you truly love!
Thank you, it’s really great that people are sharing this information.
🙁 I get very angry when reading posts like this. People seem to think having a week to live allows them to put their lives in “perspective” or find out “what’s really important.”
Buying a motorcycle and quitting your job are what you do when you don’t have to worry about consequences. It’s the exact stupid thinking teenagers use because they can’t grasp the idea that one day they’ll be old. And they’ll need the pension from that boring job and they’ll need the vested health insurance and they’ll need to save their money and not blow it on what makes them happy NOW. Being dead in a week means you won’t have to worry about the bills that come after, or how you’re going to get another job now that you’re laid off…and all those “unimportant” things we must be mindful of, because we have a lot more tomorrows than just fit into a week. I work a boring job because it paid off my debt, provides health insurance (which I desperately need) and is the only thing standing between me and working retail for the rest of my life. If I had a week to live, yes, it would give me the freedom to be impulsive and irresponsible. But perspective? That hopefully comes with being an adult, and knowing your life is not all about NOW. I seriously doubt your Ben Tyler ever really grew up.
Thanks very much for sharing your point of view and I absolutely understand where you’re coming from.
First, the whole point of the movie is to encourage people to think about how they’re living their life today (most of us, sadly, when we get to the last week, will probably not be in physical shape to go traveling). As a physician I deal with death firsthand and have spent time alongside deathbeds, a very difficult experience.
That said, if someone was about to die and said they wanted to ride a motorcycle somewhere (and were capable) I would never stop them.
As someone who writes about finding fulfilling work that you’re passionate about, I get emails from around the world, stories from people who have successfully switched out of unfulfilling careers and are very grateful that they have done so. Of course, this may not be an option, or even destiny, for everyone. And of course, having work period is always something to be very grateful for, especially in today’s climate.
I still work medicine part time, but thanks to the efforts I made pursuing my passions such as dance and self-development, I have multiple other income streams that protect me if something goes sideways with my ability to practice medicine.
It’s absolutely important for every individual to identify what’s best for them. In my work I never tell anyone to up and quit their job, that’s a very personal decision.
In fact, I’ve found that for many people I work with (coaching clients), when they pursue activities that they love outside of their workplace, they enjoy life so much more that they suddenly find themselves enjoying that “boring” job.
The purpose of this article was just to make you question your choices today, possibly your work but perhaps even more importantly who and what the things are that you value and miss most in your life.
If you realize that Uncle Joe would be at your “last week party” and you haven’t seen him in 10 years, and as a result you go visit him this summer, and then he dies next year, this last week “perspective” would be very worthwhile, no? That’s my point.
And I do think too many of us are working too hard for things that don’t truly add value to life, like granite countertops. I, for the record, don’t have any.
This issue isn’t black and white. In my opinion immature thinking is that which only sees either/or extremes – e.g. it’s either “throw everything away for today” or “work hard, don’t bother trying to enjoy life, be practical, and then die”.
I’d like to help people, each individual, find where the perfect balance between security and spontaneity is for them. No two people will be alike. But hopefully every single one of them will die with less regrets.
When I use my search engine to look for blogs to read yours has come up several times on different categories. That just made me want to read it more, I can see why. It is excellent. Keep up the awesome work.
I’m writing a book about the last week of a teenager’s life. For this, I found the information relevant and particularly inspiring for my protagonist. Thank you.
Hi Dr. Susan Biali,
I came across your website when searching for answer about how to deal with a not so happy relationship with a person I love dearly… I have been reading most of your blog posts since : )
Your posts are very informative and helpful.
If I only have a week to live… I want to spend time having dinner/lunch with family, friends, the man that i love, without talking about any negative things, to be happy and laugh together as much as we can.
my mind is filled with negative thoughts most of the time…i guess is a habit since childhood…and it runs in my family.. i guess…
i wanted to change this personality really bad because it obviously not working well to my life….
thank you Dr. Susan Biali for all the advice