The Terrifying Question We Should All Ask Ourselves

terrifying question

I started out very excited about this job. After living and searching for work in Antalya, Turkey for 6 months, including 2 months as an English teacher to children, the opportunity of working for an American company while in Turkey was all I hoped for. Maybe the pay was only $1800/month, but after the exchange rate, this put me in the top 10% of earners in my city. I made 4x the amount of money my fiancée did working almost half the hours. I should have been happy.

I wasn’t.

The first three weeks were exciting. Learning about new products, sales procedures, getting to know the other new starts in my class; all things I truly loved. The job itself was a work-from-home customer service position and I didn’t mind the work. The people calling in were by and large friendly, the company benefits were decent, and the hours were not bad either. Even so, every day I had to drag myself to my desk and start the day.

It wasn’t that I was unhappy in my job; I just wasn’t happy.

This may seem like a small distinction to you, and for a long time, it was a small distinction for me as well. Then, I had a horrible, terrible thought pop into my head which changed the direction of my life forever.

While waiting for my next call to come through, I was suddenly struck by the words “If I were to die tomorrow, is this how I want to spend my last night on Earth?”

I didn’t want to answer that question. I didn’t want to think about that question. I most certainly didn’t want to act on that question.

Still, the thought wouldn’t leave me.

Worse, neither would the answer: NO.

I knew if this were my last night on Earth, I was most definitely not doing what I wanted to do. I made a radical decision (somewhat rash, looking back on it) to quit my job. The last call I took for the day resulted in a huge sale, my first at this company and the largest out of my training class.

On my lunch break, I called my fiancee and our conversation went something like this:

  • Me: “Hello my love.  How are you?”
  • Her: “I’m good.  How’s work?”
  • Me: “Oh, it’s going well.  I just closed my first sale.”
  • Her: “That’s great baby!”
  • Me: “Yeah.  I’m going to quit after my lunch break is over.”
  • Her: “…”
  • Me: “You there?”
  • Her: “Why are you quitting?  You worked so hard to get this job!  You had to fly back to America to get this job!   Do you have another job lined up?  What will we do for money?”
  • Me: “Sweetheart, do you believe I am capable of more than what this job requires of me?”
  • Her: “Well, yes, I think you can do anything.”
  • Me: “If today was my last night on Earth, is this how I should spend it?”
  • Her: “No, you should do something you love.”
  • Me: “Am I guaranteed a tomorrow?”
  • Her: “No, you don’t have any guarantees.”
  • Me: “I don’t think I do either.  From now on, I’m going to do what I love and we’ll figure out a way to pay our bills at the same time.  Do you believe you and I can do this together?”
  • Her: (after a long silence while she thinks) “Yes, I think you and I can do anything we set our minds to.”
  • Me: “I love you and I’ll see you soon.”

That was it.  One question and a short conversation later, I quit my job and started doing what I love.  At that point I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted more.

I started thinking about all the things I do for fun, and what I could do all day and never get bored. I realized I loved helping people reach personal and professional goals. I also love to write and exchange ideas. This led me to where I am today, speaking to you about the question which changed my life (and earning a living by doing so ;) ).

It would be a lie to tell you the past year hasn’t been difficult. Building my business was, and continues to be, the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced. Even so, given the opportunity, I would do the same thing all over again. I wake up every day doing what I love, and it’s all because I asked myself that one terrifying question.

So, if I may ask you a personal question: If today were your last day on Earth, would you have spent it doing what you love?

I’d love to hear from those who are, and from those who would like to in the near future, in the comment section below.

Photo by I .. C .. U

54 thoughts on “The Terrifying Question We Should All Ask Ourselves”

  1. I’m all for finding happiness at work, and finding jobs to match your skills and abilities, but the truth is there’s an economy out there, and our power to change how it works is quite small. Yes, there are wonderful opportunities, and by all means, go and grab them! But remember also, we need people to be janitors, bus drivers, shop assistants, etc. for society to function, and there’s not a perfect match of jobs available compared to the dreams of the people who need jobs.

    Perhaps what’s just as important is learning to be happy in the present moment, in the jobs we already have. I’d love to read stories from people who find joy in the little things, in mopping floors, or cleaning toilets, or chopping carrots, and their tips on how to do that.

    I’m curious to know: what did you do when you started doing what you love?

    1. David – Yes, people can learn to find joy in accomplishing little things. Years ago a friend of mine was a janitor on the night shift at a hospital. He told me that he and his partner seemed to have very different attitudes. He worked diligently and cheerfully and felt pretty good most of the time, while his partner was always disgruntled and watching the clock. One night my friend realized what the difference was. His partner was just mopping the floor. My friend was sanitizing a hospital. Just a shift in the point of view made all the difference in the level of satisfaction.

      1. Thanks for this story, Rosemary. Finding meaning and purpose in your work is so important. I also think there can be an innate joy in simply being present to what you are doing at that moment.

    2. Hi David (and Rosemary and Cecilia),

      To answer your first question, I began coaching people on how to transition to living overseas, something I had a lot of experience in. Then, I moved into general life-coaching with a specialty on finding fulfilling careers. I also wrote my first book “10 Days To Your Magic Life,” which is available on Amazon. It was a struggle at first to make ends meet, but I’ve done it.

      As far as your comment on the “economy,” I don’t believe we are as bad as people think. I help people get jobs every day. There are no shortages of interesting opportunities out there for people who know how to look. I feel the problem is more in the person’s view of their own chances and how willing they are to get help. Not many people are willing to do this, which is why there are so many great opportunities out there for those who do.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, David.

      God Bless,
      Trent

  2. Thank you very much for this clear inspiring article. Is there a way I can contact you personally to ask you a few questions?
    Thanks a million in advance.
    Zeina

  3. Trent I have just gone through the same process myself so can empathize with you entirely. It is scary, yet it is so freeing at the same time. I like your question and will remember to use it myself, it is an important one and deserve contemplation!

  4. This is a thought provoking article that really calls us to action to think through what’s really important in our lives. However i agree with David Masters that we need to learn how to be happy in the present moment doing whatever we’re doing. As an immigrant to the USA, I recall my earlier years working all kinds of jobs such as mopping floors, bussing tables, washing dishes, being a home health aid, security guard, etc. My co-workers used to wonder if I was on drugs because I’d show up with a happy positive attitude regardless of whatever was going on. That was only possible because I never defined myself by what I did for a living at any given time; rather I defined myself by HOW I did what I did for a living.

    When I was a security guard, a visitor once observed that he noticed my uniform was clean and pressed, compared to the others who looked like they had slept in their uniforms the previous night. That doesn’t mean I was self-satisfied with my station in life at the time. I still aspired to do bigger and better things, the stuff I truly loved. So the two viewpoints – that of Trent and David – are both valid based on my experience; we need to learn to be happy in the moment, but we also need to ask the tough questions of ourselves, are we really doing what we love? If the answer is no, we ought to come up with a plan to change that. Not everyone can just up and leave a job, the economy (and a person’s skill set) may not necessarily allow for a seamless a transition. But at least begin the process of drawing up a plan of action to move you to that next level. It might mean upgrading your skill set, or even starting anew elsewhere, at the bottom.

    Either way, ask yourself the tough, terrifying questions…

    1. mahavir nautiyal

      Very pragmatic response, Walter. It is a great attitude to be happy with what one is doing at present yet keep aspiring and working to do something better what one loves to do. One should not be like a water pond but a flowing river. The former stagnates and the letter rejuvenates itself by being in the flow.

  5. TheLovelyLamp

    Your story was very interesting :). I still want to know a bit more though, you said you are doing what you love now, but what is it that you are doing? It feels a bit like a cliffhanger. :P

      1. Wow, quite a thread here and some great thoughts. Thank you all for taking the time to read a little of my story.

        Walter, I agree, being present and happy where you are is important. I think the important thing is to ask the question and then ACT on the answer you get.

        When I quit the job, my life didn’t become an easy street where I sat at home all day grinning at the wall. I worked harder than I ever have in my life to get my business up and running. The difference was I worked for something which held great value for me, and not just for a paycheck.

        Too many people settle for something “stable” which they don’t like just to buy stuff they don’t need and they are never really satisfied. It’s a downward spiral. I got out of that and I am much happier with my life. I want to help others do the same.

        TheLovelyLamp, I’m a life coach specializing in helping young professionals have amazing careers they love. It took me about 8 months to really get into this niche and I love it. I am not a freelance writer, though I have written one book :).

        Who doesn’t love a good cliffhanger? ;)

  6. If today was my last day on earth would it have been spent doing something I love?

    Partially it would have been. The other part not so much. I am in school for the wrong reasons. Society wants me to, parents want me to, and I had a really bad drug trip and I promised God–even though im agnostic– that if he got me out of I’d go back to school. He got me out of it and so I went back to school.

    I’m not happy in school. I love to learn, but I’d rather learn what I want to learn.

    Hopefully some day I can get to where if it was my last day on earth I would spend the whole day being able to do stuff I love.

    Thanks for the post.

  7. Sebastian, I am curious to know what’s stopping you from carving your own path? If you’re not happy in school, consider quitting. An alternative might be to sign up with an international non-profit social organization and travel to a developing country to help others. You won’t have to worry about room and board even though there might be little or no pay for such a gig. However the experience alone might change your perspective on life in such a way that you’ll forever be free from all the “have to” that’s currently making you unhappy.

    I wish you all the best.

    1. Societal pressures that I feel. Family pressures. My ego pressuring me to do something that will bring a lot of “prestige.” I would love to be able to travel to a developing country and help others. I don’t know of any organizations to do that but I will look. Thank gosh for Google!

      I think it would change my perspective greatly. I wonder if it would be hard coming back though and seeing most people not care.

      Thank you for the response. I appreciate it.

      1. Sebastian,

        I would take a look at the website EscapeTheCity and see if any of their opportunities interest you. It sounds like the only person holding you on this path is yourself and your expectations. I understand. I left a 6-figure sales job to move to Turkey, and not everyone I know and respect thought it was a good idea. Even so, in 50 years, I won’t look back and think “Man, I’m glad I played it safe so my Aunt Angie didn’t feel ignored.” You have to follow your dreams, not the dreams you are told you should follow.

        Hope this helps. :)

  8. Well hello Trent, thanks for recounting your story. This is definitely a vital question we should all be asking ourselves. My mentor asked me to create a slogan for my online venture, the best I could come up with was “Developing a life you can be proud of” and of course one of my subscribers took offense to that because he was proud of his life so far, yet far too many forget to measure the quality of their life in any sort of way.

    1. For what it’s worth Igor, I like that slogan.

      I work hard to remember a line from a John Maxwell book: “Hurting People Hurt People and are Easily Hurt by People.”

      Anyone taking the time to attack you can’t be feeling that good about himself, so I wouldn’t worry about it. I get hateful comments sometimes and I feel it’s a good thing: I’m saying something which gets people to think and some of them would rather not ;).

      Can you tell me more about your venture?

  9. Trent … What a terrific column and one I related to completely. I was in advertising for years and it bored me to death. Through a series of events I had the opportunity launch a website in my field of expertise (this was 1995, no one heard of AOL). It was a consumer information website, advertising supported. Well I grew to be the expert in my field and this lead me to live my dream and travel all over the world. Yes, this would be how I’d want to spend my last day — writing a story, covering an event, that excited me.

    I think the word I’d use over happiness is excitement.

    Well, after 10 years I burned out on travel and sold the website to a conglomerate. Decided to build a smaller site on a related subject that I could manage without the staff of 20 I had previously. I never knew I’d fail because I’m not cut out to work alone. I could handle the work, the website, but I was miserable and it became torture to try to come up with ideas and write them. I let it go downhill and I was miserable; my life also went downhill because of the solitude and isolation. I learned that the excitement also came from working with others.

    I’m exploring something now that excites me, I hope it works. I will need a partner and I”m pretty sure the excitement/happiness will remain.

    You don’t have to quit your job to find something that excites you. Think about what hobby or interest you love them look at how you can move into it while working. A blog can grow to a very big enterprise and costs virtually nothing to do. It’s your passion and excitement that will attract visitors.

    1. Anne,

      You seem to have an amazing story of your own, and a much greater level of business success than I have currently. Thank you so much for sharing some of your wisdom with me.

      I agree, you don’t have to quit your job to be happy, but if you have to drag yourself into work everyday just to watch the clock, you should go do something else. There are lots of ways to pay the bills, and no one HAS to be stuck. We choose to be :)

  10. Love your writing, Trent. I see this question as a numbers game. What % of my life can I love on a daily basis and how can I increase that % while I pay bills and live in relative comfort? If I am stressed about $, I am not having very much fun and I need fun on a daily basis. It makes me fell alive. I like taking risks, but I don’t like undo stress.

  11. How exciting for you and your fiance. I had a similar response when my husband told me that he couldn’t stand another year of public school teaching. He is a classically trained guitarist, and teaching elementary music was not a good match for him. He started his own business, and encouraged me to start mine. For the past five years, we have been able to work together every day. We have time to exercise, write, and just have fun. What a turnaround from the first ten years of our marriage!

    1. Awesome Tammy!

      I respect your husband and you for taking the leap. Many people would have kept doing the job just to pay the bills and then remained with their problems.

      As some people have stated, not everyone can be successful and live their dreams, but the problem is most people don’t really try.

      I would imagine the first few years were scary, when you started your businesses?

      1. Absolutely! I was really close to terrified although, when you’re sick, you are so tired you just do what has to be done.

        I had to deal with all of the questions:
        -will I lose my identity? (no)
        -will I have health insurance? (yes – though not easy, I did get it)
        -what will people think? (doesn’t matter, they don’t live my life)

        We also had skills that could be transferred into our own business (classical guitar – CJ, and tutoring/teaching – me). We cheered each other on. There were many days when we thought, Wow! This is challenging! but it was never NOT worth it. I go to bed every night with a smile on my face, and this is how I wake up in the morning. No joke!

        1. I’m told that’s how success always feels: very scary and then very awesome :). I believe we all have some skills which transfer, but most people don’t take the time to think things through and transfer them. It takes hard work and creativity.

          What’s your business now?

          1. CJ teaches guitar and I tutor young children in reading and writing. We are able to share a three room office space, rely on word of mouth for advertising, and commute to work together every day. It’s truly a dream we never thought possible. It only started by asking the tough questions – much like the one you asked in order to start your transformation!

  12. Trent, I agree that is a powerful question to ask. And I suggest framing it slightly differently as ” Are you clear about what doing what you love looks like, and are you actively working towards it or have you achieved it”. I know several people through life commitments who can’t do what they love now, but they have a clear path and are committed to getting there. My point is that the journey to get there can be as rich as the arrival and being in that ideal place. In my case it took 9 years before I could step into what I love. But during those years, I framed my life through the journey of learning which led to the outcome. And the journey made it all the sweeter on arrival! Thanks for calling folks forth.

  13. David,

    I still recall one of the happiest people I ever met and it was 35 years ago. He was cleaning a mens’ restroom in a central Indiana Auto parts plant. He was humming a tune while listening to his “boom box.” The music volume was reasonable and he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But he was totally transparent and a very happy man. I can still remember him as I write this response.

    Happiness is a choice. And, being happy at what you love is a BIG bonus, whatever it may be.

  14. Sebastian,
    Prestige or status shouldn’t define who you are, nor should others expectations!
    I recently volunteered in Cambodia for the Ponheary Ly Foundation.I stayed at the guest house they owned, which is less than $20 US a night and worked at 2 primary schools funded by PLF. Yes you will see poverty and hardship, but so many life lessons are learnt. It takes one person to make a change in their lives & you have the power to do it.
    Good luck with whatever you do. :)

    1. I’m happy Karen that you decided to trade money for an amazing experience. In the end, it will bring much more value to you as a person :)

  15. I’ve done what Trent did. After I walked out on my job, I ended up creating a $2 million per year company. Then that got old and boring and I wanted to quit.

    I like what Trent is saying. It’s about overcoming our fears first. When we can overcome the fear of just giving up on our security and walk away, then we can overcome our desire to always be entertained. It was Buddha who wanted to overcome suffering. The only way to overcome suffering is to not need to be entertained, enthusiastic, and motivated every second of every day.

    It’s a process. Some people are at different stages. They have to learn the lesson they are presented with. At the end, well, it’s like the old Buddhist saying, “Before enlightenment wash the dishes. After enlightenment, wash the dishes.”

    1. Thanks Micheal. What kind of company did you create?

      I don’t feel this question is the be all, end all question to ask, but it is something we should all ask.

      What happens if you go to a job every day you hate and then get in a car wreck on the way home? You’ve traded your life for something you didn’t care about.

      If I die today, I am happy. I’d rather stay around for another 70 years, but I can go anytime. That’s the important feeling to have.

  16. Trent, although I think the question you ask is a little too simple, the concept itself is a powerful one. Does what you do right now excite you enough to stay doing it?

    From my experience, it’s a trial and error process. Sometimes, I blame my job for making me unhappy when actually it’s about more than that – perhaps it’s personal relationships, or a few events that have upset me. The job is easy to blame but it is not necessarily the problem.

    I see a lot of advice telling people to quit their job – but my opinion is that the job itself must be evaluated in the context of how your life is progressing, and whether being in that job is serving a purpose right now.

    – Razwana

    1. Razwana,

      Yes, I love what I do now. I get to spend my days helping others live their dreams, which makes me very happy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

      I think the important thing in a career is a feeling of fulfillment and purpose. I’m not advocating everyone should quit working and play all the time; that road leads to misery. I help people find careers they feel passionate about and excel in them.

      Your career isn’t the only factor in happiness, but since we spend 60% of our waking hours at work, it’s a pretty sizable chunk, wouldn’t you say?

      Trent

  17. It’s a good question to ponder, although if we knew ANY night was our last on Earth we would probably do something that we wouldn’t do EVERY night. We have to be happy doing WHATEVER we’re doing that way any night could be our last – and that would be ok.

  18. I’m a college instructor. I don’t mind my job. I enjoy teaching. I like most of my colleagues and students. Grading sucks. Overall, I’m satisfied. It’s a good job.

    However, my true goal is to become self sufficient through music and or writing. And although I have done what you and many others have done (quit my job to follow my dream) in the past, it did not pay (money, that is).

    When I was younger, that was not a big deal. I could quit a job and get by. Now I have a house and most importantly, I’m a single dad to an eight-year old. I have to remain responsible to my daughter.

    I love all the stories on here about people who take chances and quit jobs to follow their dreams, but that path does not work for everybody. It might even be bad advice for some. There’s also a way to work on your dreams while working and remaining responsible to your family. http://www.danerickson.net

    Glad The Change Blog is active again. You went a couple weeks without a post.

  19. Thanks Trent. Great post.

    I’ve been at the work I love for about 4 years now. It was a long road getting here. It is still challenging. I’m thrilled that I can say that I spent today doing many things that I love, and some that I needed to to generate the work I love to do.

    Yours is a powerful questions and one that can help people to see that a change is needed before things “go bad”. Exploring what success means is a great way to start down that road.

    http://livingatchoice.blogspot.ca/2013/05/what-is-success.html

    1. Thanks for your insight Brian. I’m often told my approach is “very risky” and I tend to think “what isn’t?” We all end up in the same ground when our time is up, so why not go for something you love? The worst case that happens is usually you give up and go back to doing what you were doing before taking the risk.

      What do you do for a living now, which you enjoy so much?

      Trent

      1. Trent, you are so right, what is worth having/experiencing that isn’t risky? I heard Jillian Michaels speak recently, and she brought up the example of the Biggest Loser contestants who say they are afraid to try to lose weight because they are afraid they will fail. Jillian’s response? You are already failing at losing weight because you are here on this show in your current state! There is no where to go but up!

        1. Hi Cecilia,

          I like that attitude, “not trying is already failing.” The worst thing that can happen to you is you mess up and learn a lot, which will ultimately be profitable, if you keep going. I’ve found people tend to at least go right back to where they started, assuming they don’t give up altogether. It’s not like I could never go back to the customer service job I held ;).

          Trent

  20. It seems like my process reading this article is the same as everyone else’s. It is about a balance between practicality and passion.

    My first question while thinking about this is whether ‘balance’ is even worthwhile or if it is really just a euphemism for fear. I work a mundane retail job which is somewhat below my potential. I don’t identify myself by my job and, like Kwami said, more how I perform it, but the truth is I would like to have the courage to just walk away without a net. I’ll be honest that I don’t have that courage right now. Doing that while living check to check would means I become homeless and lose my phone, two things I would need to look at all attractive to another employer. Doing that would take me further from my dreams.

    My next thought is, what would be the difference in effect if, this moment, everyone in the world had Trent’s courage and walked off their jobs to pursue their dreams vs. if no one did. I’ll be honest. If I did that I’m not sure what I would want to do instead. I have a lot of interests, but mostly, I just want to be valuable to the world. I want to do something that matters, not for my glory but to not leave this world with the talents in my undeposited. While anything we do we will do better happy, pursuing happiness directly seldom leads to it. Rather, if we pursue service we get happiness as a bonus. Didn’t CS Lewis say something like, If you aim at earth you miss, but when you aim for heaven you end up with heaven and earth. I think maybe that is why behind ‘the meek inherit the earth.’

    Maybe this is just fancy waffling. Maybe Im justifying my own complacency and fear. Maybe there is still virtue in that. Maybe its analysis paralysis. One can’t touch the opposing wall of a room without letting go of the doorknob. There is a point where commitment is require to do anything. However, it never ends. In the end, its just about what can I do this second that will make a positive difference both for me and those I serve?

    Thanks for the post, Trent, and for all who have contributed to the thread here.

    1. Tristan,

      Forgive the shameless plug, but I think my latest book could help you sort through what you would really love to do with your life and how to be more fulfilled.

      It’s called “10 Days to Your Magic Life” and it’s on Amazon. If you go through the ten-day process and don’t feel it was worth the investment, I will personally refund your money.

      God Bless,
      Trent

  21. This is a great post! I don’t think I’ll ever have an “I hate this job and I quit” moment just because I like to prepare myself to increase my chances of winning.

    I work in finance and also speak and write. I like my career for now. Even thought I have been successful in my career, the position I hold will eventually become unexciting. The reason I don’t leave is because of the unlimited amounts of knowledge, experience, and access to people of influence I have that I know will help me when I step away on my own.

    I do believe if you are going to be in a position that you do not want to be in, its best to take what you can while you are there. Awesome post again and keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Ralph,

      Yes, looking back, it was a very rash decision. Even so, it propelled me out of my “analysis paralysis” I had suffered from for years and now my business is thriving.

      If you are learning and building a business on the side while staying with a company, that’s very smart. Most people don’t do that. Most people talk about the business they would build while staying in their unfulfilled career path.

      There’s no right or wrong way to change your life, as long as you’re moving in the right direction :)

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Trent

  22. Good morning and thankyou for this great article. Your wife has been really helpful when you decided to change of job. It is already kind of hard to take that kind of decision but sometimes it is even harder when your family don’t really encourages you. You have to learn to do what makes you happy in every situation.
    I’m an online coach on your24hcoach and I love it. I help people everyday with this kind of dilemma. I thought it would be useful for the coaches who are on this website to know they could help extra clients as online coaches. This kind of situation is very common and most of people don’t know how to deal with it and don’t find the courage to change of career. It is our work to make things change.
    Good luck to all of you who try to make a big change in their life and don’t forget that what doesn’t make you happy doesn’t diserve your efforts!
    Mary T.

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