This is an account of day 21 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 21 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to pretend you’re watching your own funeral. Like some of the other tasks over the course of the past 21 days, this one is a reflection on mortality, a practice known as memento mori. Thinking about the end of your life, and consequently about how you want the rest of it to go, is a fitting end to the challenge. If you picture what you’d like to happen at your funeral, what you’d want people to say about you, then you can start putting in the effort to ensures it happens. It’s not too late to become the person you want to be remembered as.
The final instructional email of the challenge from the Daily Stoic explains further:
Today, your challenge is to write your funeral scene. Not surreptitiously from the gallery of a church like an adolescent mischief-maker, but from an honest appraisal of your life as it has been truly lived up to this point in time.
Take your time. Find some quiet. Think about your life, your family and friendships, your greatest accomplishments and deepest regrets. Think about what most people know about you, and by comparison what you wish they knew (and didn’t know). Think about what it means to you to have lived a good, principled, virtuous life; and whether, if today were to be your day to leave this earth, if you have lived such a life?
The question for us today is, when we look at our own funeral, do we like what we see? Do we like the stories being told in reminiscence? Do we like the number of and quality of people who have turned up to celebrate our life?
Maybe you’ve achieved some career success, but has your depth of character followed the same trajectory? Maybe you have an admirable work ethic, but have your relationships taken a hit because of that? Maybe your life is rich by all external measures, but is your list of material possessions longer and more impressive than that of your moral possessions?
The email goes on to emphasise that today’s task is the culmination of the whole 21-day challenge, and that we need to decide what lasting impact it’s going to have on us:
Writing your own funeral scene is really about trying to answer these essential life questions: Who am I? What do I stand for? How would people describe me? Have I lived a true, virtuous life? Was I up to the challenge?
We have spent the three weeks together. 21 days with 21 challenges designed to break ourselves free from the many chains that enslave us—the minor decisions, the inner turmoil, the limiting beliefs, the bad habits, the wasted time, the pointless complaining and distractions. But our work is not done. This is all for naught if it is not followed with deliberate actions and positive choices.
So, now, what are you going to do differently? What does tomorrow look like for you–the first non-challenge day of your hard-earned freedom? What about the next day? Or next week? Or three months from now?
Looking ahead to death isn’t an easy thing, but as is so often the case in life, it’s the difficult things that we most need to make time for as they have the greatest consequences. That, for me, is one of the biggest takeaways from the 21-day challenge – that it can be easy to get too comfortable, and I need to be braver in doing the difficult things if I’m to live the life I want.
Each day of the challenge is intended to be a step towards becoming the person you want to be, and if you become that person then your funeral takes care of itself – the people you care about will remember you as exactly that person.
With that said, it was important that I assessed which parts of the challenge I need to continue to work on beyond the 21 days in order to keep taking those steps. Here are my key takeaways:
- From day 1 – Continue to take cold showers. Allow a maximum of two hot showers per week.
- From day 2 – Default to the slow carb diet as much as possible. You will falter sometimes, but that’s OK.
- From day 3 – A small rotation of t-shirts and jeans is sufficient as a work outfit – don’t get hung up on what to wear every day.
- From day 4 – Never complain about an event or person without offering next steps to fix the problem.
- From day 5 – Appreciate your local area, make time to rediscover places you take for granted.
- From day 6 – Reduce dependence on your smartphone. Regularly try to go without it completely.
- From day 7 – Thank people more often, and use handwritten notes to do so.
- From day 8 – Do your maximum number of push ups once a week and try to beat the record each time.
- From day 9 – Read one fiction book per month.
- From day 10 – Reach out to someone you admire once every three months.
- From day 11 – Continue to cut down on news consumption. Make a list of other bad habits and work to quit them one by one.
- From day 12 – Keep your master file of important documents up to date and keep online presence to a minimum – only create user accounts that are absolutely necessary.
- From day 13 – Take more responsibility in your local community – pick up trash, report damage, buy from smaller shops.
- From day 14 – Visit somewhere beautiful once a month and take it in for at least 30 minutes. Research local outdoor bicycle trails to help with this.
- From day 15 – Maintain a list of nagging problems and place it somewhere it will be seen every day. Don’t let the list get too long!
- From day 16 – Remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
If you’ve seen the present then you’ve seen everything—as it’s been since the beginning, as it will be forever. The same substance, the same form. All of it.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
- From day 17 – Perform an anonymous act of kindness at least once a month.
- From day 18 – Laugh every day
- From day 19 – Remember this passage, and memorise more Stoic passages in the future –
Erase the impressions on your mind by constantly saying to yourself: ‘It is in my power now to keep this soul of mine free from any vice or passion, or any other disturbance at all: but seeing things for what they are, I can treat them on their merits.’ Remember this power which nature gives you. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
- From day 20 – Remove one chip from your “pebble jar” every month as a reminder that time is passing.
- From day 21 – Be brave enough to make the hard choices that will take you closer to being the person you want to be remembered as. Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
If I keep working on what is outlined above, the changes kick-started by this challenge, then I won’t need to worry about how my funeral will look.
At the beginning of this 21-day challenge I had some reservations about paying $49 to be able to take part in something that I suspected could essentially be done on my own with no additional material. Although that may be true to some extent, I have no issue admitting that I’m glad I paid the money.
Making the payment (as well as committing to blogging about the challenge every day) enforced an accountability that I may not have otherwise felt, as did taking part in the challenge’s group Slack channel, where I was able to interact with a lot of great people while they shared their progress.
The challenge itself provided a new sense of purpose each day, and the feeling of achievement after completing each day’s task gave me the motivation and momentum needed to progress to the next one. I didn’t always complete the tasks perfectly, but I feel like I understood the meaning behind each one. It was also important to remember that it’s not just about that one isolated task on one day – it’s about continuing to work at it and improve after the challenge ends.
Much of the challenge also prompted important self-reflection; I hope the freedom that will result from continuing to practice the tasks will afford me the time and space to, as Marcus Aurelius would say, “be good”.
While you live, while it is in your power, be good.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.17