Living in light of the third death.
On being remembered (and forgotten).
Mors trium temporum.
Translated as death in three times, the ancients Stoics used the term to describe the three deaths we will all experience:
our physical death
when we’re laid to rest
and when our name is spoken by someone for the last time.
If that last one felt heavy…it was supposed to.
The Stoics were known for meditating on their own mortality, not for morbid pleasure but for viewing their life through the correct lens. By recognizing the reality that none of this lasts, and that our names will be muttered for the last time in the not too distant future, we give ourselves the space to focus our energies in the right places.
I was scrolling LinkedIn this morning and came across the story of a revenue leader in tech that had passed away unexpectedly, leaving four kids behind. I didn’t know this person, but the world of tech is small and I’m sure our degree of separation was narrow.
As I scanned the comments, I noticed they were filled with people that had only known this person briefly, but whose interactions were impactful.
Kind. Calm. Sincere. Smart. Funny. Warm.
These were the impressions left by one person in seemingly hundreds of peoples’ lives.
Most of us, myself included, spend our days subconsciously trying to do things that will help us be remembered. Hell, I’ve written two books and have sent weekly emails for over a decade, and I’m not positive of the reason much beyond the above. The keyboard just continues to click.
But what are we supposed to do instead?
How do we live in light of the fact that our collective third deaths are right around the corner?
I don’t know that I have the perfect answer. And likely never will. But these two things continually bubble up to the top when trying to find it:
I default back on these two answers because they’re inside jobs, not external objectives. And they have more in common than might be obvious.
Looking back on those LinkedIn comments, here was a person who seemed above all else…kind. He had impacted countless people not because he was savvy at building revenue organizations or scaling tech companies, but because he was kind while he did it.
When we’re kind - genuinely kind, not as a means to an end - we don’t know what the result of that kindness will be. The butterfly effect is both real and invisible. We don’t know where that kindness will lead or how it will change someone’s life, but we know that it holds within it the seed of possibility.
Hard work is much the same. We don’t know where the inputs of our hard work will lead. But we know that they hold those same seeds of possibility.
And maybe more importantly?
They’re in our control.
We can’t control the outcomes of our work. But we can control our effort.
We can’t control the outcomes of our interactions. But we can be kind.
And in light of the third death…maybe that’s all we’re supposed to do.