WeCroak: An app that does what my brain already does

My friend, Kim, alerted me to a new app called WeCroak. It does one simple thing:

Five times per day, at unpredictable intervals, it sends you a message that says:

“Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”

The app was created by Ian Thomas, a 27-year-old freelance app developer, and Hansa Bergwall, a 35-year-old publicist, 

“I would get to the end of the day and realize I’d forgotten the entire day to think about death,” Bergwall said. “And it occurred to me, This is so easy: I could just get my phone to remind me.”

If you know me well, you'll know that Kim alerted me to the app not because I needed to be reminded that I am going to die but because it's something I think about all the time. In fact, when I read about the app and saw that it offered five reminders per day, I thought, "Five? That's it? I think about death five times an hour!"

And that's truly a conservative estimate.

The result of two near-death experiences and an armed robbery that included a gun to my head and the trigger being pulled has left with a persistent, constant, existential bell ringing in my head at all times. And it's not an entirely bad thing. The never-ending reminder that I will someday die has caused me to be relentless in terms of pursuing my goals and making every moment count.

It's the thing that forces me out of my chair when Charlie asks me to play. It's the thing that compels me to pick up my tall, gangly nine year-old daughter every time she asks. It's what keeps the TV turned off when there is a book to write or a story to tell. It's what sends me to the gym on an almost daily basis, hoping to stave off the inevitable. It's why I drive to New York on a Tuesday night to perform despite the fact that I will arrive home in the wee hours of the morning and still be out of bed by 5:00 AM. It's what causes me to say yes to the craziest proposals.   

The constant ringing of my existential bell keeps me moving. Forces me to look forward. Insists that I make every moment count. 

But it's also what produces anxiety in me when times goes by and progress is not made. It's the thing that breaks my heart when I ponder all that will be lost when I die. It's why I can be so happy with my life while also be in a constant state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

Sometimes it's crushing to my soul.  

I'm not sure if it's something I would ever wish upon someone, though I have met people who wish they could experience life similarly.  

I once gave a Ted Talk once that attempted to offer the benefits of an ongoing existential crisis without all the angst and despair. I tried to thread the needle, so to speak. 

So although I didn't need the WeCroak app, I downloaded it anyway, much to Elysha's exasperation. I receive my reminder five times a day, accompanied by a quote meant to encourage “contemplation, conscious breathing or meditation” but does not.

I thought it would be amusing.

Then one night a couple weeks ago I was driving to Queens for a Moth StorySLAM. Though I had left with more than enough time, traffic was giving me fits. About an hour into my drive, it looked like I might be late for the slam, which meant I would have no chance to perform onstage. 

I considered turning back. If I arrived in Queens late, I was going to be upset. Yes, I would still hear some great stories and visit with some good friends, but my primary purpose was to tell a brand new story that I liked a lot. Try to win. Gain access to another Moth GrandSLAM championship.

If none of that was going to happen, maybe I should turn around now and spend the night reading to my kids, working on a book, and sitting beside Elysha. Why risk another 90 minutes or more on the road, plus a return trip, for nothing? 

I looked down at my phone to see what my estimated time of arrival was. On my screen was a message:

“Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”  

That was it. I dropped the phone and pushed onward, hell bent on making it to the slam on time. 

I did. I arrived just in the nick of time. I dropped my name in the hat.
I got chosen to tell my story.
I won. 

Would I have turned around had I not seen that message?

Maybe. I would've at least pondered the decision a little more. Debated its merits. Wondered if the possibility of not having a chance to take the stage was worth all this trouble.

WeCroak at least cemented a decision I probably would've made anyway. Maybe. 

It turns out that even someone as crazed and obsessed with death can use a reminder every now and then.

Maybe you could, too. 

One person is listening. Perhaps more, but at least one. I'm so pleased.

I was asked by many people on Monday morning about the AFC championship game that I attended on Sunday night. One of the most frequently asked questions was:

"What time did you get home?"

I arrived home on Sunday night around 1:00 AM, but I explained that it was fairly early given the fact that I often arrive home from night games well after 3:00 AM.

Most people have a hard time understanding how I manage this. They also question my sanity when they learn that I will drive to a Moth StorySLAM in Brooklyn, downtown Manhattan, or Boston on a weeknight to maybe tell a five minute story and arrive back home after 1:00 AM.

I have always been a proponent of saying yes when opportunities present themselves, regardless of the sacrifice required.

I am also a proponent of living your life with the perspective of the 100 year old version of yourself.

I know that this advice is good. I know it would make people considerably happier if they followed it. I know that I'm right.

So often, I wonder if anyone is ever listening.

A couple years ago I met a teacher while speaking at her school. Over the past year, she's begun to listen to my advice and take it to heart.

She began by saying yes to taking the stage and telling of a story for Speak Up. This was not an easy thing for her to do, but since then, she's become a Speak Up regular and fan favorite.  

Shortly thereafter, she went to New York and told her first story in a Moth StorySLAM. The next day, she wrote to me about my philosophy of saying yes regardless of the sacrifices required:

"It's the greatest lesson you ever taught me. I'm trying so hard to fight my natural instincts to say no and just say yes. It's annoying how right you always are."

Needless to say I enjoyed that email a lot. 

Last weekend she traveled to Washington, DC to participate in the Woman's March. 

On her way home, she wrote:  

"Learning to live life the Matthew Dicks way. Man, your way is exhausting."

It's true. It can be exhausting. It's not always easy. And it doesn't always work out. Sometimes I drive to Brooklyn for a Moth StorySLAM and never take the stage. Sometimes the Patriots lose a big game, and the long, late night drives home become much more difficult. Sometimes I say yes to something that I must later change to a no when I realize how much I hate it.  

But the willingness to take risks, step outside your comfort zone, brave the elements, forgo sleep, face uncertainty, and suffer possible failure are all superior to a lifetime of regret.

One of the most common regrets expressed by people at the end of their lives, recorded by hospice workers, is this:

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

From Business Insider:

"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

The question people didn't ask me about the AFC championship game (but should've asked me) was this:

What will you remember most about the game?

The list is long. Tom Brady's flea flicker, the way Legarrette Blount carried half of the Steelers team to the goal line, and the huge goal line stand by the Patriots defense will always remain in my mind.

But my favorite part?

Midway through the third period, with the Patriots in the lead, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" began booming through the stadium during a timeout. The entire stadium became to sing. A second later, the big screens showed Jon Bon Jovi in one of Gillette Stadium's luxury suites, singing along with us. The crowd roared. Bon Jovi raised his hands and began conducting the crowd as if we were his orchestra. When the music stopped as the Steelers broke the huddle, 60,000 people continued to sing a cappella, finishing the song as Pittsburgh ran a play. 

It was a joyous moment. One of the happiest moments I've experienced in a stadium where I have watched games for more than a decade.

Had I been sitting on my couch at home, warm and dry instead of wet and cold, I would've missed that moment, and what a tragedy that would have been.

Perhaps others have tried to adopt the "Matthew Dicks way" over the years. Maybe they've listened to me speak or watched my TED Talks and changed the way they approach life. 

At least one person has, and for today at least, that is enough for me. 

Perhaps a near-death experience is a good thing. At least one therapist seems to think so.

A mental health therapist recently said this in a comment to a post on the blog:

"I frequently try to bring on an existential crisis in a client to help them find what is most important to them."

I thought this comment was fascinating. 

I've often said that my alarmingly frequent near-brushes with death drive me (at least in part) to succeed, and that without my death by bee sting, death by car accident, and near-death by robbery, I may have never accomplished the things I have. 

I've spoken about this many times, including a TEDx Talk last year:

Perhaps I needed those near-death experiences. Starting out as a kid who had to leave home at 18 and ending up in jail, homeless, and facing trial for a crime didn't commit didn't make things easy. Maybe I needed as much help as I could get, even if it came in the form of several close calls. I'm not sure if I would wish these experiences on anyone, but maybe a head-on collision with a Mercedes, an undetected allergy to a bee sting, and a violent assault and robbery were just what I needed in order to keep me focused and working hard.

I've often wondered about this. As a life coach, I've once worked with a person who knew another near-death survivor, and he said that the two of us were remarkably alike. In fact, he told me that he often wished that he would suffer a near-death experience, too, because he said that we were the two most driven people he had ever met.

I explained to him that these brushes with death came with a cost, including a lifetime of post traumatic stress disorder, but he seemed to believe that this was a small price to pay for a lifetime of productivity, tenacity, and success. 

Maybe he's right. 

It's impossible to determine exactly why one person succeeds in life while another does not, but I know that when I was a boy, I wanted to be a teacher and a writer, and for a long time, both of those dreams seemed impossible to me and to everyone around me. The idea that I might find my way to college, graduate, become a teacher, and publish novels was something most people would've considered a fantasy. 

Today they are a reality.  

Perhaps this therapist is doing something brilliant. By bringing her clients to an existential crisis, she is helping them understand how short and fragile life can be and perhaps instilling in them the same fear of lost opportunities and regret that I have.

And I suspect that she's not holding a gun to their head and pulling the trigger or sending them through a windshield in order to do so. 

Up until now, the best I could do is tell my story and implore people to heed my advice:

Say Yes.
Live Life Like You Are 100 Years Old.
Complete your Homework for Life.

Maybe there's a better way. Maybe you, too, could experience the kind of existential crisis that I have, and like me, maybe it will change your life. 

I'd love to know how she brings about these existential crises in her clients, and I suspect that my former life coaching student would as well.