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. 

Death helps. Steve Jobs knew this, and unlike me, he didn’t need to die in order to learn it.

Nine minutes into his famous Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs discussed the importance he placed on thinking about death during life:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”


The only difference between Steve Jobs’ view on death and my own is that Jobs came to this understanding at the age of seventeen after reading a quote.

It took me two near death experiences (Death #1 and Death #2) and a gun to the head and a trigger being pulled to bring me to the same understanding.

Jobs path to this bit of wisdom seems a little easier and a lot smarter.

I meet people everyday who can’t understand the way that my ongoing existential crisis and my obsession with death motivate me. They can’t begin to understand how someone can be so focused on the idea of mortality for so much of their day to day life. Nor would they ever want such a burden.

But it’s not their fault.

The ability to constantly remember that you will be dead soon apparently requires that you be as brilliant as Steve Jobs or as unlucky as me.

Both of these are conditions not easily achieved. It makes me wonder if the advice that Jobs gives is worthwhile.

A former life coach client once told me that he’s known two near-death survivors in his life. Me and one of his friends. He said that the two of us are alike in so many ways. The way we talk about goals. The way we try to maximize our minutes. The things we choose to ignore and disregard in favor of things that matter. The systems and routines that we create to increase efficiency and productivity. Our levels of self confidence.   

“Even the way the two of you walk through a crowd is the same.”

I say that I am unlucky, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. But I wonder where I would be today had a bee, a Mercedes, and three armed men not tried to kill me.

I’m just not as smart as Steve Jobs. A little bit of death, spread out over the course of a decade, might have been just what someone like me needed to get ahead.

I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone, but I’m not sure that if given the chance I would change a thing.


Jack’s magic beans have a better chance of working than this.

I live in a perpetual state of existential crisis. Though I may have been born this way, I suspect that two near-death experiences and an armed robbery that left me with a decade long bout with PTSD contributed to my near-constant thoughts about mortality.

My children don’t help with this problem. Watching them grow up is a ceaseless reminder of aging process.

New research suggests that acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, may be able to alleviate the pain of an existential crisis in the same way it alleviates the pain of a pounding headache.

A pill to overcome the constant, omnipresent, soul crushing awareness that I might someday cease to exist?

I don’t think so.