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At 17, I wrote a speech titled, “When You Come to the End of Your Days, Will You Be Able to Write Your Own Epitaph?” It reflected the approach to life I adopted after my mother’s untimely death from cancer at age 49. I chose to live each day as if it could be my last — but with a watchful eye on the future in case it wasn’t.
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Tell us what you’ve learned about life in the course of living it.
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The Lessons of Life
Questions for Your Own Circle of Experts (January 10, 2012)
My goal was, and still is, to die without regrets.
For more than 50 years, this course has served me well, including my decision to become a science journalist instead of pursuing what had promised to be a more lucrative and prestigious, but probably less enjoyable, career as a biochemist. I find joy each day in mundane things too often overlooked: sunrises and sunsets, an insect on a flower, crows chasing a hawk, a majestic tree, a child at play, an act of kindness toward a stranger.
Eventually, most of us learn valuable lessons about how to conduct a successful and satisfying life. But for far too many people, the learning comes too late to help them avoid painful mistakes and decades of wasted time and effort.
In recent years, for example, many talented young people have denied their true passions, choosing instead to pursue careers that promise fast and big monetary gains. High rates of divorce speak to an impulsiveness to marry and a tenuous commitment to vows of “till death do us part.”
Parents undermine children’s self-confidence and self-esteem by punishing them physically or pushing them down paths, both academic and athletic, that they are ill equipped to follow. And myriadprescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs reflect a widespread...