Our culture constantly bombards us with stories of what "success" is supposed to look like. These cookie-cutter stories are seductive, because they offer the illusion of control, certainty, and safety. They're the well-trodden path. Yet they usually lead to us to chase goals, careers, or entire lives that are not our own.

Getting caught up in mimetic desire can quickly lead us away from ourselves, away from Creative Individuation, and away from a flourishing, meaningful life that is uniquely our own. When we never stop to question the stories we're handed, we end up constructing elaborate prisons out of our lives that a deeper part of us yearns to break free from. This is how we up on our deathbed, full of regret for the life we could have lived, but didn't.

That’s a test I’ve started using a lot in the last three years. When I encounter some new decision, or some fork in the road, I ask myself, “Will I regret having done this, or not having done this, as I’m laying on my deathbed?” It’s a bit morbid and uncomfortable, but damn is it clarifying. Because it always points me in the direction my soul yearns to go, and it undermines the stories my intellect has spun up for why I’m not allowed to travel there.

The deathbed test, as I've come to call it, is a powerful tool for reorienting ourselves toward a more authentic, purposeful existence. It's a reminder to resist the temptation of shallow definitions of success and instead, embrace a deeply personal journey. A life lived in avoidance of regret will never be the most comfortable, and it might not be the most popular, but it's the one that ensures we won't face our final moments, knowing that we squandered the gift of life.

But what if I don't know what I'll value on my deathbed?

One of the most common criticisms of the deathbed test is that we have no idea how we'll feel on our deathbeds, or what we'll value in 30-50 years. People change, so why try to imagine ourselves dying? It's probably not going to be remotely accurate anyway.

To which I respond, accuracy is not the point. The deathbed test helps you get crystal clear on your current values, and highlight the long-term pain you'll feel if you live out of alignment with them. The hypothetical you of the future shares your current values, and through the power of hindsight, knows whether or not you lived up to them in this moment. By using our imaginations this way, we make any decision that stands before us clearer. Short term temptations become a lot less compelling, and the sacrifices we must make to lead nourishing lives get easier to stomach.

If you're ready to make the deathbed test real, in this moment, I recommend the deathbed audit.