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You Cannot Die

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Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to actually hurt yourself?

I don’t mean a paper cut. I mean something that’s disgusting to look at, where you’re at risk for death. What would it take?

In this society, it’s very difficult. We are safe. And even if we are hurt, plastic surgery, free medical care (sorry, Americans), and medicine means we’ll recover instead of dying of an infection.

The only injuries we’re accustomed to in today’s society are not acute injuries, but chronic injuries caused by things like food, stress, etc.

Any world where cancer is a serious risk is extremely safe, because it means many people are living for as long as it takes to get cancer.

We’re in an eternal cradle. It’s very difficult to die, or to be seriously injured.

Think of the way we treat children, versus how they were treated 20 years ago. We have all been eternally infantilized.

I thought about this the other week as I spent time in Thailand with Julie Angel, one of the top parkour documentarians in the world. Watch her videos and ask yourself whether anyone would do them in a world where they were in serious danger of dying from an injury. Stunt men are willing to do their jobs because being on fire is now reasonably safe.

Think about that.

Instead, our cultural environment creates other risks. Being broke, dying alone, not fulfilling your potential– these exist because we are no longer concerned with being devoured by predators or afraid of starving. But these are risks that are significantly less severe, and much easy to recover from.

It’s possible to seriously hurt yourself, but only if you’re alone– when people can’t come to your rescue, or won’t, because you fulfill a social role that doesn’t get help. (Drunk Japanese businessmen and the homeless, for example.)

This culture creates media like Fight Club, which is revered because people are looking for authenticity and real risk which they can’t get inside of the system. So, they go looking outside of it.

What happens in a world where you cannot die?

You risk more, because consequences are diminished.

Peaks stay high, but valleys are reduced… for those who use the valleys to their advantage.

If you think this isn’t relevant to you, because physical culture isn’t a part of your life, you’re wrong.

In this world, you cannot die in any environment.

You cannot die socially because the social fabric smoothes over most mistakes with time.

You cannot die on the web because failure is cheap and the worst that happens is obscurity.

We are in a world where the chance of permanent, uncorrectable failure has dropped to zero.

It’s time you started living accordingly.

We think failure is forever. Wrong.

We think embarrassment can’t be recovered from.

We think losing is the end of the world.

Reprogram yourself.

You can cover up a bad tattoo. You can heal a broken bone. You can get into another relationship. You can move to a new city.

Nothing is forever.

You can recover from anything. No mistake is forever and most are easier to recover from than you think they are.

Do this now.

Below, write down the first act you will take as your new self– the one that cannot die and for which failure is insignificant.

Have it be something you are seriously afraid of. Something that makes your heart beat fast.

Then, after you’ve written it down, do it.

DON’T COME BACK HERE UNTIL YOU’VE LIVED.

* Filed by Julien at 10:31 am under clear thinking, culture, risk, taking action


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

Check out more of my blog, my free book or add me on twitter. Also, we're hiring. Check that out.

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48 Responses to “You Cannot Die”

  1. Mars Dorian Says:

    Holy shit, I think I’m experiencing an epiphany. This is soo true – you have to be extremely retarded to die in today’s (western) society.

    Damn you Julien you have opened my eyes – I’m going to take way more risk with my online biz now and TRY OUT SO MANY NEW + DIFFERENT things – you are right – failing online doesn’t involve financial loss, it’s the drowning in obscurity !

    Here’s to the next level of living !

  2. Mark Says:

    “Any world where cancer is a serious risk is extremely safe, because it means many people are living for as long as it takes to get cancer.” Damn straight. No luxury problem like an eco-problem! I’m going for more than “moral tingles.”

    I am going to sacrifice my energy, my life, my desires for my wife, my students, and my passions: as St Francis said to the birds, “it is in dying that we awaken to eternal life.”

    In a world where I cannot die I am going to do my best to eclipse myself with love for others. I’ll come back after…

    Best,
    m

  3. Katie Felten Says:

    I will no longer let my negative self talk stop me from taking the steps I know I need to take to succeed.

  4. @jdsboston Says:

    roger that. PS_ Always Think This Way

  5. Ryan Says:

    I’ve always thought about life being so frail. But you’re totally right Julien.

    Mark definitely pulled out the best line of this post- “Any world where cancer is a serious risk is extremely safe, because it means many people are living for as long as it takes to get cancer.”

    I’m will only apply to jobs in the city I want live in, in the field I want to work in. No more going after anything decent enough where I am now.

  6. fatstupidamrican Says:

    “Watch her videos and ask yourself whether anyone would do them in a world where they were in serious danger of dying from an injury. Stunt men are willing to do their jobs because being on fire is now reasonably safe.”

    Athletes understand the risks involved in such activities. Traceurs are safe because of their adequate training prevents them from getting injured.

    Would any of you step on the Judo mat with me right now, unaware of the proper falling techniques? What about in the boxing right without having learned how to cover up correctly. Sure there is a paramedic in the corner, but the paramedic isn’t going to stop that broken cheek bone.

    Yes medical knowledge is growing in the modern industrialized world. Yes we have the communication technology to access emergency medical care.

    Having all of this doesn’t prevent a broken bone, it treats it.

    Best treatment in the world or not. When you snap you ulna or shatter your knee. You’re going to be out of action, and you’ll be reminded of that injury long into your old age.

  7. Todd Schnick Says:

    i will share soon the big changes i’ve made in my life. but all i can say is, you are correct with the message above.

    and i’ve learned too many people are afraid of living.

    and that’s why i am doing that project i mentioned… thanks for this article…

  8. Ciprian Says:

    Thanks for the great post!
    I for one am already doing it, to some degree.
    I’m going on a masters degree in another country where I don’t speak the language and I know only two people. And I don’t have a scholarship or somewhere to work there… yet.
    It scares the hell out of me but I can’t wait to get there.

  9. Alan Says:

    The mind is so powerful when it can equate something as simple as speaking in front of people as “death.” Thanks for putting things in prospective. I’m gonna join my local meetup group where I can meet some like-minded individuals (something I’ve been putting off because I’m afraid of trying something new… how asinine :)

  10. Andrei Says:

    Hi Julien,
    Thanks for your +EV posts. Also I’m reading your book and till now it’s very inspiring. Thanks.

    But what I (and others I guess) would like you to do is to make a blog post about the movie “Zeitgeist: Moving Forward”.
    Why?
    1. I’m curious what a smart guy like you thinks about it.
    2. I like a lot the idea and I think we have the obligation to let others know too.

    Cheers.
    Andrei

  11. Elaine Says:

    The government, media, doctors, big pharma, lawyers, marketing, advertisers all try to frighten us with purported bad consequences so that we will rely on them to make us happy, healthy, smarter, with shinier hair, and disease-free. Thanks for the nudge in the right direction….

  12. Jeff Esposito Says:

    Not listening to the doctors who say I can’t use my shoulder again in a meaningful way. Will just push it since the worst that can happen is surgery.

  13. Juli Says:

    No, I will not fix my life by taking the emotional and fiscal risks required to be honest and true with myself. What’s option B?

  14. John McLachlan Says:

    Ok, this is good stuff. Really good.

    My first thoughts are this shouldn’t apply to everything. For example, sure, you can decide to live life bigger by taking more physical risks but if you fall off your mountain bike going down a daredevil hill and break both your arms what will mean arthritis when you’re older, you need to decide if it’s worth it. Does this really make your life more worthwhile?

    Or, how about the attitude of sex without protection? You decide you like the risk and the moments of incredible ecstasy are paid for through the rest of your life because you get HIV and you have to take drugs and you suffer health wise.

    I think confusing what is holding us back from living more fully and just “being stupid” as Diesel would have us go, is not really a very smart way of creating your life.

    Also, we should choose things we really want to do, not just things we’re afraid of. Though doing just anything because you’re afraid of it will make you stronger and it has value for that, I think it’s better to choose what you really want to do but that has fears attached to it.

    For me the example would be, I am incredibly afraid of scuba diving, but I don’t have a desire to go scuba diving. I am very afraid of being able to swim well enough, but I do want to sail a small boat. I need to get over my fear of water by learning to swim better so I can do the sailing thing. It doesn’t mean I have to scuba dive.

    In terms of work-related things, the biggest thing I’m afraid of is feeling disconnected on the Internet. I’m afraid to pull the plug on much of this but maybe that’s really what I need to do, even if it’s for a defined time. Become “obscure” and have no social presence. Now that would take guts.

    Almost every person here is not answering the question with a specific answer. Me included. I guess I’d better not come back until I have something.

  15. mckra1g Says:

    I’m doing it. Launching my nonprofit has resulted in my gambling not only my future, but that of my children. I was able to do so, however, because I accepted the reality your blogpost makes.

    What’s the worst thing that can happen? Nothing. I start afresh somehow or somewhere else.

    Currently slogging through the morass. Will keep you posted.

    Scared shitless most days.

  16. Ian Says:

    Snowboarded aggressively, some might say dangerously, for for 5 years often injuring myself slightly here and there. Consistently pushing my personal limit and scaring the crap out of myself, but also feeding off the adrenaline rush and doing something I love. Then I snapped my arm completely in half in Utah…surgery with some screws and a metal plate and I’m back on the board this season. I will have slight pain in my arm for the rest of my life most likely, nothing too bad hopefully.

    Interestingly enough, I do not really agree with you. While yes people are not dying from certain things, they are still dying instantly and unexpectedly…car accidents, natural disasters? I realize you are being provocative when you say 0% chance of dying but I curious if you actually suggest living with that extreme of a mindset…

    Also, granted this is somewhat beside the point, while this does address the western world and the audience reading this, the majority of humans on this planet do not live in a safe world where they can’t die.

    I do applaud the overall message of your post and your challenge to live life and take risks though, I am just playing devil’s advocate to an extent.

    • Julien Says:

      Hey Ian, I actually agree with you. Life is not totally safe, but people do have a distorted idea of what is, and is not, dangerous. That was more what I meant, plus the provocative stuff at the end which just tries to get people moving. :)

  17. Mark Harai Says:

    Blogging with a fricken attitude — love what you do Julien, Chris has nothing on you.

    Let’s see, safe or risky? — Risky is a lot more fun :)

    Cheers!

  18. Peter Paluska Says:

    All right, Julien, way to keep rocking!

    I shall commit to the very scary act of being an excellent boyfriend. Outta my way!
    Merci beaucoup, J!

    Peter

  19. Abbey Says:

    I will stop being scared of food. And of life in general.

  20. akhila Says:

    maybe I’ll stop being afraid of failing.

  21. Arthur Says:

    I almost unsubscribed because I have no fear of failure, of any kind, whatsoever ;)

    Then I thought, I can still appreciate the post for the way it’s written, what’s said inbetween the words and why the words were being delivered.

    Keep rocking the posts man, they are ALL awesome.

  22. jw Says:

    “Instead, our cultural environment creates other risks. Being broke, dying alone, not fulfilling your potential– these exist because we are no longer concerned with being devoured by predators or afraid of starving. But these are risks that are significantly less severe, and much easy to recover from.”

    Worldwide suicide rates have increased by 60% in the past 50 years, mainly in the developing countries.

    not going to say the only reason for the increase in suicide rates is an increase in these other, “less severe”, risks, but I would at least like to question your rating system. (and chronic disease can be very dangerous-just like the chronic disease of interacting with lions or tigers or bears in your day to day life)
    also of interest is the mentality behind a society with healthcare spending that is so heavily weighted towards the last months of life, but has a fairly high infant mortality rate (mostly due to low birth weight-a consequence of the deficiencies in the health and care of the mother).

    i just don’t understand your ‘you can’t die’ credo. i don’t think it means failure is less of an issue. some would argue that failure is more difficult to overcome in a world where the kind of obligatory intimate relationships that smaller communities foster are disappearing.
    and dying isn’t scary-you’re dead. there may be less ways to die these days, but the numerous ways of living miserably are just as numerous.

    i think what you are asking people to do is good, but i don’t think your reasoning behind it makes that much sense. plus i think it adds to the myth that the kind of ‘progress’ we have made in terms of medical/technical innovation equals ‘progress’ in overall quality of life/community.

    • Julien Says:

      Hey JW,

      i actually don’t think it adds to a quality of life at all, that’s another issue entirely.

      the way i think about this is– “you are less fragile than you think you are,” or more simply, “you can always bounce back.”

      i live in Quebec, which has some of the highest suicide rates in the world. i think a lot of it has to do with lack of sunlight, or separation in general from the way our bodies were meant to live, never mind the actual disconnect between communities, etc.

      and i know that those reasons of death are just as important as being eaten by a wooly mammoth, or something, but at least with stress, cardiac arrest, cancer, etc., you have a chance to turn things around.

      does that make sense?

  23. JackSamMum Says:

    While I really like a lot of what you have to say I have to point out a major issue that is unfortunately a common misconception: You said
    “Any world where cancer is a serious risk is extremely safe, because it means many people are living for as long as it takes to get cancer.”
    Cancer is the number one killer of children in America. My son was diagnosed at 5. Every 4 minutes someone is diagnosed and every 10 minutes, someone dies. I have no fear of life, failure or anything in between..I want to live life…and I want my son to grow up without fear. If he can kick cancer’s butt, he can, and should do anything! Cancer is still a serious risk…

  24. bk Says:

    I came here through a post of Gwen Bell…

    I wish I could believe what you said but part of me just doesn’t.

    I was raised in the Western world, in a country where the assumptions you are making in this post were true.

    A few months ago I moved to a Third world country and everything is different.

    Death is literally at every street corner. I could get robbed on my way from home to the store, I could get raped if I travel back from the city too late at night, last week a doctor gave me the wrong medication and put my health a serious risk.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not being whiny or positioning myself as a victim. In fact I think these very risks make life here much more intense (well, that’s what I think most of the time). That’s the authenticity you refer to. Believe me, it’s so refreshing.

    I think sometimes we forget these basic differences. The magic of internet means we can *virtually* all be connected (or all be *virtually* connected) in a same reality in our mind. But the physical realities we live in are still extremely different at times.

    Am not sure if my point is clear (it’s pretty late at night here)…

    These are just my thoughts as I basically learn to live in these two parallel worlds (first world habits in a third world country)…

    But the question you ask is legitimate for many people and I hope they will take that chance to take the leap!! And the ‘stupid’ video is priceless.

    As for me, I just don’t know if I have the luxury of asking myself such questions anymore… or maybe they risks I will take will have to be more *virtual* than physical…

    Be blessed.

  25. Michele Nicholls Says:

    This is more true than perhaps many people realise. I have reached the grand age of 63 with a hole in my heart and a variety of other conditions that could, even 10 years before my birth, have killed me whilst still a child. Nearly 4 years ago I broke a bone for the first time in my life – to be more precise, I completely destroyed my elbow!

    I did such a thorough job that our amazing medical science had no replacement joint that would work for my situation, and it amazed me the number of people who were totally astounded to find that it couldn’t be simply and easily ‘fixed’. Fortunately for me, my wonderful surgeon ( thanks, Mr Takwale!)searched the world till he found a brand new design of titanium joint that would fit me. It took 2 years, in which time i discovered what real pain is – having had a hard time with the births of 4 of my children, I thought I knew. I was wrong!

    Being in constant, agonising pain, unable to feed, wash or dress myself for 2 years taught me how lucky I now am. Believe me, I’m making up for lost time ;oD

  26. john Falchetto Says:

    Hi Julie, I don’t agree. I worked with people who save lives for a living and once you hold someone in your arms as they pass away, you start using the word ‘dying’ with a lot more respect.
    I understand you are using the word metaphorically but you do mention activities like Parkour in which young people regularly end up seriously hurt or dead.

    Death is definitely part of our lives, people still do starve to death, children die of cancer everyday, and young mothers do get mowed down the streets by drunk drivers.

    I am not sure which planet you live on but even if the risk of getting eaten alive by a mammoth is next to nil, but in this world there are environments that will kill you.

    To claim ‘In this world you cannot die in any environment’ is a ridiculous assertion.
    Kids get cyber bullied online and kill themselves, people go for a run in the woods, slip, break a leg and die in a ditch.

    I think pretending that you can’t die is not where our virtue lies. Knowing that death is imminent and still live a great life is what makes us immortal.

  27. Colin Says:

    Thanks Julien – great words, encouragement and advice.

    Thanks so much!
    Colin

  28. camila Says:

    You woke me up like a bucket of ice water.

  29. Howard Stein Says:

    Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

    Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
    — Steve Jobs, Stanford University Commencement address 2005

    and Carlos Castaneda said, “Always live with death on your left shoulder.”

    Wise counsel both.

  30. Sharon Dinitz Says:

    An acquaintance once wrote: This is René Daumal’s poem translated from the French,written at the end of his short life when he had already become, I think, one of the outstanding pupils of Gurdjieff. René Daumal is quite well known in France as an avant-garde poet of the twenties and thirties. He died in 1944 at the age of 36. This poem
    was his last summing up.

    I am dead because I lack desire
    I lack desire because I think I have it
    I think I have it because I do not try to give.
    In trying to give, I see that I have nothing
    Seeing I have nothing, I then try to give of myself
    Trying to give of myself, I see that I am nothing
    Seeing that I am nothing, I desire to become
    And in desiring to become, I begin to live, I begin to live.

  31. Willowbee Says:

    I subscribe to your blog. I’m interested in what you have to say but find this post naive, if not offensive. One of my closest friends is fighting for his life right now. He’s 28 and probably someone that you would like very much – brave & incredibly bright. He was knocked off his bicycle and crushed under a lorry in central London. Nothing glorious about that. I lost another close friend under tragic circumstances almost a year ago (the hospital messed up & killed him). He was in his mid 30s, fabulously intelligent and kind and left a wonderful family who are still learning to live without him. I have another dear friend (again young) who has been diagnosed with an agressive, inoperable cancer and who I can’t bear to think about losing. All young, dynamic, active, exceptionally bright people – nothing fearful or small about their lives but not taking risks with their health or safety either. I was struck down with a serious illness at 25 and I am in my 11th year of a completely disrupted life. You may be fortunate enough not to have lost loved ones in such an abrupt way or to have had to face long-term illness or care for an acutely ill person. Don’t be so damned arrogant about death.

  32. Momekh Says:

    I thought the post-title was deliberately provocative – youknow, good headlines etc. But you actually DO mean to tell us that ‘we can not die’ if we live in the western/first-world countries. I think Willowbee showed one angle of how this ‘philosophy’ is perhaps stretched a bit too far.

    I call it the ‘threshold of risk’ and yes, that was and is very high, much higher than what most people would have us believe.

    But we must remember that the graveyard is full of indispensable people.

  33. Willowbee Says:

    Thank you, Momekh.

    Sadly my friend died yesterday afternoon. The impact of the accident was too much for his body to take. He was only 28, gifted, super-bright and just one of the loveliest people you could want to meet. We all gathered together yesterday (the many people who loved him) and the strongest feeling, after shock and sorrow, was that we had lost someone “indispensable”.

    Life IS fragile and life is precious.

    Best wishes to you.

  34. Momekh Says:

    @Willowbee: Deaths and ‘sudden endings’ is what proves in itself that yea, life IS fragile and exceptionally precious. I am sure anyone who even hears about it will immediately feel – or perhaps try to feel – your sorrow.

    But I guess the point that I take from this post, is that we as humans always have had a great threshold of risk, more than we think.

    I wrote a post about When To Quit Your Job where I try to get people to look at life differently and take bigger risks BECAUSE life is too precious to be doing something that you don’t like…

    God bless and guide us all.

  35. Emmalina Says:

    “Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom?” Raoul Vaneigem

  36. John Morrow Says:

    Great article. As has been pointed out many times – humans are really poor judges of risk. We’ll avoid eating donuts cause they’re bad for us, while driving around without a seatbelt.

    People fear the wrong things.

  37. amber Says:

    surfing.

  38. Tony Fuentes Says:

    I’m quitting my job and starting an Internet business. See you in Feb.

  39. Alex Says:

    Wow this is great !

    With the first chance I will do something bold in public

  40. Aleyna Says:

    I will not be afraid to voice my opinion loud and with confidence. I will speak up when I need something. Also, I am going to make weekly youtube videos.

    (btw- I love how easily everyone replies. It’s almost as if we’d been wanting to do these things for so long, and once you put it into our heads we realized there’s nothing stoping us….heheh)

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