Ernest Becker. Never heard of the name? Neither have I until about a month ago. Little did I know that Ernest Becker is one of the greatest influences of anthropology and his book, Denial of Death, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1974. What is fascinating about this beast of a man is that he wrote his book on his death bed. As he was being sung sweet lullabies by the Grim Reaper, he put his entire life’s work and knowledge to paper, and I had the pleasure to read the Denial of Death.
To summarize Denial of Death, Ernest pushed the ideology that evolution has trapped man between our creatureliness and our symbolic view of ourselves. As a species, we are aware of our own uniqueness and power, but we are also keen on the inevitable truth that one day we will die. Yes, you will die. I know it is a hard pill to swallow, but one day you will take your last breath and meet Charon, the ferryman, asking for his dues. This realization of the complete nothingness after a lifetime of memories and experiences scares the shit out of a lot of people, myself included.
To really put it into perspective, go stand in the middle of a cemetery. If cemeteries are not really your scene because of your innate fear of zombies coming out of the ground from watching too much of The Walking Dead then just imagine standing in a cemetery. You are surrounded by ideas, businesses, theories, etc. that never manifested in the physical world because it died with the person who is now buried under your feet. Now my question to you is, will you be in the same boat? Will you let your thoughts and ideas die with you?
As a human being, we unconsciously want to be immortal. Not in the sense of physically living forever, but our name, the idea of us, never withering in time. Ernest Becker referred to this self-preservation of our ideology as our “immortality project”. As a society, we are surrounded by immortality projects and are not even aware of it. The names of building, innovations, inventions, books, etc. are all immortality projects. People have devoted their entire lives to a single field of study or one project so that they may be remembered. Now the scary part is what if your immortality project stops with you when you are on your death bed. This is the situation that causes people to have a panic attack. Ernest referred to these panic attacks as “death terrors”. However, my purpose for this post is to help you with the anxiety that follows with death terrors.
The first death terror I ever had was when I graduated high school. I was damn near the bottom of my class. I didn’t take the SAT or ACT. I was not a stand out athlete. Consequently, all my shortcomings caused me to have no aspirations of going to college. As I sat in my bed that night after graduation, I just started to cry. Not just a few tears, but I was letting it all out. I was scared. I felt useless. I was in a dark place and I knew no one would remember my name in generations to come because I had nothing unique. I had no grand idea, or talent to make me an asset to society. I have done nothing. I didn’t want to do anything. Then as if being sacked by Lawrence Taylor, it hit me. Doing nothing is still a conscious decision to do something, so why not do something? There was no reason to give in to my insecurities, my fears of failure, or what the populous might think because, in the end, it will all become nothing in the medium of time. The end of that summer, I joined the Navy. Now mind you, I was never number one at anything. I never wanted to put in the extra work to stand out because I didn’t want to be known as “that guy” out of a group. However, as I flew into Great Lakes to go to boot camp I asked myself, “What is the legacy I want to leave with the world after I die? And am I willing to envelope myself entirely to achieve my goals?” For the first time in my life, I left as if I was starting my life and I was not going to let any fears steal this moment from me.
Fast forward through a lot of sweat and training, I ended up graduating boot camp as the honor graduate of the entire training group of around 900 people. I allowed my new found success fuel my next endeavor. I would later go on to A-school and graduated at the top of my class.
You have to start somewhere to begin your immortality project. Failure is inevitable on the manifestation of your legacy. Life is one nasty bitch named Diamond who will rob you for all your worth. If and when it does, take the opportunity to start over and begin again. Life is about struggle, failure, and pain. Even the people who sit in Beverly Hills in a fat ass mansion still have insecurities and problems. However, do not let failure define you. Let you define you. So my final question to you is, why have you not taken the leap? We are all one day going to die, so be devoted to your own immortality project. When you die make sure you are buried with a smile on your face and with no regrets in your heart.
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