A view of the world from my own unique perspective

It’s that time of year again… each year, during the final week of December, newspapers everywhere publish that requisite reflective article – the list of celebrities who have died during the past year. Each year I read this collection of obituaries and tributes, and almost without exception I’m surprised to discover the names of at least two or three well-known people whom I didn’t know had died. But I also see something else in this annual list…

While most of us will look at the names of those who have left us and think “Oh, it’s to bad that s/he’s gone – I liked his/her movies/music” or “Gee, I haven’t thought about this person in ages – I thought s/he died about five years ago”, I see something different: a new way to motivate people.

While these lists naturally reminded of my own mortality, they also make me consider mortality as a motivational force. There is the usual Carpe Diem angle, but I also see two other ways that the year-end Celebrity Death Calendar can motivate people: there is the slacker approach and the over-achiever approach.

The Slacker Approach

I thought of the Slacker Angle after watching the Occupy Wall Street protesters on television earlier this year. Here were people complaining about the unequal distribution of wealth, while spending their days living in a tent in the middle of a city park. They were not employed or otherwise contributing to society in a positive way, yet they believed that they were changing the world.

So, Occupiers, and everyone else with the same idealistic and disconnected mindset, this proposal is for you! The Slacker Approach will give you self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment for free. You don’t have to do anything, yet you will feel as though you’ve actually accomplished something with your life and are making an impact on the world.

You, the self-described 99%, may not be able to attain the influence, fame or wealth of most celebrities – most of whom likely earn more than the CEOs of major banks – but it is now in your power to outdistance them in one area: your lifespan. Achieving this goal is within your grasp, and is a way of marking an achievement in your life. The answer and method lies in the Celebrity Death Calendar (see below). It lists the names of famous people who have passed away in 2011, and their exact age at the time of their death. All you have to do is look at the calendar, pick a celebrity who is younger than you and think to yourself “Hey – I’ve been alive longer than Amy Winehouse – now that’s an accomplishment!”. Yes, not only was it an accomplishment in your life, but you did it effortlessly – now that’s talent! In fact, if you have a resume, then you may want to consider including that little tidbit.

Those of you who are a little older, a little more established and who aren’t professional Occupiers may not be as enamoured by this “achievement without effort” philosophy. If you’re one of these pragmatic “pull your own weight” people, then consider this: that technique is already being used to motivate people who are trying to quit smoking. The WhyQuit.com web site has a Recovery Table that encourages people who have recently quit, to keep up the fight. Even as a non-smoker, I find this web page oddly motivational. Unlike other advertising campaigns, it doesn’t ask you to do anything except wait. After a certain amount of time has passed, something good would happen to you (or more accurately, something bad would stop happening or become less severe). You could accomplish the goals listed on this table, one after the other, by essentially doing nothing. For example, one of the entries reads “After eight hours [without tobacco], the nicotine level in your bloodstream falls to 6.25% of normal peak daily levels – a 93.75% reduction”. If Dire Straits can sing about Money For Nothing, then I can offer you achievement for nothing and progress for free!

Some of you middle-aged (or older) readers are probably thinking “Achievement for nothing? Come on Bob – don’t put that cavalier, do-the-absolute-minimum attitude into the heads of our impressionable and already-motivationally-challenged youth! If I had those ideals, then I would add “Life Coach” to my resume and believe that it’s a legitimate profession whose skills will make me perpetually in-demand.”

To the younger readers – before you get too excited, I must share a bit of sobering news: in terms of celebrity mortality, 2011 wasn’t exactly a banner year for slackers, occupiers, trust-fund babies or anyone embracing a path-of-least-resistance philosophy of life. The 2011 Celebrity Death Calendar (below) is sorted by lifespan, from youngest to oldest. The first entry is Amy Winehouse, who died at 27, but right below her is Steve Jobs, who lived to be 56. If you’re a person who spends your days living in a tent, castigating “The Man”, and wearing tattered clothing made from hemp, then your age is probably closer to Amy Winehouse’s than Steve Jobs’s. It may be a while before you start climbing this list and basking in that feeling of effortless accomplishment. Therefore, you may want to consider…

The Over-achiever Approach

Not too long ago, I was looking back on my life and what I had accomplished thus far. I was thinking to myself “You know, when Mozart was my age… he was already dead!”. Yes, Mozart had composed all of his music, made all of his contributions to the world, and lived out his entire life by the age of 35 – what had I done with my life? Will my name be on people’s lips 200 years after I’m dead? Will my name be synonymous with… anything? At this rate… probably not, so I’d better get moving!

Take a good look at celebrities who have died young (or younger than you are now) and consider the mark they made on the world. Admittedly  the 2011 Celebrity Death Calendar isn’t a very good example, since the only young celebrity who died this year was Amy Winehouse, but consider instead, the following people: Buddy Holly (22), Terry Fox (22), Jim Morrison (27), Franz Schubert (31), Bruce Lee (32), Raphael (37), John Lennon (40) and Elvis Presley (42). Multiply their age by 365 to get an approximate day count – the number of days they had to make their mark on this planet. How many days have you lived so far, and how are you faring in comparison? What will it take for you to equal their contributions? If you started now, how diligently will you have to work and for how long before you make a similar impact on the world? These are humbling questions, but if you’ve been planning to do something truly spectacular and inspiring with your life – as Steve Jobs once said, to “make a dent in the universe” – then now is the time to “kick it up a notch!”.

Here is the 2011 Celebrity Death Calendar (sorted by age) – let your own style of motivation commence!

Amy Winehouse – British singer
September 14, 1983 – July 23, 2011
27 years, 10 months, 10 days = 10,175 days

Steve Jobs – Apple co-founder
February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011
56 years, 7 months, 12 days =  20,678 days

Jack Layton – NDP leader
July 18, 1950 – August 22, 2011
61 years, 1 month, 5 days = 22,316 days

Christopher Hitchens – author
April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011
62 years, 8 months, 3 days = 22,892 days

Dr. Rob Buckman – oncologist, columnist, TV Ontario personality
August 22, 1948 – October 9, 2011
63 years, 1 month, 18 days = 23, 059 days

Gerry Rafferty – pop singer
April 16, 1947 – January 4, 2011
63 years, 8 months, 20 days = 23,275 days

Joe Frazier – pugilist
January 12, 1944 – November 7, 2011
67 years, 9 months, 27 days = 24,772 days

Andrea True – disco singer (Andrea True Connection)
July 26, 1943 – November 7, 2011
68 years, 3 months, 13 days = 24,942 days

Clarence Clemons – Bruce Springsteen’s sax player
January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011
69 years, 5 months, 8 days = 25,361 days

Dennis Ritchie – C, UNIX creator
September 8, 1941 – October 8, 2011
69 years, 10 months, 1 day = 25,507 days

Betty Fox – cancer research activist, Terry Fox’s mother
November 15, 1937 – June 17, 2011
73 years, 7 months, 3 days = 26,878 days

Vaclav Havel – former Czech President (1989-2003)
October 5, 1936 – December 18, 2011
75 years, 2 months, 14 days = 27,468 days

Geraldine Ferraro – 1984 U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate
August 25, 1935 – March 26, 2011
75 years, 7 months, 2 days = 27,608 days

Jerry Leiber – lyricist (Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Stand By Me)
April 25, 1933 – August 22, 2011
78 years, 3 months, 29 days = 28,609 days

Elizabeth Taylor – actress
February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011
79 years, 0 months, 25 days = 28,880 days

Dr. Jack Kevorkian – euthanasia proponent
May 26, 1928 – June 3, 2011
83 years, 0 months, 9 days = 30,324 days

Peter Falk – actor (Columbo)
September 16, 1927 – June 23, 2011
83 years, 8 months, 29 days = 30,587 days

Lee Pockriss – songwriter (Catch A Falling Star, Teen Angel)
Janbuary 20, 1924 – November 14, 2011
87 years, 9 months, 26 days = 32,076

James Arness – actor
May 26, 1923 – June 3, 2011
88 years, 0 months, 9 days = 32,151 days

Bil Keane – Family Circus cartoonist
October 5, 1922 – November 8, 2011
89 years, 1 month, 4 days = 32,542 days

Jane Russell – actress
June 21, 1921 – February 28, 2011
89 years, 8 months, 8 days = 32,760 days

Andy Rooney – 60 Minutes commentator
January 14, 1919 – November 4, 2011
92 years, 9 months, 22 days = 33,898 days

Betty Ford – former U.S. First Lady (1974-77)
April 8, 1918 – July 8, 2011
93 years, 3 months, 1 day = 34,060 days

Sherwood Schwartz – Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island creator
November 14, 1916 – July 12. 2011
94 years, 7 months, 29 days = 34,574 days

Jack LaLanne – fitness guru
September 26, 1914 – January 23, 2011
96 years, 3 months, 29 days = 35,184 days

Norman Ramsey – Nobel Prize winner, atomic clock inventor
August 27, 1915 – November 4, 2011
96 years, 2 months, 9 days = 35,134 days

Harry Morgan – actor
April 10, 1915 – December 7, 2011
96 years, 7 months, 28 days = 35,306 days

Arch West – Frito-Lay employee, inventor of Doritos
September 8, 1914 – September 20, 2011
97 years, 0 months, 13 days = 35,442 days

Dolores Hope – wife of Bob Hope
May 27, 1909 – September 19, 2011
102 years, 3 months, 24 days = 37,371 days

Frank Buckles – last WWI veteran
February 1, 1901 – February 27, 2011
110 years, 0 months, 27 days = 40,204 days

Geeky observation: I think the saddest 2011 death was Jane Russell. She lived just over 89 years and 8 months, which works out to 32,760 days. If only she had lived another eight days, then she would have experienced day number 32,768!  The computer geeks among you will understand what I’m talking about…

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