The UN-conventional


On death and other light topics

May 15, 2024

“Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

- Mary Oliver (excerpt Poem 133: Summer of Day)


Laura here. I’ve always thought a lot about death. I remember being around 6, laying in bed, and terrified of dying. I would comfort my 6-year-old self by telling myself that if I died it would be ok, because I wouldn’t know. I’d just be dead.

In my teenage years and twenties, I avoided the thoughts of death altogether. (I had a different kind of anxiety to consume my thoughts with.)

When I started dating my now-husband in my early twenties, he would tell me how comforted he was by the idea that we are all just a speck on a floating rock and that none of this matters. At the time, I found this thought terrifying and completely unhelpful. 

When I had kids, the fear of dying came back with a new - adult level and more sophisticated - intensity. The fear of leaving them and disappearing from this earth was all encompassing; I wasn’t ready to go. I had too much I still wanted to do and be. I remember breaking down into a full sob on the London tube because the feelings were too intense to keep inside. 

To make it all less scary, I decided I needed to think more about death. I needed to go right into the fire. I devoured books like When Breath Becomes Air and shows like The Good Place. I listened to podcasts about being old. I understood why religion was comforting. I tried to pull myself out of the darkness anyway I could.


What really helped me turn a corner though, years later, was outlining my personal purpose and being grateful.


I realized that my personal identity was completely tied to my professional career. When work was bad or I didn’t get a job I wanted, I crumbled. The fear of death came back; I was engulfed by thoughts of not having accomplished what I wanted to and feeling helpless - like my ability to have the career and life I wanted was controlled by bosses and office politics. I knew I had a wonderful family, but was unable to be authentically grateful for it - because it didn’t feel like enough.

Then I learned about Bhutan, one of the happiest countries on earth, where people are encouraged to think about death multiple times a day. Where you are mindful that death happens to everyone. Where you are encouraged to pay attention to your emotions and be grateful for all of life’s big and little things.


With these learnings, I did two things: 

  1. I outlined my personal purpose. It allowed me to see that all the pieces of my life - in and outside of my career - were what made me, me. It gave me a framework for figuring out how to shift careers and a way to be proactive and go after the life I wanted. 
  2. I started, saying out loud, on a daily basis what I’m grateful for. And I make my family do it. I get so much daily joy talking about how grateful I am for all the little things (coffee, sun, PB&Js) that make life what it is. 

I still don’t feel ready for death. But I don’t feel as scared of it. I think about it many times a week. Not running away from it has helped me work to find meaning and purpose in my “one wild and precious life”.


These are not mind-blowing new tools, you’ve probably read an article or heard a podcast on gratitude or purpose, but they were mind-blowing and life-changing for me, and might be for you as well. So if you haven’t tried them, keep reading to get my tips.


If you find yourself vacillating between feeling like a meaningless speck or that your whole life has to be dedicated to making the world better, I’ll offer you this:

  1. Pick a gratitude practice you like, and start doing it a few times a week. I like to do it at dinner with my family. Many nights we each share our highlight of the day, lowlight of the day and what we are grateful for. 
  2. Define your personal purpose. You can do this on your own, with Ikigai inspired tools or book a free one-to-one session with us and we’ll guide you through it with our own process that we’ve done with dozens of clients. 

If this resonated with you, we would love to hear from you. Send us an email or write in the comments.

Thanks for being here,

Laura (& Sarah)


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