On The Shortness of Life

Irene Chu
3 min readJul 4, 2021


Welcome back, kindred spirits.

In light of recent events, I’ve been reminded of Seneca’s essay On the Shortness of Life.

We are dying.

Though we could not possibly forget this truth…

How often do we think about it on a daily basis?

How often does this fact drive our decisions?

Less often than we think, and this needs to change.

Last year, I watched a video of 70 people ages 5–75 sharing their biggest regrets.

The main takeaways?

When we’re younger, we regret the things we did.

When we’re older, we regret the things we didn’t do.

With my grandfather’s passing, I’ve been wondering if people ever die contentedly — without regrets, proud of their children and contributions, and at peace with their legacy.

I’ve been thinking…

Was my grandfather proud of the life he led, of his accomplishments and children?

Did he have any regrets?

And, what of my mother?

Has she regretted her choice — moving abroad, away from her family and friends, only seeing them once or twice every few years?

How did she feel, being unable to attend his funeral?

Separated from the people you love, is this a life worth living?

Some people may argue it’s subjective, entirely dependent on what you consider a meaningful life.

Similar to how purpose, success and happiness are subjective and contingent on how we define them.

But I believe, regardless of how we define any of the above, humans are fundamentally social creatures, and thus, we need deep and meaningful relationships to be happy.

Though we are all aware of it, I doubt we tend to keep this truth at the forefront of our minds — that we are dying every day.

Most people fear death and think life is too short.

But, I do not fear death, nor do I think life is too short.

Rather, I fear what happens between my birth and death.

I fear wasting my time and potential.

Because I believe it’s as Seneca said,

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

Realistically, most of us live tacitly, presuming we’ll live forever.

We forget our time here is limited.

And so, we often spend too much time focusing on the wrong things.

I cannot tell you what is important as everyone’s values and priorities are different.

But, I can tell you what is not important.

Things like:

  • Being too lazy, distracted and entertained
  • Fearing failure, rejection and not taking risks
  • Complaining, criticizing and comparing
  • Caring about the opinions of others
  • Doing things you don’t want to do
  • Only chasing after vain pursuits
  • Investing too much time on social media

Truthfully, none of these things make sense in light of the fragility of life.

Yet, these are the things we tend to focus on.

In this era, there are no shortages of things that take away our time, and so, we must be more mindful of guarding against these distractions.

This means saying “No!” to time-wasting activities like any of those mentioned above.

Consider whether your potential actions are ones you will enjoy meaningfully, ones that will genuinely benefit you and others, and ones worthy of making up your only life.

If not, perhaps they’re not worth doing.

Don’t get me wrong.

I don’t believe we need to be productive and do meaningful things all the time.

I understand the importance of enjoying life, as on the flip side, we only have one life to live.

I also understand the importance of rest and self-care for our well-being.

Look, I acknowledge the importance of leisure in life, but I believe:

A life consisting of only leisure is meaningless.

Because a life of pure leisure is a life of mere existence — lazing around and wasting our time and potential.

A life worth living is one where you’re in control of yourself, enjoying yourself meaningfully, working towards goals important to you and investing in your relationships.

So, here is my main takeaway for you:

You are going to die one day, at any moment.

Remind yourself of this truth every day.

And let it guide you in your day-to-day decision-making so on your deathbed, you can die contentedly without regrets.

Stay strong,


Let’s connect on my website, LinkedIn, or Twitter. 🪷



Irene Chu

🪷 Building a fulfilling life and sharing what I learn along the way.