You Are Going to Lose Everything Eventually

Everything you have is borrowed, and there is going to be a time you’ll have to give it all back. Your money, clothes and property won’t stay with you forever. Friends and family members pass on and some grow apart from you. Even existence itself is time-limited.

I’m guessing some readers feel this is a needlessly depressing topic. Focusing on death and the impermanence of everything is scary for many people. I don’t see it that way. In fact, the sheer impermanence in life is actually freeing. If you can fully accept it, you are free to enjoy this existence focusing on what really matters, instead of worrying about all the crap that isn’t important.

Poverty, Loneliness, Pain and Failure Aren’t That Bad

Like many Generation Y members, I’m a big fan of the book and movie Fight Club. Chuck Palahniuk is a brilliant author and David Fincher is a great director for the screen version.

The movie centers around the protagonist’s struggle against his boring, unsatisfying life. His revelation comes when he decides to give up his material possessions and live a far less comfortable existence. Although he gave up the things society values, he became far happier because he had freedom.

I subscribe to the Stoic view of life where pain and failure aren’t the problem to be avoided in life. The Stoics believe that virtue (arete) is the meaning of life, and while health and wealth are conveniences, they should never be desired more than virtue. Poverty and loneliness, Stoics argue, are often beneficial because they allow you to display more virtue.

In the end, everyone will be poor and alone. Trying to accumulate these secondary parts of life can add comfort, but it can’t replace the quest for deeper virtues. Qualities like excellence, creation, honor and courage are the meaningful parts of life because they are not defined by their permanence. The meaning of an impermanent life is arete.

Following the Way

Taoism takes the view that there is an underlying Way to the universe. Humans have free will so they can choose to follow that Way or ignore it. If they ignore it, they will suffer. If they follow their Way, they will be at peace.

I believe everyone has a Way to follow. I’m not a believer that this is some mystical force created by the universe, but a logical relationship. Just as a machine has an ideal operating state, where all the gears move without friction and produce the maximum output, I think the Taoist concept of the Way could similarly apply to people.

I know I’m on this path when every part of my life merges without friction. My gains in my business ripple into my personal life. My health improves which improves my social life. My education is enhanced, improving my business. There is minimal friction and all of my internal gears are supporting each other.

Like a machine with one gear out of alignment, I can also quickly tell when I’m not following this Way. The parts of my life don’t work together. Life becomes a symphony with some instruments playing too loudly and out of step with the other players.

Falling in and Out of The Way

A year ago, I was in the closest state I’ve had to being perfectly in sync. I was investing all of my energy to goals of my own choosing. My fitness was improving, I had time for friends and my business was doing better than it had ever done before.

Unfortunately, I slipped out of this path getting involved in a massive academic project that consumed my life for eight months. The advantage of this slip was that it helped me recognize the importance of following the Way, and that I needed to make efforts to return to it.

What makes the Way important isn’t money, friends, health or success. It’s simply a mental state where all of your energies are pushed towards your most important goals. It’s a state of low friction where you aren’t burning out, but aren’t idling.

The Difficult Way

Often your Way, the path where you are striving perfectly in concert with your values and without internal friction or contradiction, is a difficult route. It is often more difficult than the path society says you should follow. Ultimately, I agree with the Taoist view that it is entirely up to you whether you want the easier path or the path that is in accordance with your nature. But, you also have to pay the consequences for that choice.

I’ve written about my goals previously, for a completely digital life, fitness and education. Certainly it would be easier to just put my 9-5 in at a big firm, buy a house and live in comfort.

Arete, The Way and the Impermanent Life

How do all of these ideas tie together? Simply, I believe the Stoic concept of arete and the Taoist concept of the Way are two ways of looking at the same thing. The meaning of life, is the pursuit of a life along this Way. It is often difficult to steer the ship, but all efforts should be made to bring life towards this path.

Although following the Way or arete perfectly is impossible, I don’t feel that either of these are long-term goals. When I started with personal development, I can remember moments where I struggled to run 5km, but I felt perfectly aligned with what mattered. I have also had recent moments with greater success, but I was unhappy because there wasn’t that alignment. It’s always a challenge to stay aligned, but if you make alignment a more important goal than money and popularity, it is easier to stay on track.

I think this dual concept of arete and the Way is especially important if you recognize the impermanence of life. Impermanence often scares people. So much that they invent belief systems with afterlives and reincarnation to reduce the fear of losing everything.

However, if you see past all the social conditioning and phony shortcuts around this problem, it isn’t a problem at all. Impermanence brings arete and the Way to the forefront, as if life were reminding you that everything else wasn’t as important.

You Have One Life, Make it Count

One reason I don’t subscribe to a philosophy of reincarnation or an afterlife is that it downplays the importance of this life. If you accept that everything is impermanent, the importance of the present moment skyrockets. Instead of just being another slice of infinite time, you have a precious gift that can’t be wasted in dead-end jobs, broken relationships or hiding away from the important challenges in the world.

Life isn’t measured in accomplishments and material success. Sure, other people might judge you that way, but those things aren’t the basis for fulfillment. What really matters is the energy and ambition you bring to each day. Even if you inevitably fail to reach the targets you strive for, the meaning of life is the striving.

  • J.D. Meier

    Too true … this too shall pass, eh?

    It’s a great reminder of make the moments count and value the journey as much, if not more, than the destination.

  • Andresito

    I’m sure you’re aware of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism,
    1. Suffering exists
    2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
    3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
    4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

    Surprisingly it isn’t the only philosophy that considers uncertainty and continuous change. Let’s mention that “getting rid of your extra baggage” doesn’t mean to give off your material properties or friendships. Attachment to the unimportant is the extra baggage. Fears, anger, hypocrisy, etc… and more important “ignorance.”

    You Have One Life, Make it Count
    I like the way Prem Rawat Maharaji thinks of this; “You have one unique life, get it once, get it right.”

    “I’m guessing some readers feel this is a needlessly depressing topic. “
    Actually that you wrote it what makes this journey so interesting and unique;

    “Life is about the journey, not the end result.”
    -S Pavlina

    Scott, I wonder why you took so long to write on this topic, isn’t personal development going towards internal peace kinda thing?
    I’ve came from that route to personal dev.

  • A Sunday In June

    GREAT article Scott and you’ve, once again, given me lots of pondering material 🙂

    I can’t wrap my mind around “one life” however, that puts way too much pressure on me at almost 52 to “get it right”. I guess you could use reincarnation as an escape route …you know, I’ll get it right next time. I have to believe in an afterlife though, or else I’d spend all my time afraid to die. I’m trying to learn to “live in the moment” at this stage of my life, so all is well anyway 🙂

    You really inspire me Scott. You really do!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    I want to emphasize that the point of my article isn’t to explicitly deny the existence of an afterlife or some form of posthumous existence. I’m agnostic to the possibilities, as I’ve heard some rather convincing arguments from a scientific/materialistic perspective.

    Also, impermanence doesn’t mean you should forget about having friends, earning money or building something important. It just means that external goals should always be secondary to the internal goals of virtue and following your way.

    My point is that, even if you do accept complete impermanence, that shouldn’t be depressing or scary, it should be freeing.

  • Buddha

    Don’t consider Andresito views,he just repeats the words said by buddha like a parrot. I don’t believe anything about past life.Your article is great but write more on personal development views.

  • Enrique S

    “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.” Love that book, and movie. How true, you’re not really free until you’ve rid yourself of material things. Or at least put their value in perspective.

  • Akon

    Written like a true 21 year old. “Virtue”, “way”, “path”, “journey”, “materialism” – All this seems mighty interesting until you turn 25 and get a real job. Then I’ll tell you what life is about: wife, kids, $.

    Enjoy the deep thought while you still think it matters.

    p.s. For the record: the Buddha ditched his family to go pontificate on life. How “wise” is that? Moral: Get it out of your system before you have any real responsibility.

  • Scott Young


    I hope I never implied that your responsibilities didn’t matter. That wouldn’t be very virtuous, would it? If feeding my family meant working a crappy job, then I’d work a crappy job.

    But life isn’t a choice between destitution and philosophical ideals. A surprising number of households who earn more than $250,000 per year listed “paying the bills” as a reason they couldn’t save more. At that level of wealth, feeding your family shouldn’t be a struggle.


  • Rondon

    Hey Scott,

    What Akon said struck a chord with me. I’m 32 and am about to enter the “wife, kids, $” stage of life. For most of my past 10+ years of thinking idealistically I have nothing to show for it. I’m thinking – hey, had I become “materialistic” and focused on my job and got promotions (and got the $$ that goes with it) I would’ve been in a better position in life. Not that I shoot down the whole PD scene with one statement, but that’s just my story.

    And yet there are people like you who are able to pull it off – being vegetarian, goal-oriented and doing what they want. All that while “paying the bills”.

  • Darin

    I would like to postulate a result of absolute impermanence with respect to meaning for your comment.

    Presume your view that the meaning of this existence is the virtue, experiences, and impacts you can have here. (correct me if I mis-stated your view)

    Further presume the likelihood of absolute impermanence and the complete loss of all those virtues and experiences. Also extrapolate to the eventual impermanence of everything (Decay of the Universe) and everyone you impacted and thus the eventual complete loss of the impact as well.

    Given that the meaning is in the virtues, experiences and impacts of this existence, if it all disappears with no part of it nor any memory of any of it preserved, how can that ultimately be meaningful?

    For example in the end of your article you referred to the gift of this moment of time not being “wasted in dead-end jobs, broken relationships or hiding away from the important challenges in the world.”

    If it is all impermanent, then how is an exciting, uplifting, or impactful job any more meaningful. You may enjoy it more at the time or it may provide you with a personal sense of meaning, but isn’t that just a product of your wiring and interpretation of the value of what you did and that personal sense of meaning will cease to exist with you as well. From an objective external point of view, in the end was either job any more meaningful if it all goes away. How are any personal relationships relevent from a meaning perspective if everything ceases to exist other than again your personal view of meaning at the time. Regarding the challenges of the world, the whole world is going to disappear eventually. If it did so 4 billion years sooner than expected would it matter at all? If all the people who would have come and gone in those 4 billion years never exist because the world fell apart early and thus they never had their experiences and their jobs and their relationships, what would be the argument that would suggest one situation was better than the other?

    So my challenge for your comment is this:

    If everything is eventually impermanent, then if none of it ever happened, how would anything be any different in the end anyway? Without some permanence isn’t everything absurd? How can there be meaning with absolute physical and conscious impermanence?

  • Scott Young


    I was hoping not to debate metaphysics, but to answer your argument:

    Meaning, at the most esoteric level, is difficult to define. What is the end purpose of anything?

    I believe that virtue, applied in the current moment, is an end purpose. It requires no permanence or continued duration. Just arete applied in the now is the end as well as the means for life. If you’re interested to see how this idea can compose an entire philosophy of life, both Taoism and Stoicism take different slants to the same idea that an action in the moment is the end purpose and complete meaning of life. Taoism, with the concept of The Way and the Stoic ideal of virtue.

    If you equate “end purpose” with the end of time, then yes, everything becomes absurd because any action you apply will be diluted to nothing by that time.


  • Darin


    Thanks for the reply. I am not trying to debate the issue. I am trying to determine if there is an logical alternate view to the ultimate absurdity of absolute impermanence. I appreciate your honesty and your response.

  • StockStalker

    I think some one once asked on Yahoo! Answer the following question:

    Q: “How reliable is human reason as a guide to truth and the meaning of life? Basically, can we trust our logic, senses and intuition to tell us what is true? If so, why? If not, why not? What does this mean for the human quest to find the purpose of life?”

    And the best Answer was:

    “Human reasoning is very unreliable because it will always try to assert an opinion. therefore it is unreliable as it is favours a certain argument and then tries to prove it right.”

    You see, as Einstein once said, “it’s all relative!” What’s meaningful to one person (accumulation of virtues), may have no meaning to someone else. If life, for you, is all about the Kachingos and the Benjamins, so be it!

    But you see, in 2008, I had a huge windfall from the stock market. What I did with the money was to go out and buy fabulously nice-looking clothes. It’s now 2009, and I am as miserable as ever. Seduction author John Alexander wrote that the three signs of low value are: (1) Putting other people down, (2) Putting yourself down, and (3) Bragging about yourself. Part of the misery that I experience wearing fabulously nice clothes stems from the fact that I am disgusted with myself. I am visually bragging about my stock market windfall to other people by wearing these ridiculously nice clothes to impress people I don’t even like. What comes back at me as I throw out these intentions onto the world was a sense of low value, and hence, low self-esteem.

    It’s ironic that most of us would seek power with material possessions and money, but what we actually get in return is the LOSS of power. When I wear ridiculously nice clothes to impress other people, I am seeking approval from them. My power has been transferred to them.

    In a way, I’m glad that I was able to learn at such a young age that money =/= happiness, nor power. Nowadays, when I buy clothes, I’m aiming for that “power” look, which is the look that says, “I’m not trying too hard to look cool, or to impress people”. On the other hand, I don’t buy cheap clothes either, because that would cheapen myself. When something well-made comes in a variety of colors, I’ll pick the ones that are the least flashy-looking.

    I remember reading from somewhere that “whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life’shall preserve it.” In a way, when I was wearing those nice clothes seeking power from and the approval of others, I was in reality less powerful than a homeless man, because the homeless man had no need to impress others, and my feelings actually reflected this fact.

    On the other hand, Bill Gates did more to help the world with his billions through his charity foundation than a homeless man could ever have.

    Just make sure that should you find striving for $ is your meaning of life, let it be so you will use it to spread joy all around you, and not for the love of material possessions, which from the lesson I’ve learnt, is the least fulfilling and meaningful thing in life.

  • AH

    we ALL don’t know whether it is temporary or permanent……
    some new born babies / young kids, as heard in news, seems to have some memory left that can tell about something or places they never visited !!!

    my feeling is that it also difficult to conclude whether it worthwhile to give up dead-end job with stable income in order to pursue passion stuff……

    anyway, living in the now is good approach……