Die empty or else…


By Patrick Achitabwino:

Todd Henry in the book Die empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every day narrates a very interesting story. He states that in February 2011, the artist, designer and urban planner Candy Chang transformed an abandoned home in her New Orleans neighbourhood into a living work of art.

She had recently lost someone she cared for deeply, and was reflecting on the meaning of life and what truly mattered to her. She was curious to know if other people had similar thoughts about living with a sense of urgency and purpose so she created an enormous chalkboard running the height and width of one side of the abandoned home. She then stencilled the words “Before I Die…” at the top of the wall, and created dozens of spaces with the words “Before I die, I want to …” in grids across the surface.


The story goes on to add that Chang provided the chalk needed to fill in the blanks and waited in anticipation to see what would happen. Would people participate? Would it be vandalised? Would anyone even notice?

She didn’t have to wonder for long. The installation was an immediate hit, as neighbourhood residents and passers-by filled it with their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Some of the contributions were impersonal and matter of fact and some were deeply personal: “Before I die I want to…sing for millions.” “Before I die I want to…write a book.” “Before I die I want to…understand.” “Before I die I want to…tell my mother I love her.” “Before I die I want to…be someone’s cavalry.”

Word quickly spread and visitors began showing up from throughout the region to inscribe their dreams and creative aspirations on the wall. It wasn’t long before others were inquiring about creating installations in their own communities. At present, there have been more than one hundred “Before I die . . .” installations in cities across the globe, and Chang and her collaborators have developed a tool kit and detailed instructions for spreading the movement.


Todd asks: “Why did Chang’s project take off quickly and become so widely covered by international media?”

He seems to have found the answer – I believe it’s because the “Before I Die…” wall resonates with what we both know and fear to be true: we have only a certain amount of time available to us, and how we choose to spend our days is significant. We’re also aware that there are things we would like to do and experiences we would like to have before we die, many of which are desires we have suppressed for months or even years.

We feel the ticking of the clock, and the accompanying sense that we may be missing our opportunity to make a contribution to the world. However, we often ignore these impulses as a result of the relentless pragmatics of life and work.

Truth of the matter is that we are endowed with great talents and skills that if utilised we can make a difference alas we use them not better. Most of the time we fear failure; we look at what we are destined to achieve and wonder whether it can indeed work. In the end we put less effort in initiatives that matter the most.

Truth of the matter is that we give up easily at the very time we are too close to making breakthroughs in life. We allow doubts to sink into our minds. We allow the negative thoughts of others to become spanners in the wheels of our progress. We drag ourselves to the brink of failure by concentrating on what has not been working on us in life rather than building on the success stories of our life.

Truth of the matter is that time is limited and only us can achieve that which we crave to achieve. There will be no one like you. You are unique just as the fingerprints are. If the talent, knowledge and skills you have remain unutilised until the moment you meet your maker then there will never be another person to utilise them. As Todd urges —Die empty. In general, exhaust the best that you have.

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