Fear of Death is Overrated

Kunstmuseum Basel - The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder - detail. Photo by Carnival.com Studios [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

The Overwhelmed Brain: Personal Growth for Critical ThinkersThe Overwhelmed Brain: Personal Growth for Critical Thinkers by Paul Colaianni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book as a birthday gift from my sister earlier this year. It is by the host of the podcast The Overwhelmed Brain. It is not a book I would have picked, but I found it immensely useful. 

In the first section, Colaianni outlines a way to work out one's values. This is something I have visited time and again but have not had much success with over the years. Not so much that I don't know what I value, but how to think about what I value and then how to use these values as decision points.

Sure, I have done this strategically for military and business operations, but when it comes to myself, there is so much mental chatter and confusing and (apparently) conflicting values that it is difficult to develop little more than ideas about values, rather than specific tools for making decisions.
Colaianni's work begins with the general career-oriented approach but then "drills down" into relationships.

Time and again I find I am task-focused, and although an extrovert and annoyingly talkative at times, I am finding it increasingly difficult to establish meaningful relationships. I often get so caught up in my own stuff that I lose focus on important relationships.

Although there are some parts I found a bit "hokey", the fact that Colaianni uses the word "hokey" made me take note. For example, when I teach leadership classes, I often tell my students that some of the things they are learning tend to be a bit "hokey", but they are worth trying as a means of self-analysis and self-examination.

The book has a number of exercises to complete. These are mostly self-reflection activities, but I found these useful. An interesting theme that emerges is that being vulnerable and exposing one's vulnerability is a good thing. It is interesting that the other book I received from my sister was Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and Manson begins with a similar theme, though less hokey and more in your face.

The other lesson I take away from Colaianni is that all fear can be reduced to a fear of death. To over-simplify, death is inevitable, so fearing death is pretty silly. If all other fears can be reduced to a fear of death, then these fears are therefore silly, too!
I took my time reading the first part of this book and waited until I was in the right mood to attempt the values exercise. This is one of the most useful I have tried, and I learnt much about myself. I only used it to look at values in my work, and the next step will be to undertake the exercise in other areas of my life.

Colaianni is honest and exposes his vulnerability in the way he outlines his life experiences and how he has come to terms with his nature. Much like Mahatma Gandhi's maxim (apparently derived rather than spoken word for word as per the bumper sticker), Colaianni argues that, rather than trying to heal others, one should heal oneself. The many gems in this book are worth the hokeyness.