Levi Belnap
Jul 20, 2017 · 4 min read
At Mt. Rushmore with my Memento Mori coin

Memento Mori is latin for “Remember death” or “Remember that you will die”. The ancient Romans used paintings, medallions like this, or servants whispering in their ear to remind them of their mortality.

What do the symbols on the coin mean?

  • Skull = death
  • Tulip = life
  • Hourglass = time

It’s a simple but powerful reminder.

If you remember that you are going to die, then you will stop wasting time and make better decisions now. You face the truth that life is short and you make the most of whatever time you have. For all you know,

“You could leave life right now”

-Marcus Aurelius

This quote by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is on the other side of the Memento Mori coin.

This doesn’t mean you should live your life thinking about death and fearing death all the time. It’s not supposed to be a morbid and depressing reminder of death. Remembering that death is inevitable can free you from fearing death and empower you to make the most of life. This is a foundational principle of the Stoic philosophy Marcus Aurelius practiced in his life.

As I stood looking at my Memento Mori coin with Mt. Rushmore in the background, I made a connection I had never made before. All four of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore were Stoics!

Mt. Rushmore

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln all studied and practiced Stoic philosophy during their lives. They used the principles of Stoicism to master themselves, worry about things within their control, and remain calm and rational in the face of chaos and uncertainty.

If Stoicism helped these presidents live great lives, then it can help me to live a better life too.

2x Memento Mori & Stoicism helped me recently

  1. I was sitting at home working on my computer and my 4-yr-old son burst into the room out of breath with a huge smile on his face…he had just found the electric train. He begged me to help him assemble the track and plug it in. I told him I would help him later, and the smile was gone from his face. He tried to protest and I pushed right back. Normally these interactions end with my son in tears and me frustrated and angry. But this time I saw the Memento Mori coin sitting next to my laptop, and it made me pause. I wasn’t in the middle of anything urgent or important. I could take a 5-min break to help my son. So I did. He was in train heaven for the rest of the day, and I was back to work feeling calm and refreshed less than 10 minutes later.
  2. I was in the Chicago airport waiting for a United flight to take me to South Dakota to return to my wife and children. I was excited to get back to my family, but the flight was delayed. And then it was delayed again and again and again. Each time the monitor adjusted our expected departure time back another 30 minutes the people around me broke into minor riots. Men and women of all ages were complaining, swearing, and shouting insults at the United employees. I wasn’t happy about the delay either, but I looked at the Memento Mori coin in my pocket and realized there was nothing I could do about the departure time. I could only control how I would respond to the situation. I decided to remain calm and not let myself get angry or frustrated. It worked! I was able to sit peacefully and write this story while the people around me spent hours sitting on the edge of their seats filled with anger and anxiety.

I learned about Memento Mori reading The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday, and I found my Memento Mori coin here.

I’ve only had my Memento Mori coin for a few weeks, but it’s already helped me to avoid getting angry and irritated a few times when I otherwise would have. Yep, pretty cool!

But you don’t need a coin to resist getting irritated or angry. Remember these words from Seneca, a Roman Stoic who lived 2000 years ago,

“Nothing is burdensome if taken lightly, and nothing need arouse one’s irritation so long as one doesn’t make it bigger than it is by getting irritated.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

My purpose in life is to learn, grow, and help others. I write about what I’m learning. Want to learn with me? Join me here.

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Levi Belnap

Written by

Learner. Starter. Ponderer. Father. Believer.


A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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