Kate Manser Chooses Life

Talking with the UCSB-Educated Author of You Might Die Tomorrow: Face Your Fear of Death to Live Your Most Meaningful Life

Photo: CourtesyKate Manser

When a series of friends suddenly passed away far too soon ​— ​including Mallory Dies, who was run over while walking on Anacapa Street in a highly publicized tragedy ​— ​Kate Manser was racked by a profound fear of her own death.

But then the SBCC and UCSB alum, who started her career in marketing for CKE Restaurants in Carpinteria, decided to choose life, and she started a blog/brand called You Might Die Tomorrow. Thousands tuned in to embrace Manser’s musings, and her motivational message is now the basis of a new book called You Might Die Tomorrow: Face Your Fear of Death to Live Your Most Meaningful Life.

Now a resident of Austin, Texas, Manser answered a few of my questions recently.

How did the death of Mallory Dies become part of your story? Mallory and I worked at Sharkeez together during college. Her death in 2014 was the third tragic and unexpected death of someone I knew around my age that I experienced in just six months. After she died, I became totally overwhelmed with fear that I, too, could die in an everyday activity like walking across the street. I didn’t know it at the time, but this paralyzing death anxiety was a factor that would later give me the perspective to help me radically tap into my motivation to live.

What other events prompted you to start your blog in 2015? After living for a year overwhelmingly preoccupied with the possibility that I might die at any moment, a fourth person I knew and looked up to died unexpectedly. Dan Fredinburg was climbing Everest when the 2015 Nepal earthquake struck and was killed in a resulting avalanche.

His death caused me to completely flip the way I looked at death and the fear of dying. Here I am, afraid to walk across the street because I might get hit by a car like Mallory, while my friend bravely pursued his biggest dream, fully aware of the risk of dying. It was then that the notion of possibly dying tomorrow went from my most terrifying fear to a simple truth that must be accepted in order to live fully. As I began to live with this mindset, I discovered that it is also my greatest motivation to really live before I die.

Why did people connect so strongly to the blog and the brand? So many of us are tired of denying or sugarcoating the reality of the fragility of life ​— ​and approaching life with a mortal mindset like this makes people feel more alive than they have ever felt.

The other reason is that most of us are procrastinators. We put off our work and chores but also our dreams. Approaching life with the mindset that it could all be over tomorrow puts a deadline on life that motivates us to disregard fear and act now. It helps us see that life is a limited-time offer, which raises the value of the present moment.

What does your book cover signify? Unbridled zeal for life. Soon after I realized how motivating it is to live with an awareness of mortality, I quit my job at Google ​— ​which I really enjoyed ​— ​to fulfill my lifelong dream to take an extended trip exploring the world. At the time, this was my highest expression of living like I might die tomorrow. Why wait for retirement to travel when I might not even live that long? I ended up traveling around the world for two years. The silhouette of me on the cover of my book was taken at the beginning of that trip, from a cliff overlooking
Wangetti Beach in Cairns, Australia.

What do you hope readers get from your book? Readers can gain many things from my book: a newfound perspective on life and death, motivation to face fears and live for today, an understanding of my love for mashed potatoes, and an ability to tap into the joy of simple meaningful moments in life.

What are some practical steps to ensuring that we are living life to the fullest? Keep in mind you may not have all 87 years of American life expectancy to get to the things you’d like to do or to finally slow down and enjoy your life. People think that living like you might die tomorrow means going skydiving or quitting your job. While you may be inspired to do those things, living like you might die tomorrow is mostly about tapping into the joy and gratitude of being alive today, no matter what you’re doing.
Get outside in nature and in situations that cultivate feelings of awe and joy. Stop multitasking so much; when you eat the piece of dark chocolate or talk with someone you care about, just do that one thing and really savor it. Look at everything in life as a limited-time offer. Prioritize having fun.

Finally, know that by simply enjoying your life and living for you, you will create a ripple effect of goodness that extends far beyond that which you will ever know. In his decades of work as a psychiatrist, Dr. Irvin D. Yalom has found the idea of rippling to be the greatest antidote to the fear of death. The reason? We all want to feel that we have lived meaningful lives and leave our mark on the world.

The way I think of it? Have fun every day. And start now.

See youmightdietomorrow.com.

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