When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath


This touching, inspiring, and heartbreaking autobiography by Paul Kalanithi provides philosophical perspectives on what it means to live life fully, even in the face of unimaginable tragedy. While most of us won’t be able to relate to the difficulties Paul faced during his battle with a fatal cancer, we are lucky enough to learn valuable life lessons from the insights he shares. Below are my 5 biggest takeaways. I encourage each of you to pick up this book and read for yourself.


1. Live each day purposefully
Paul’s entire life epitomized work ethic, but only when he wrestled with death firsthand did he come to realize the importance of making the most of every day, appreciating and fully utilizing the time and resources (including health) available to him. No matter what stage of health we are in, we must live each day with direction.


2. Evolve your identity
Our lives are constantly evolving, and so too must our identities. We must recognize our core values, beliefs, passions, and even fears to understand the changing priorities in our lives.


3. Do not pity yourself or your circumstances
Rather, learn from them and share those lessons with those around you. Paul could have easily given up on his goals and future when he received his diagnosis and prognosis. Instead, he strived to continue on living life and achieving his goals, which he did.


4. Put your heart into everything you do
Throughout Paul’s life, he did not content himself with mediocre work. Rather, he aimed to constantly improve – as a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist, husband, and writer. The fruits of his labors continue to live on as his legacy – so take a leaf out of Paul’s book (not literally) and give the tasks in front of you your all.

5. Accept the unknown
It is important to be prepared for what may lie ahead of you, but when you don’t know what uncertainties the murky future holds, do not obsess over worry, anxiety, or fear of the unknown. Rather, as Paul so aptly put it, “Maybe, in the absence of any certainty, we should just assume that we’re going to live a long time. Maybe that’s the only way forward.”


Paul continues living in the hearts of his beloved family and friends, and those of us lucky enough to have read his shared message, the voice he continues to use though he has passed from this world. I encourage you to listen to what Paul has to say – and I hope you find his words as valuable as I do.


Keep on Crushin’,

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