Anthony Burgess was forty when he learned he had a brain tumor that would kill him within a year. He had no money at the time and nothing to bequeath to his soon-to-be widow, Lynne.
Burgess had never been a professional novelist in the past; but he was always aware that he had the talent to be a writer in him. So, just to be able to leave at least the copyrights to his wife, he put a piece of paper in the typewriter and began to write his first novel. It was not even certain that what he had written could be published; but he couldn’t think of anything else to do.
“It was January 1960,” he said, “and according to the diagnosis, I had a winter, a spring, and a summer ahead of me. That year, when the leaves began to fall, I would have died too.” With that speed and haste, Burgess had managed to write five and a half novels before the year was out. E. M. Forster could only write so many in almost an entire lifetime; J. D. Salinger, one of America’s greatest writers, managed to write only half of it in his entire life.
However, Burgess did not die. His cancer first regressed; then it disappeared altogether. In his long and full life as a writer, he produced more than seventy works, most famously A Clockwork Orange. He might not have written even one of these novels had it not been for the death sentence that cancer had inflicted on him.
Most of us are like Anthony Burgess; we hide a great talent waiting for an emergency to emerge from within us.
A great exercise in motivating yourself is to ask, “what would I do if I was given only one year to live?” “What would change in my life so that those I left behind would not suffer or be in want?” Considering the brevity of life is a useful exercise. It often brings up surprising thoughts in our mind that will reveal your unused talents that have not yet surfaced.