Osher Günsberg: How I Found Freedom From Fear Of Death

Osher Günsberg: how I found freedom from fear of death

This month our expert panellist on growth reveals how he found the key to overcoming existential angst in a very unlikely place: inside Darren Hayes' skull.

DARREN HAYES’ SKULL sits on my desk. Every day, I stare deep into the darkness of the empty eye sockets, my own death unflinchingly staring back at me from darkness. And you know what? It’s one of the best parts of my day.

On the 2023 season of The Masked Singer, one of the masks was The Grim Reaper. Three metres tall, carrying a scythe, he was terrifying to look at, yet had the unmistakable voice of a pop superstar. When I finally screamed “take it off” at the top of my lungs, I was rewarded in that I’d correctly guessed it was Darren Hayes.

He’s a showbiz machine, commits so completely to everything and embraced this character fully. One of his huge performance sets featured a throne sitting atop a mountain of skulls. After it was wheeled off stage, knowing it wouldn’t get used again I accidentally on purpose pocketed one of these skulls on the way out to the carpark. Now it occupies pride of place on my desk, gratefully reminding me every day that I am going to die, and it is a wonderful thing to think about.

There was a time when my own death was too terrifying to contemplate. Part of a greater suite of problems I was struggling with, a very kind and very patient psychologist had to walk me through the ego-pummelling journey of accepting that the denial of my own mortality was actually the root cause of why I was struggling with depression and anxiety; why I was either emotionally unavailable in relationships, or conversely ickily clingy when I did get into a relationship.

It even had something to do with why I was relentlessly pursuing career opportunities at the expense of my health, relationships, and even the career I was trying to build. Nothing gets you to “no” faster than the stink of desperation.

Whenever you’re trying to find relief by avoiding something uncomfortable, you often don’t realise that your avoidance actually amplifies the discomfort. The fact remains, the only way out of the flames is through them.

So I started small. I eased myself into things with the Flaming Lips’ classic ‘Do you realize?’. Hidden among the uplifting lyrics, the goosebump inducing cadences and lush orchestration is the glorious line from Wayne Coyne: “Do you realise that everyone you know someday will die?”.

That line hits you like an accidental kick in the balls from a peppy two-year-old. A powerful blow, delivered with a giggle and a smile, is followed by a few seconds of anxious contemplation before the true deep ache sets in—an ache that can sometimes leave you weeping in agony.

It’s the same thing.


Darren Hayes on The Masked Singer I Channel 10.


At first, it’s absolutely overwhelming to think that everyone you love and everything you love will one day be gone. You get breathless when you consider that day might even be today. Yet just like how the first few workouts of your latest health kick absolutely suck, soon enough your body begins to adapt and you are able to cope with more and more.

Within weeks, you forget about your stitching intercostal muscles and start to enjoy a newfound ability to apply previously inaccessible force to objects and the greater world around you in order to execute the ideas in your mind. Whether it’s saying ‘yes’ to a holiday where you’re going to do lots of walking or lifting up a giggling toddler to play with them (just mind your balls this time). In the same way, thinking about your own death has a paradoxical effect of helping you enjoy life more than ever before.

If you are in acceptance that it will all eventually go away some day (and that day might even be today) whatever we’re doing and whomever you’re doing it with becomes immensely more precious and important.

It can take an otherwise mundane moment with the same people doing the same thing and fill it full of love and joy and curiosity, forcing you to examine the minutiae of the situation and to cherish it simply for what it is. It supercharges even the most banal activity by forcing the question “would I have wanted to go out this way?”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not super-comfortable to think about my kids dying before me, and the death of my wife fills me with dread. Same goes for my brothers and my friends. But if I take some deep breaths and sit with it for a few moments, I have a chance to re-evaluate what it means to spend time with them and for them, and to have a good think about what I dedicate each of my finite number of breaths towards.

Why wait until a terminal diagnosis to take powerful actions in accordance with your values, free from regret? Because I have some uncomfortable news for you. All of us have a terminal diagnosis right now. We are all going to die. We all have only so long to live, and there’s no cure.

So whatever it is that makes your heart sing, don’t waste another breath thinking about it. Make time to do it. No matter what precious possessions I purchase with my hard-earned dollars, not one single object in my home will become a priceless archaeological artefact. Every single thing in my house will eventually be recycled or become landfill. That’s not to say I don’t care for a beautiful guitar that I own, or a precision camera I enjoy using—however I am mindful of how in the past I had an unhealthy attachment to such objects. It’s nice stuff, but it’s just stuff. And one day it will all be gone.

The only thing that will still be here when any of us are gone are the stories that people will tell about us, specifically stories about how we made them feel. Knowing that is the absolute key.

As someone who used to have a problem with leaving the house and even just being around people (including people I knew well), now I search for genuine and appropriate moments of connection in everyday interactions, because those are things that cannot be purchased, and those moments of connection tie me to this present moment and bring lasting happiness.

Staring into the skull of a pop star every day helps me think about how I can do a better job of life today than I did the day before. I get enormous self-worth and satisfaction out of trying to improve all aspects of my life.

Perhaps it’s finding ways to not get stuck in unhelpful argument routines with my wife (sure, I’m not alone there) or figuring out how to make my morning coffee without spilling one stray grind during the whole process from bean to cup. Sometimes these two things are related, and it’s worth putting the effort in to find a way to improve them every day.

Darren Hayes’ plastic brain bucket helps me remember that there’s a time coming at the gym when I won’t be able to just keep putting weight on the bar every workout, and the feeling of achievement I get from a PB will start to come from simply showing up and pulling five sets of twelve deadlifts with good form. I’m not there yet but knowing it’s coming means that every single rep of every single set is a privilege.

Whatever it is, in my experience there’s absolutely nothing that can exponentially multiply the love you feel for those around you, increase the attention to the thing you’re doing, amplify the appreciation for the moment you’re in, or focus your choices so clearly on actions that are in accordance with your values than spending time every day thinking seriously about the inescapable fact that one day you and me and everyone we know will be taking a dirt nap. That day might be years away, it might be this afternoon.

Nobody who died in an accident today walked out of their house this morning expecting it to happen. Today could be my day too. And I think about this every day because I want to be in a place where every time I get on the bicycle, the motorbike, or climb a ladder on a weekend holding a power tool (I’m in the age bracket where this sort of thing is my most likely cause of death) I know that the people I love are aware how much I love them, nothing is unsaid that needs to be said, and that whatever I’m doing when it happens is something so aligned with my values that people will say “it’s how he would have wanted to go”.

Not a bad affirmation I reckon.


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By Osher Günsberg

A fixture on prime-time TV for two decades, Osher Günsberg is Men’s Health’s growth and personal development expert. Having carefully navigated his own journey of self-discovery and sobriety, Günsberg knows how difficult it can be to make the necessary changes in life that can facilitate inner peace. Now, he wants to help you make transformative changes in your life. For more of Osher’s insights listen to his bi-weekly (every Monday and Friday) podcast, Better Than Yesterday.

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