In the opening pages, Mitch reminisces about the loss of his uncle; following his uncle's funeral, Mitch buried himself in his work. He "worked at a pace that knew no hours, no limits." He learned to "bury [himself] in [his] accomplishments" because it made him feel that he had a sense of control over the timeline of his own life. Even when Mitch arrives at Morrie's house for the first time, he is on the phone with a producer, making his former beloved professor, who is now dying, wait as he finishes up his own business matters.
One of the first questions Morrie asks Mitch is whether he is "trying to be as human" as he possibly can be. He wants to know whether Mitch is giving back to his community and whether he is at peace with himself. This makes Mitch uncomfortable; he realizes that although his days are "full," he remains "unsatisfied."
One of the best aphorisms Morrie provides on this subject is this:
If you accept that you can die at any time then you might not be as ambitious as you are.
Morrie fully realizes that ambition and accomplishment are not always fulfilling and often lead to a greater sense of frenzy as people chase ever-shifting goals. Instead, he reveals that when people accept that they will eventually die, they begin to make more time for meaningful and spiritual matters.
Another aphorism about the quest to constantly work and master the world's standards of success is this:
Mitch, if you're trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down at you anyhow. And if you're trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.
Morrie adds that opening himself up to other people makes him feel "alive" in ways that he can't experience from tirelessly pursuing his own accomplishments. He instructs Mitch to follow his heart and asserts that Mitch will be "overwhelmed with what comes back."