It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? It can be disturbing, but it also can bring clarity as to what your true priorities are (or ought to be).
I just finished a book called Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life. It was written by Eugene O’Kelly, the late Chairman and CEO of KPMG. At the age of 53, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and given 3-6 months to live. He faced this very same question. How he responded is worth sharing. (He ended up passing away 4 months after the diagnosis.)
A New Perspective
After the shock wore off, he asked himself two questions: (1) Must the end of life be the worst part, and (2) can it be made a constructive experience? His response to the first question was no, and to the second, yes.
Up until this point, he never thought about “planning” his death. But after the diagnosis, his Type-A personality kicked in and he wanted to “succeed” at dying, which was his way of making it a constructive experience; to be clear about it and present during it; to embrace it.
Throughout the book, he regrets waiting so long to go through this exercise. His advice to the reader who thinks death is far in the distance was “Move it up”. If you’re 30 and plan on thinking about it in 20 years, “Move it up”. He said your age doesn’t matter, just “Move it up”.
As a busy executive of a large company, he struggled to find balance. In his own words:
I like to think that I did a good job back when I was healthy. But had I known then what I knew now, maybe I would have made a better executive. Almost certainly I would have been more creative in figuring out a way to live a more balanced life, to spend more time with my family. I always assumed you had to physically separate them. Home was home; the office the office. My thinking had been too narrow, my boundaries too strict.
He said he missed virtually every school function for his youngest daughter, and only had work-day lunches with his wife twice just twice over the last decade of his career. Vacations were lumped together with corporate outings he was required to attend.
Following his diagnosis, he resigned as CEO and changed his whole routine. He said he needed to “recalibrate” in every way, and that meant spending much more time with friends and family–people that had been neglected for much of his career.
Time is a precious commodity, and you can’t get it back. Eugene only had 4 months to live, but he dedicated those 4 months to make up for lost time and focused all his energy on relationships. As a result, he had some pretty remarkable moments.
My biggest takeaway from this book was what Eugene called “Perfect Moments”. Basically a Perfect Moment is when you are totally immersed in the present, where time almost stands still. You’re not worrying about what’s next, and you’re not concerning yourself with the past. You are here and now, focused on the moment.
As a parent, I experience these “Perfect Moments” from time to time. Each time a child is born, it’s as if time stands still. Now that they’re older, sometimes while playing at the park or watching a movie all scrunched together on the couch, I experience another Perfect Moment.
Here’s the kicker (and what Eugene details in his book): they come only when we are “open” to them. If I’m worrying about finances or finishing a house project, these moments pass right by. The challenge–and something I’m working towards–is to be more intentional in creating them and to also be ready for them when they come, because they are what life is all about.
Look at your calendar. Do you see Perfect Moments? How about Perfect Days? If not, schedule them in. Commit to creating and being open to these special moments.
I always remind myself, “don’t wait to get in a car wreck to start wearing my seatbelt.” The same thought came to me as I read this book. Eugene lived a great life, but he admits that it took inoperable late-stage brain cancer to get him to examine things from this new angle.
It would be easy to read this book and criticize him, but I commend him for achieving new clarity while he still had time, and for documenting his awakening process for the rest of us to learn from.
Don’t wait to be diagnosed before achieving perspective and balance, or before you create a life of perfect moments. If you think the end of your life is far off, follow Eugene’s counsel, and “Move it up”. It will lead to a more balanced and ultimately successful life.
To your success,