Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tragedy...and opportunity

Last weekend tragedy struck the family of a close friend of my 15 year-old daughter.  This friend's 18 year-old sister was driving her two brothers and younger sister home from a basketball game when she lost control of their car on the snow-covered highway, drifted into oncoming traffic, and were struck by an oncoming vehicle.  The two brothers, ages 7 and 10, were killed in this horrific accident.  (See the article here:
You don't have to know the family to imagine the deep pain and palpable grief. Two lives ended so early and so suddenly.  The parents, siblings, relatives and friends will undoubtedly feel the pain of these permanent scars for the rest of their lives.  Surely the pain will become less intense over time but they will never "get over it."  And even though it was clearly no one's fault this older sister, the driver, will likely be haunted by this for the rest of her life.

As we have imagined the terrible grief this family is going through, many tears have been shed in my home by all of us, most especially my daughter, as we all feel so badly for this close friend and his family who have lost these two little boys.

In all this pain a question occurred to me: What is it about death that wakes us up to life?

Underneath the hustle and bustle of life I think we all sense our mortality from time to time and fear the speed at which life moves.  When death hits directly, or even indirectly, we are often struck by the realization that  that death could have been our death, or the death of one of our own family members.  And clearly the physical separation of these two boys from their dear family must feel unbearable to those left behind but the additional burden of seeing the lives of two growing, fun-loving boys end as they were no doubt just starting to leave their mark on the world adds an unthinkably painful element to this surreal situation.

So, to somehow cope with the pain caused by this separation the loved ones left behind will do what they can for the rest of their time on the earth to remember and honor these lives ended much too soon.  This is a painful journey but with every painful trial there is an opportunity to learn and to grow.

I believe the most important thing we can learn from death and its related pain is that it is up to no one else but us to make the most of the minutes, hours, and days we have on earth.  And that every day really does matter. Herein lies the opportunity to live a fuller life. 

The truth is that we just don't know when our or anyone else's time will be up.  Given that uncertainty I believe we can attain a higher level of happiness and satisfaction while we do have time by trying harder to be our best, because we lost a loved one, because any day could be our last, and because we could be separated from the most important people in our life right when we least expect it.

For as much as tragedy wakes us up to the reality of our own fragile mortality and that of those we love, time does tend to dull the intensity of the feelings associated with the tragedy and we usually find ourselves inevitably slipping back to our previous life patterns and behavior.  Why do we do this?  If we would just remember how precious and short life really is I am convinced that we would be better able to make the lasting changes we know we need to make and I am sure that we would be more careful in how we treat others.  Our lives would be more about others than ourselves and more about doing things now rather than putting them off for a tomorrow that may never come.

Ultimately I am talking about living a life of generosity.  Being generous in making time to listen and engage with others, simply being kind to both loved ones and strangers--especially when it sometimes feels easier to be kind to the strangers--and taking time to enjoy and understand the journey of life by rebelling against life's hustle and bustle is our best insurance that when our time, or our loved one's time, does come we will be ready to leave the earth, or let them go, with few or no regrets.

Live life as though today were your last day and treat others as though it were theirs.  I think I owe it to the family who grieves the loss of their little boys to, today and always, make my space in this life a little brighter, a little nicer, a little better.  What better way to honor their too-short lives and their tragic passing?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Be Strong or Be Stagnant

Once you know who you are and who you want to become (sadly not always the same thing), daily life seems inevitably determined to derail you from achieving your destiny.  Be it self-doubt, inertia, complacency, etc. it seems that there is always some reason to stop trying to be our best.  We may never think of it this way but if we aren't aware that life's daily struggles (and I contend that they are daily!) can tear us down then we experience the natural tendency to give up on our efforts when things get hard. 

The antidote for this common situation is STRENGTH.  If we understand that life is and will always be hard then we can take action proactively to prepare for those moments that might weaken our resolve to fulfill our destiny and instead triumph over mediocrity, stagnation and weakness.

I hate the expression: "Hang in there!"  I believe that we are too full of potential as human beings and this life is too precious for us to simply hang in there on some rope, presumably near the end of it.  We are meant to thrive, not merely survive.  We are meant to experience the thrill of reaching new highs as we push ourselves, or rather pull ourselves up, and the profound perspective available only to those who are actually climbing the rope of life.

I believe that there are several key areas in our individual lives that if we focus our efforts we will find our ability to grow greatly enhanced and our lives richer and of greater worth to ourselves and those around us.  This is hard and precisely because it is hard most people will try and then give up.  That is why true greatness is increasingly rare.  That is why fewer and fewer people are living their best lives.  So, if we want to be our best I submit that the only way to do that is to focus all we can on balancing our lives and mental attitude around the following five elements of strength:

Mental Strength

Unplug your TV/YouTube/iTunes, etc. for a set time regularly and engage in something that stimulates your brain positively.  Call it a "digital fast." 

Read (or write!) a book.  Write your ideas and thoughts in a journal or diary.  Take a class.  Practice a sport.  Learn a foreign language.  Meditate.

This life is loud and full of distractions that sap our mental energy and creativity.  Only as we actively attempt to claw back a little thinking time for ourselves can we ensure that our mental capacity will be able to influence the positive things we must regularly do to become our best.

A weak mind = A life of mediocrity

Spiritual Strength

Don't whine or be negative. Be honest and up-front in your dealings with people in your life.  Know who you are and don't fear being or becoming that person.  Each of us has a purpose in life and our job is to figure out what that is and go become that person. 

Protect your HEART, or SPIRIT, by letting it lead your actions. Wear it on your sleeve.  Your heart shows us and the world who you really are and who you want to become.  Listen to it and ACT!

Physical Strength

Eat right and work out every day.  I don't care how tired you might feel get up and move!  I am convinced that a strong body is an important key to a strong mind, heart, and spirit.  When you exercise control (pun intended) over your body you have achieved something difficult.  That achievement leads to increased confidence in other areas of your life: job, relationships, etc.

Have you EVER regretted exercising?  EVER??!!  I doubt it.  Yet how many times have you experienced the opposite emotion: "I regret not getting off my rear-end today and doing something physical?"  Only you have the power to avoid feeling that regret.


Put others' needs first.  We absolutely live in a "me first" society.  Focusing so much on our own needs and well-being leaves little room to care for others.  The common thought "If I listen to this person's problems then there won't be enough time for them to listen to mine," makes us all terrible listeners.  Terrible listeners make for shallow friends and shallow moments.  The emotional release that comes from truly being listened to by someone who "gets" you and takes the time to truly "hear" you is very powerful.  I hope you have someone to do that for you from time to time but for now, go be that person for someone else.  Your strength to listen will shine through and create dividends of strength for you for years to come.


Get out and stay out of debt.  Save more than you make and exercise restraint in spending.  The USA is the greatest market in the world and all the world's vendors know this.  While that makes for a dynamic and interesting economy it also means that we as consumers must constantly be on our guard from the regular assaults by the many low value products vying for our attention and hard-earned/much-taxed cash.

If we have actually learned anything from the most recent financial crisis and ongoing economic malaise we must change the way we handle our finances individually and as a country or we will be back on Depression's door before we know it.  Avoiding financial Armageddon personally and as a nation is really quite simple: 

1.  Stop getting into debt.  If you (we) can't pay for it with money you already have then don't buy it;
2.  Pay off debt.  Sure we live in ultra-low interest times but owing our creditors, be they some big New York Bank or the Chinese people, weakens our ability to do what we want when we want in the future;
3.  Put your money to work in projects, ideas, ventures, that will produce positive results.  It's not always easy to know what will pan out positively, and patience can often be the difference between profit and loss but follow your gut AND the advice of experienced people and you will increase your chances of success.

Financial strength has been the hardest area for me, and likely millions of others, to master and, sadly, it is only through very painful recent times that I think I, and hopefully many others, have finally figured out how to actually apply this simple, yet difficult, lesson of restraint and prudence.  The trick as to whether we have actually learned the lesson is to act DIFFERENTLY when faced with similar circumstances in the future.

So, when we get through a difficult period and the sun shines again on our financial fortune will you act differently and REMEMBER the hard-fought lesson and get it right this time??


Everyday is your chance to be strong.  You don't simply "get" strong you have to DO something to become strong.  Improving your strength in the above five elements of your life is critical to becoming your best.  It all starts with action and the alternative--a stagnant, uninteresting life--is simply not acceptable to those on the path to greatness.  Go get 'em!