Lessons from Life (and Death)
Life is good at teaching us lessons – keeping us on our toes when things get too easy.
Like many of you, I called my Mom in May to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. She told me she had a cold that just wouldn’t go away. She had finally been to the doctor about it, and he ran some tests. Four days later we found out she had liver cancer. My mother died in two weeks.
I still can’t really believe she’s gone – it happened so quickly. But that’s the way life is sometimes, and sometimes it takes a great shock to drive some lessons home. Think about your own life as I share some of the lessons I’m trying to learn with you.
Don’t wait to live. My Mom was the hardest working person I have ever known. She put in at least 50 hours a week and on top of that worked every Saturday and some Sundays. She was an accountant and a perfectionist. Every month the work started over. There was always more work. Her boss was a great guy – he used to encourage her not to work so hard, but my Mom was type-A, wanted to do her best. Sound familiar?
She was 65 when she died. Forget about that big retirement in the sky – all the traveling she would do, all the free time to finally rest after years of working herself to exhaustion. You have got to live today – take the trip this year – stop and enjoy your life right now – because you do not have forever.
Know what brings you joy. My Mom knew how to work hard and how to sacrifice her own needs for others. She always put herself second. I truly don’t think she knew how to find joy – I think she thought joy was somehow selfish. It was like she held herself too tightly. Do you know what brings you joy?
Maybe it IS doing things for others, but it has to be with no expectation of receiving anything in return, just for the sheer joy of giving. When you have expectations, you’ve attached strings to your gifts. And your joy depends on the recipient’s response. What brings me joy changes with each new adventure I have. FireStar brings me great joy. Nature brings me joy. My wonderful friends bring me joy. Sprinkles on my yogurt bring me joy! What brings you joy? Do you bask in it? Throw your head back and laugh, throw your arms out and embrace life – it will be over all too soon.
Let people get close to you. My Mom was tremendously independent and self-reliant. She didn’t want to burden anyone. At her funeral many of her friends told us how they tried to do things for her – drive her to doctor’s appointments, etc. and she would never let them. This took away a chance for them to get closer to her, and they were so sad they didn’t get to do more. Her passing made me realize I can be very much like her and keep people at a distance. I need to work hard on changing this.
Are there things you see in your parents that you are also doing? We tend to repeat their patterns without even thinking about it. It’s not too late to change – but do it now. You won’t be around at your funeral to see all those people grieving the lost chance to be close to you.
You can’t make someone love you. My parents divorced when I was in my teens. I can still remember all the hundreds of ways my Mother tried to hang on to my Father. It was an impossible task – one all of us have attempted at some point in our lives. We feel that if we just give more, become better, work harder – that special person will love us. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. You simply cannot make another person love you, be faithful to you, or stay married to you. All you can do is your best and if they don’t choose you, you have to let them go. You have to choose yourself and make your own life as big and as wonderful as it can be. Twenty years after the divorce, my Mom was still bitter. I would have given anything to have her let that pain go. It stole her joy.
Are you letting someone from your past cause you pain? If they don’t want to be with you – let them go! You deserve someone who wants to be with you for who you are – not because of pity or guilt or because you sacrificed yourself to make them happy. The past is over – take back your power and your joy and live in the present. Take good care of your health – now. Americans work more hours than any other nation – we’ve now surpassed the Japanese. We are taking fewer vacations and we’re constantly checking voice mail and e-mail. We never stop. My Mom literally worked herself to death – never taking a sick day, pushing herself to the limit for over 40 years. No one can take that over the long haul. Professional athletes have an off season, they know their bodies need time to recover. For most of us, the off season never comes – the constant stress is a way of life.
You have got to change this for yourself NOW. Take your vacations and totally disengage from the office. The company will not collapse without you. And you’ll be more productive when you return. You also need to build regular exercise into your schedule. Too busy? Or too lazy? 20 minutes of walking everyday can make a huge difference in the quality of your life. Your health is the basis for everything – are you putting it last?
I’ve learned a lot of other lessons from my Mom’s death and from her life. Sometimes we only learn lessons through pain. Is there some pain in your life right now you can learn from? If you can find the lessons, it helps ease your suffering. Thanks for taking the time to review these lessons with me.