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The Tombstone

Last week I went for dinner with a very dear and good friend. He is a happy and fulfilled man.

I met him in his thirties, and I was in my twenties. He was a young, bright, successful, passionate, and hard-driving man who achieved terrific success at work. From the outside, he had a perfect life. A little overweight, sure. A little stressed, yes. But all things considered, he was a role model for me and many others. Inside, his reality was a little different. His wheels were coming off. His health was worse than it seemed, his relationships with his family were strained, and he was questioning the purpose of life.

He decided to ask himself two simple questions: (1) What would be written on his tombstone if he died that day, and (2) what he would like to be written if he died at an old age? The best he could come up with for his tombstone was "outstanding professional." Answering the second question took him a little more time... six months. After much thought and some soul searching, he found his calling in life... a "great father, great husband, and a great friend."

To accomplish his purpose, he needed a radical change. He left his very "successful" career but didn't forget all he learned, so he created a "business plan" for his life. The first thing he realized was that he would need time. Time to become a great father, a great husband, and a great friend but more importantly, time to make amends with the ones he left behind on his life journey. He realized the need to be healthy to live the time he needed to execute his plan. As an outstanding achiever he was, he went from an unhealthy "executive striver" to becoming one of the top endurance athletes in the world.

This friend continues to be an achiever. He is excellent in sports and great in his work but on a great path to execute his plan of being a great husband, great father, and a great friend.

We all know three types of people. The ones that are clear about their purpose in life, the trade-offs of a happy life, and that are, in general, content and fulfilled people. The second ones are the ones that have their wheels coming off. They are looking back at their lives and realizing they have been going fast but on the wrong track. And then the last ones. The ones going fast on the wrong path but don't know that yet. They are not clear about the trade-offs they are making and will only regret once a life-changing event happens or when they are alone and depressed on their last days.

Bronnie Ware was a palliative caretaker in Australia. For years she cared for patients with terminal diseases in their last 12 weeks of life. She had the opportunity to have conversations about life with hundreds of patients, and for years she took note of people's main regrets in life. Surprisingly, she says, she never heard people complaining that they wished they had more money or had worked more. According to Bronnie, the deepest regrets people have are (1) not being true to themselves and living a life based on other people's expectations, (2) working too hard, (3) the courage to express their feelings, (4) staying in touch with their friends and (5) let themselves be happier.

My friend won't check-mark Bronnie's list. He saw his tombstone from a perspective before the real one was written and didn't like what he saw. He dared to pursue the life he wanted to live and was happy with the trade-offs it entailed. I wish we could all see our tombstones with this clarity and courage before meeting Bronnie.

Happy life.



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