What I Learned From the Death of My Brother

By Dr. Tom Denham

My brother died last year. He passed away from lung cancer. Jim was not a smoker; he was an athlete. He died young. Jim’s death only reinforced my core values and how to balance my work and personal life. I’m grateful to him. I wanted to honor his life by sharing with you some lessons. We would all like to believe that we are going to live a long healthy life, but honestly there are no guarantees. I hope that what I learned from the death of my brother will inspire you to make changes that lead to a more authentic life.

  1. Life is short.
    Stop putting off things you have been meaning to do. If something of interest has been mulling around in your head, then sit down, set some goals, come up with a plan and just do it. Don’t wait. Time is not on your side. Push past that nagging sense of fear and don’t let it rule your life. Remember, you have a 100 percent chance of dying. When we accept this and I mean really come to terms with it, you can then begin to live more deliberately. You simply don’t have time to get it wrong. Start writing a list that answers these questions. What do I need to start doing? What do I need to stop doing? What do I need to continue doing? What do I need to do more of? What do I need to do less of? What do you need to do differently?
  2. Life is unfair.
    Get used to it. There are four billion people in the world living on less than a dollar a day! Think about that when you’re not feeling especially grateful. Focusing on previous bad experiences, people and circumstances do not serve you and they won’t move you forward. Concentrate your attention on what is working and what you can do, not what you can’t do. Reach out for help and always surround yourself with positive people that can bring your game up. Count your blessings and all the things you have that money can’t buy. Learn from your past, focus on your future and live for today. Don’t let your past rule you!
  3. Relationships are paramount.
    In the end, relationships are all that really matter. Period! No one cares about the size of your house, the type of car you drive or how much money you have. No one cares! What really matters is the quality of the relationships with your friends and family. Appreciate and focus on what’s happening in the here and now with your relationships. Tell everyone that is close to you that you love them. Give and receive love every day. I may forget what Jim said or did, but I will always remember how he made me feel. When I was with him, I was the #1 person in his life. Jim was always interested in me. He was an excellent listener. Jim was never hurried or rushed. He always had time for me. Jim loved his family. His family loved him.
  4. Don’t wait until retirement.
    I am a huge proponent of saving for retirement, but I am not waiting until that day to start really living. Jim didn’t get the chance to live out his golden years with his beloved wife, his kids or his grandkids. Too often I hear my clients postpone living until they can retire and do the things they want to do. It’s heart breaking to read obituaries in the Times Union and learn about people dying at 32, 44, 57 and 63. Start taking incremental action toward your work and life goals.
  5. Do what you love.
    Jim was an award winning photographer for the Boston Globe. He was wicked good at it. You don’t go into photography to get rich. You pursue it because it is the full expression of you. The last thing I told Jim before he passed was that I was going ice climbing. He thought that was cool. He then handed the phone to his wife and I never spoke to him again.
  6. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
    We tend to worry about the most inconsequential things. Stop dragging worry around. Ten years from now, all that petty stuff we tend to worry about will not matter. Just let go of it. Learn to live in the moment. Tell yourself, “Today will be a totally awesome day!”
  7. Live life on your terms.
    Maybe you are familiar with the 14-44-64 Rule. It goes like this. When you are 14 years old, you worry about what other people think about you. When you are 44 years old, you don’t give a damn about what people think about you. When you’re 64, you realize nobody has been thinking about you the entire time. Stop living your life to impress others. Jim lived a simple life in his own way, not worrying about what others would think. Lead a simple life, uncomplicated from the things that don’t matter.
  8. Keep yourself happy.
    Stop postponing being happy. Choose happiness each day. Don’t wait for some time in your life when you can begin to be happy. Don’t take yourself so seriously. I always enjoyed pulling Jim’s leg. Jim was gracious. Jim laughed a lot.
  9. Leave a legacy.
    The way you lead your life is the legacy you leave. You can leave a professional legacy, but you will also be leaving a legacy for your family and friends. Think carefully about what you would really like that to be. Write it down and commit to it. When you get up each day, act on it. Do one thing every day to help build your legacy. Make sure it is so small that it is impossible to fail. Jim made a difference through his work, but most importantly, he left a legacy of love.
  10. Take lots of pictures. 
    When you take pictures you are creating happy memories. Most of the memories I have of Jim did not cost a dime. On my desk, I have a picture of my mom, my daughter, Jim and I. It was taken next to his rose garden on one of our frequent trips to the White Mountains. I’m glad we took that picture and I’m damn glad Jim was my brother.

Dr. Tom’s Career Tip: “Don’t wish it was easier, wish that you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.” – Jim Rohn

Printed with permission of Dr. Tom Denham.

Dr. Thomas J. Denham is the founder of Careers in Transition LLC, a career counseling firm which focuses on career direction for individuals and consulting services for institutional clients. Tom writes and speaks extensively on career issues and can be heard on Northeast Public Radio’s award winning talk show, The Career Forum.

Originally published at http://blog.timesunion.com/careers/what-i-learned-from-the-death-of-my-brother/2293/?goback=%2Egde_2095563_member_218922602

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