I got a call this week that my old friend Don was dying of congestive heart failure and was in a hospice. Time was short. He asked for me.
Early in my career I struggled with my desire to be successful and to be true to myself. Like many young executives I wanted more money, a bigger job title, and a chance to show others that I was capable of being a leader. Yet, I felt very conflicted about the compromises that I was having to make. It seemed that success (as I had defined it) required me to work exceedingly long hours away from my young wife and children. Additionally, aggressiveness in the workplace was a necessity to get the sales results that the company demanded. I was challenged to grow the business and do whatever was necessary to make that happen.
Don was an older and wiser executive in Human Resources who took me under his wing. He challenged me to be authentic and to stay true to my personal mission. He told me that it was no accident that I was on this planet and that I had a unique purpose. It was my job to discover and embrace that purpose and to live it with intention. He suggested that, if I truly knew my mission, day-to-day decisions would be easier. Like a compass, my personal mission would help determine what was right for me.
My wise friend coached me to answer basic questions:
1) What is my life about?
2) What do I stand for?
3) What am I doing to fulfill that purpose?
He said that answering these questions might not be easy. He offered an exercise that might help get me going. He said, “Imagine that it is your 80th birthday and you are having a grand party. All your family, friends, co-workers in your profession, and neighbors have gathered to hear you speak. What would you say to them is important in life? What did you do for 80 years? Why?”
Luckily, I listened to Don and I amended my definition of success. I answered the three questions and re-discovered my purpose. I stayed true to my own personal code of ethics. Decisions did become easier.
When I spoke with Don this week, he was lucid and calm despite his failing body. He was very accepting of his condition and told me not to worry about him since he had lived a good and long life. We had not spoken in many years and he was curious about what I done with my life. I dutifully brought him up to date. I told him that he had changed my life and thanked him for everything he had done for me.
Don said, “John, that is exactly what I wanted to hear. Nothing could make me happier. Now go and finish what you have started. Live with intention.”
With that I said farewell to my dying friend.
John Bradley Jackson
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I was very moved by this. How nice to know that your mentor approved of your choices. You are blessed to have that closure.
I was truly honored. I had not spoken with him for many years. Despite my fears, it was a very easy conversation to have with him. He was so accepting of his path.
What a bitter-sweet moment that you shared with your friend, and what a beautiful gift he gave you years ago…a gift that you just passed on.
John, thank you for sharing such a deep and personal experience. The 3 questions are easy to ask, but difficult to answer, …and in answering them, it is even more difficult to align actions with intentions. I know that I struggle with that at times. Your article was inspiring to me.
Thanks very much Jim. What I know today (and what I did not know when I was in my twenties) is that a personal mission evolves as one grows older. While my values are largely unchanged, my priorities have changed dramatically.