“It is not so much about what life hands you, but what you do with what you get.”
– Idowu Koyenikan
In my introductory post, I shared that the origins of this blog started with my father’s death. I thought it appropriate that my follow-up post be about the lessons I learned from his passing.
I don’t want to give you the impression that this was an easy process. It wasn’t easy at all. It was painful and it took me many many years before I was able to find anything resembling a silver lining from this tragedy.
However, now nearly twenty years later I’m able to reflect back and see how his death influenced my growth and shaped my outlook. Here are just a few of the ways I was able to take this tragedy and make my life better from it.
Be grateful for who you have because you don’t know when they will be gone. This has helped me most in my relationship with my kids. My father only got 19 years with me. If I consider that possibility with my own kids it makes me appreciate every moment with them much more (even when they are driving me crazy).
I think this is true with everything that life has to offer. When you allow the idea of losing something into your experience, you naturally become much more appreciative for what you have. Living with the concept of loss has turned me into a more grateful person.
Don’t Focus on the Small Stuff
Every person and every relationship has it’s fair share of irritants. However, those aren’t the things you remember when they’re gone. So why focus on them when they’re right in front of you?
My father died as I was just coming out of my angsty teenage years, which means I’d spent the last years of his life, focusing on the small irritants that existed within him. Those things elude me now, but what endures are the things about my dad that I miss.
This lesson has been most impactful in my marriage. As perfect as my wife is, there may be one or two minor character flaws that could get under my skin if I allowed them to. My life and marriage are so much better when I instead focus on the thousands of things that are great about her, rather than the one or two irritants.
Choose the Life You Want – Live in the Now
Don’t allow life to just happen. Be proactive about shaping your life around what you want it to look like. If you only had 10 or 20 years left to live what would you do differently? Why aren’t you doing that now?
These are the questions that I think about now. I don’t wait to live my life for some distant time in the future. I structure my life to create the future I want as soon as possible, ensuring that the life I’m living today is the life I want.
Focus on What’s Most Important
In many ways my father lived a great life. He traveled the world and had experiences that the rest of us only dream of. After leaving his job he talked more about the loneliness of living out of hotel rooms and how hollow many of those experiences were because he couldn’t share them with his family.
This helped me structure my life not just around what I want to do, but who I want to do it with. My parents instilled in me a love of traveling, and I intend to see as much of the world as I can. But, I don’t just want to check things off a list; I want to have experiences with those that I love. I’d happily trade seeing 10 things from my list if it meant I could see one with my loved ones.
Prioritizing the things that are most important to me over the things that are just important has allowed me to get more out of my experiences.
You Always Have a Choice
You won’t always be able to choose what happens in your life, but you will always have a choice about what you do with what happens. This list is a perfect reflection of that. I didn’t choose for my father to die, but I did choose how I responded to his death.
Choosing to find ways to take this tragedy and make my life better as a result has not only made me a better version of myself, but has also helped me grieve his loss. I could have very easily taken this experience and become bitter or see myself as a victim of it, but that’s not who I am.
Actively choosing your response to life’s events will set you on a path to improving your life. You get to make this choice.