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If I Were Gone….

I just got into a car accident. On my way to work driving along 880, I veered to the right to miss a pot hole. As my car just nearly missed the large gaping hole in the center lane, I positioned my car over into the next lane of traffic. Being that it was a Monday morning in the Bay Area, the likelihood of me swerving and not hitting a car next to me was unlikely. As I swerved my car, turning my head to the right side, I saw a white Tesla with a middle aged man driving. It was like we both saw the incident in slow motion. Our faces gasping with a few obscenities whispered loudly. What took place after this, was a tragedy in the making. Our cars collided and tumbled into each other. Both moving two lanes over, pushing into additional cars. The sheer speed of our cars made the collision so much worse. Both cars (along with several others) ended up in the ditch upside down. My mind racing as I rushed to feel my body. I couldn’t move. I slowly felt my breath go in and out of my lungs. My mind numb to my surroundings. That’s when I realized, I was only dreaming. What if it were going to be my last day on this earth? In just a brief moment, at any moment, your life can seize to exist. We don’t realize this as our day to day existence moves on. The question to ask would be, what if it was your last day on this earth? Would you feel as if you accomplished everything you set out to do?

I remember watching the movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise. Somewhere in between the bartending and witty banter, there is a particular scene reviewing one of his class assignments in school. The assignment was for the class to write their own obituary. Tom cruise of course makes it a bit comical, as he flips a bottle back and forth between his hands at TGI Friday’s. He speaks of being a millionaire and passing away bedding his girlfriend. Laughter comes after and slowly this scene fades into the background of a movie. It’s an interesting play on a scenario that would probably be hard to fathom for a college student. In a persons 20’s, they have barely experienced life. Knowledge of what they would realistically view as a full life would be extremely rare. Especially in particular, a person from a first world country. The essay for Tom cruise, probably went along with similar students in the class. The professor would have ideally meant well, and meant the assignment as a formula for deep thinking about the students lives. The reality of the scenario is that probably 95% of the students took this as an assignment to pass a class, not the deep thought intended. The question would remain, what would be said on your obituary?

Every stage of your life will have you come to terms differently with how you view the world. Your effect on the people around you or what you view as accomplishments in life. Someone in their teens and 20’s, a much different view than someone in their 30’s or 40’s. Then of course it continues on into later life. Each series of decades and maturation causes you to view what matters differently. I pondered this the other day. I questioned to myself, what if I were to die today? I don’t mean it to be a morbid scenario, but a sense of reality for all of us. We don’t know when life will end. It’s precious and could end at any moment. I think it honestly adds value to anyone’s life, to formulate thoughts on what your life has been like up to this point. Have you truly made an impact on others during your time? Or have you played a survival of the fittest mentality and strived to focus clearly on yourself?

I’ve had times in my life that I’ve had people that worked for me express their thanks. Early in my career as a manager, I remember learning about leadership in a Stephen Covey book. Every chapter made me think about my life and reflect on what more I could do for others. I remember I had an associate at the time that was having a difficult time with his father. Their relationship was deteriorating and he felt like it was going to continue moving that way. It was so interesting as I began to work with him, on different leadership ideas and the importance of listening, he would bring the practice into his personal life. He expressed to me later down the road, the impact that I had on his relationship with his father. I remember at the time, I had no idea what I did at work would help translate to other peoples personal lives. At that time, I realized the profound effect I could have on other people through development.

Everything we do in life can make an impact. The way you speak to people, the way you make them feel in simple daily living. It’s exhilarating to think about. I speak to new hires at my company during the holiday season. It’s usually a briefing of expectations for the store and the history of the company, but then I show a video called, “Pouring out happiness”. It’s a simple 10 minute Ted talk from a speaker that talks of an interaction at an airport. His conversation with a barista at Starbucks enlightened him on how we all should interact. Working on Christmas in a lonely airport when many are off with families, this barista could choose to have a tough day and feel sorry she’s working. Instead, she chooses to make the best out of her day. A passion to make lasting impacts on everyone that comes to her counter. It’s a choice we all have. We can’t always choose the situation we are put in, but we do make the decision on how it effects us. We can decide to be happy or upset with our setting.

After the video, I always look around at peoples faces for the impact. I then go on to let everyone know, we don’t cure cancer at the store, but we do have the ability to make people feel good. Even if for just a moment in time, you can have a large impact on someone’s life. Whether it’s someone that has cancer that comes to a beauty counter and we make her feel amazing, or someone that just wants the perfect ring for their engagement. The associates will often quietly sit and reflect, but I can tell that it makes a difference in their perspective on what they will be doing.

Having the ability to have empathy and reasoning could be a sole reason why human beings differ from other animals on this earth. I feel like there is a different compassion felt with us versus another life form. If a monkey sees another monkey that he/she doesn’t know and they are in severe need of help, would he stop to lend a hand? Or would he simply walk past because he has no relation whatsoever to the other being. The difference with many human beings (not all) is that there is a charitable side to us. If we see someone homeless on the side of the street, do we not feel a sense of empathy or compassion? Even if we decide to not have a charitable bone in our body, do we still not feel guilty as we walk past as if we don’t see them? Or come up with the excuse that I have no cash to give?

The question that sat with me the other day, is if I have truly effected other peoples lives. Would years pass and people feel there was somewhat of a void on this earth without me here? Or would it mainly be my family members? At my funeral, would there be strangers speaking to my family about the difference I made in their lives? Or would nobody make the time to come to say a word at all?

The thoughts of my child crossed my mind. Would he grow up with the morals that I grew up with? Would years pass in his life and I only a minor memory or photo in the room? How would my wife react to the situation. Would she be challenged with raising a child on her own? I can only hope that I give him the love and compassion needed to make others feel special. I hope that he looks back at his life one day, and says that he has had a profound impact on others in a positive light.

I write this as a simple thought to ponder for all. If you’re reading this, it tells me that you’re alive. You’re living, breathing, and have a chance to affect others. Think through how you live your life. Alter it quickly if you are focused only on yourself. Make a decision to effect people for the better. We never know when it’s our time to go. When we are laid to rest, it’s the only thing you will have left. The material possessions that you had on this world will all diminish, but how you make people feel will last many lifetimes after you’re gone. If you pass a stranger on the street, smile and say hi. If you see someone in need, help them. If you’re in a position to make someone else’s life better, take the opportunity. You will never know if it’s your only chance to make a difference.

Author: Chris Hetrick.


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