Lessons on Living Fully

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Published by Mark Schlipman

After a recent visit with a client whose husband had just lost his courageous battle with cancer, I began to reflect on the last conversations I have shared with clients and friends who have passed away.

Upon contemplation, I noticed a common thread. Not one person in my 21 years in this profession has ever told me they wished they had saved more money or spent more time at work near the end of their lives. Instead, they talked about their memories – family vacations, time with their grandchildren, a moment of great pride, or a milestone they had reached. I realized that what we often value during the so-called prime of our life is not what really gives our life meaning when we’re faced with our own mortality.

One conversation that stood out in particular was with a 37-year -old woman stricken with an inoperable brain tumor. Prior to her diagnosis, she had been concerned with having enough money, staying in shape, not gaining weight over the holidays, and making sure her “selfies” were perfect for her next Facebook post. She had been so busy concentrating on the things that didn’t matter and the things she could not control that she was unable to enjoy all the great things she already had. With the end near, she told me she now envisioned herself getting old, seeing grandchildren play in the yard, and being able to help her daughter and future husband live life to its fullest. She knew she would not have the opportunity to live the life she dreamed of, but her focus of what was truly important had shifted.

Another client reinforced the importance of simply being in the moment and never taking relationships for granted. Even though he was battling cancer, he said that each day he treated his wife as if they were on a date. He woke up, dressed to impress her, and, most importantly, gave her his undivided attention when they talked every night. To him, this was the secret to a happy marriage. His approach to everyday life stayed with me. Shouldn’t we all be so engaged with the ones we love and with the time we have here?

When looking back on my own life, I find similar joy in memories that have nothing to do with a balance sheet or a dollar amount. Instantly, I think of Christmas and how special that time was to me during my childhood. Like most children, I was very focused on my gifts. But, as an adult, my priorities have changed. I cannot remember what exactly I received, but I do remember the happiness my family brought me.

I also recall our trips to Florida as perfect family vacations. This memory is in spite of my older brother forcing me to sit on the bench in the back of our wonderfully wood-paneled station wagon facing oncoming cars for 15 hours. At that time, I hated it and complained endlessly. But, in retrospect, I loved every minute.

Life is riddled with choices. From my conversations and personal experiences, I’ve learned that choosing to enjoy the moment and create memories will bring more happiness than liking that next post or always saving that next dollar for a tomorrow that may never come. Ultimately, these life lessons have inspired me to make decisions that will allow me to live life by design with the people I love. Is there anything worth more than that?

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