Time and Life Management Principles I Learned from Dead People

by John Cummings on April 11, 2010

What can we learn about time and life from dead people?   A lot more than living people, I think.   Other than top selling authors, the people that teach us the most are often already gone.

1.   You Can’t Get Back Wasted Time.

iPhone CoffinMy dad was a good man.   But I’m going to get vulnerable for a minute and write about something I’ve never written about before, anywhere.  My dad was rarely around during my childhood.   I remember him as a very successful businessman.  He traveled all around the world, polishing his skills and relationships as the Vice President of International Imports for companies like JCPenney and other fortune 500 brands.

I recall thinking that he was very important.  He would come home from Canada and Spain, China and Japan with soaps from all of the fancy hotels he stayed at.   As an 8-year old, I thought this was so cool.  He would bring me trinkets, toys and prizes from all over the world.  And I really enjoyed the post-cards he sent while he was gone for 2 or 3 weeks at a time with pictures of the Great Wall of China and other exotic locations.   “Jack (he called me Jack), how’s baseball going?  Are you being good for Mom?  What’s happening in school?”   He sent a lot of post-cards.  I still have all of them.

My dad told me often that he wanted the best for me.  He told me he loved me and he taught me a lot about what it meant to be a good man.  I loved him dearly and still do.   But the older I get, the more I realize how out of balance he was and how much of a toll it took on his life, marriage and the relationship I am sure he wished he had with me.   He smoked a lot.  He drank too much.   He missed a lot of really great things.  And he never got the chance to realize it.  He died at 55 and I wonder if he now knows what it is he was trying to accompish with all of that work.

2.   You Can’t Take Your Cell Phone With You.

“Papa, Mimi left her cell phone!”   Peter’s granddaughter jumped off the couch to grab the phone and quickly handed it to him.   She knew her grandmother was dead but she was too young to make the connection that “Mimi” wouldn’t be needing her cell phone anymore.

I heard this story this week when I was giving blood in anticipation of a new insurance policy.  Peter came to my home for a 10-minute physical evaluation and blood test but ended up staying a little longer.  I didn’t mind.  His wife had just died and he was sharing some stories that were really touching to my wife and me.

I didn’t know this would be happening to me today but there I was lying on my couch with a bunch of EKG pads on me as Peter completed my physical.  He had been telling me about how he had been doing fewer of these appointments lately.  Having turned 63 and with his wife gone, he realized he had wasted a lot of years trying to pack as many appointments and phone calls into his days as possible.

Peter knew now that it was too late to go back and change that but he was at peace with his epiphany and was trying to work less and enjoy more.  “Mimi’s” cell phone would always be a constant, bittersweet reminder of what mattered and what did not.

3.  There Won’t Be a Money Car Following You to Your Funeral

In my book, Barefoot and Rich System, I describe many people who put the accumulation of wealth before the enjoyment of time.  This is not a new concept, but a fairly poignant example of this simple truth came to me in sharp focus recently when I attended the funeral of a close friend.    John was 48 years old when he had a massive heart attack suddenly on a Sunday night.

He had his own business and he was a hard working man.   He did spend time with his kids and I know he did a lot of fun things with his life before he died.  He had just started to realize in the last year or two of his life that no matter how much money he made, he would always want more.  So it was time to start enjoying it.   He bought a boat and began to spend more time with the kids.

I endured the painful speeches of each of his teenage children at the funeral and I thought how nice it was that they had these recent memories to cherish.  But my heart was broken for the youngest of them, an 8-year old who cried through the entire service in spite of his best efforts to “man up” under the circumstances.  I shared his loss intimately, knowing what was going through his head and I somehow mourned that loss vicariously, knowing that he would grow up without memories of his father, who was now gone.

In the end, the money didn’t matter.  No amount of money earned or saved would replace the loss.  Life insurance probably covers the financial gap but no one can build the memories that were never able to be made.

4.  It’s Time to Start Creating Time, Right Now.

You don’t know when your last day is coming.   Whether you’re 30 or 50, it could be tomorrow.   At the same time, it’s not too late to change your path.   My friend John made the adjustment just early enough to gain two really special years that would not have existed if he had failed to recognize it.

If you’re a workaholic entrepreneur doing it to yourself or a wage slave doing it for someone else, you can change focus and start to enjoy what matters.    All you need to do is (1) resolve to find out why you’re working so hard; (2) create a few hours a week that give you time to plan how to focus on life outside of work (3) execute the plan.    Don’t worry about the  money.  You probably have more than you need if you look real closely at what you really need.

You can’t get back time you’ve wasted.  But you can create new plans, new memories, new moments, starting today.   You can’t take your cell phone (or your laptop or your email) with you when you go.   Or your money.   And after all, it’s not about money.

It’s about time.  Isn’t it?

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