I wrote a version of this post about a year ago…titled it “when death comes knocking, look busy”…and I didn’t know then that it would be so timely today.
And thank goodness I took my own advice.
Death came knocking for me a little over a month ago…I had a stroke…and somehow when death tried to take me, I wasn’t just looking busy, I was busy.
Maybe a bit too busy.
Regardless, I was not finished with what I had to do down here and I got another chance.
I also think that death was asking me to slow down a bit too.
But not too much I hope.
I have to admit that when I first heard this quote, I couldn’t help but think about the last scene in Woody Allen’s Love and Death, when Boris (the lead character Woody plays) encourages us to, “…not think of death as an end, but think of it more as a very effective way of cutting down on your expenses.”
While that might have been nice, I’ll take life plus the expenses, thank you very much.
My stroke was also one day after my book launched—bummer—but now with some time to reflect on that, I realize I can launch anytime…and I can only live once.
(Shameless plug: If you haven’t bought my book yet with the amazing bonuses at www.OverdeliverBook.com, now is as good a time as any).
Right now the game plan is working on being alive, a worthwhile endeavor and one that I can put in a new context:
Making sure I am up to something big in my life all the time and encouraging others to be up to something big as well… even after we have achieved something big.
“Big” here is a relative term…yet we all need to have something to strive for or to reach for…and while we are in that process, we should always be setting new goals at the same time.
Dan Sullivan, the top coach for entrepreneurs in the world (and the person who gave me this idea) has many stories and examples about very famous people who set a huge goal in their lives but once it was achieved, they left too much room to not be busy.
A stark example of this is the curious tale of the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, American patriots who both had the goal of seeing that the new republic survive its first 50 years.
Ironically, when it did survive, both men died on the same day, 5 hours apart, and exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1826.
You can say that both men should have had some other milestone planned after that…but we can cut these two guys a little slack since in an era where living into your 40’s or 50’s made you an “old man,” Jefferson and Adams died at 82 and 90 respectively.
But I love the story to illustrate what it really means to live for something.
And to die for it.
I’ve talked before about my favorite definition of “retirement,” also borrowed/paraphrased from a Dan Sullivan concept:
“Retire from the things you don’t like doing, retire from the things you don’t do well…and retire from people who drain you and don’t make you bigger and stronger.”
I get a lot of slack from many friends (and family members) when I say I will never “retire” in the traditional sense…I guess it helps that I don’t like golf very much and I tend to enjoy eating dinner closer to 7:00 than 4:30.
Seriously though, I believe, as Dan does (and he has seen many more examples of this in his coaching career), that once you remove the passion to continue to achieve the next thing in your life, you really do leave an opening to, in Woody Allen’s words, “…cut down on your expenses…” and leave an open invitation for death to come knocking.
I know of many entrepreneurs who have cashed out in a big way (e.g. selling their business for tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars) and once they were on the “other side” with nothing to do, they wilted and then died figuratively…and sadly, often literally too.
Dan phrases it something like this:
Entrepreneurs who don’t get “back in the game” within 6 months after a huge liquidity event often lose their edge and inevitably lose their confidence too, thinking that what they did to cash out was more of a one-hit wonder than success they could repeat or sustain for the rest of their lives.
Or…they spend all of that money they made without thinking, and often investing way too much in far too little (in terms of opportunities that don’t fit with who they are and what they still want to accomplish or that they can do no wrong) which also leads to an unfulfilling “chapter two”…and possibly much sadness and even deep depression.
Lots of money in the bank is a great way to keep score…but it’s not the key to living vibrantly.
Seeing many very rich people who are totally miserable after they get rich is a hint that being up to something all the time is far more important than your cash balance.
Know your next move no matter how good today’s moves look.
I know now that I had my next moves in mind when death came knocking and despite my setback, I will be back on track soon.
And I believe that is what kept death at bay.
I can even relate this to the direct marketing rule of thumb that no direct marketing business can sustain itself without repeat business…or, “a product is not a business.”
Put into the context of “being busy when death comes knocking,” enjoy the success of product number one, mission number one or huge success number one…but know in advance what number two, three and four might look like…and always set a date in the future to accomplish each one.
And don’t make the “mistake” Jefferson and Adams made…have something even bigger in store even in your 80’s or 90’s.
Keep in mind that I am not suggesting that you set goals you can never achieve…nor am I suggesting that once you hit those goals you don’t celebrate.
All I am suggesting is that have another goal already in place as you hit your current one…definitely celebrate the current one as a huge win…then get busy again on the next one (which was already pre-planned).
And this is not at all about each one making more money than the last one…it might…but that is not the criteria.
Just be up to something big all the time.
I’ll end with a story I heard many years ago which is even more relevant to me today.
I hate going to funerals as much as anyone…but when I attend one, I listen carefully for the contributions of the deceased and how their life was well lived…and when I do that, it turns the sadness into inspiration.
And being so close to my own death a little over a month ago, I thought about my funeral.
Of course people will be very sad…they will cry, they will talk about what a great guy I was, and share how much they will miss me.
But then I remember…at some point near the end of the service, someone will turn to the person next to them and say:
“I’m hungry. Let’s go to Denny’s.”
My mentor Marty Edelston told me he loved getting old because that’s how he got so smart.
Wisdom is accumulated: 50 years of cumulative experience is very different than one year’s experience repeated for 50 years.
And he also said to me:
“We only go through life once so we might as well be the world’s best.”
To be the world’s best at something for a long time, I’m convinced that you must be choosing your future, always setting new goals and thinking about life being long rather than short.
I’m glad mine is now a little longer.
And I promise to stay busy.
P.S. The other thing that comes to mind when I think about always being busy and being up to something big is being a lifelong student.
You don’t have to be in the middle of achieving a huge goal every day to stay engaged and building your muscles for the next big project.
That involves reading…and it’s no accident that every time I am in a room with successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, my reading list gets longer and longer based on their recommendations…which is also intimidating since I am such a slow reader.
Two suggestions today:
1) Set up your own “reading group” which I talked about in this Forbes article a couple of years ago.
Staying engaged has so many levels to it…this is one that is so easy to do…and I encourage you to try some version of it in your life.
Click here to read the short article.
2) Secondly, and this is clearly self-serving, you should consider some game changing books I am directly involved with publishing, writing and selling.
Knowing that most of you are marketers, copywriters or folks who know that being a world class marketer is critical to being engaged in the world with whatever super power you want to share, getting your hands on any of these books will help you in a variety of ways (and I know so many of you have all of these already—thank you!).
Breakthrough Advertising and The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You are two classics written by Eugene Schwartz, one of the most prolific copywriters and marketers who has ever lived…and Gene’s wife Barbara has entrusted me to be the publisher of both titles.
I have gotten so many emails from so many of you how these books are changing your life…so in case you missed previous posts about both of these masterpieces from a master, you can buy them exclusively here:
P.P.S. And my first book, The Advertising Solution, co-written with direct marketing expert Craig Simpson, is one I am very proud of….like my second, Overdeliver.
You can get them both here with lots of bonuses:
P. P.P.S. Stay busy!
May you always be “busy” when death comes knocking on your door…I loved you the day I met you; and I love you today…Give yourself permission to be busy at a slower pace your beautiful wife and kids will thank you… may God Bless you, give you peace, guide you and then teach you…”it’s ok to NOT be quite so busy”
Here’s hoping your healing continues…and you must be better…this IS perhaps your longest POST EVER….Big hugs, Gregg and Gloria Stephenson…
My dear Brian, You know I wish you a speedy, thorough recovery. From this post it’s clear you are on your way as you continue to educate, inspire as you recover. How generous, thoughtful and giving you are….even as you mend.
When I explored the “retirement”problems of Social Security and State Teachers Retirement in California, I learned that the actuarial stats of life expectancy after retirement was 39 months. So I have lived Dan’s definition and only retired from the troublesome clients and mishegas of pursuit of shiny objects that attract some entrepreneurs under the NO MORE AGGRAVATION banner.
Thank you for sharing this amazing and heartfelt post. I’m so happy I got to spend time with you in Cleveland, before all of this life-enhancing excitement. It is always such a joy to have time with you and I feel that is the most important gift that you share, your time. I feel blessed I often get to share it with you. And I look forward to sharing more in the future.
I’ll see you soon in Durango and Chicago I hope!
Sending much love and support … anytime you want!
So does this mean we don’t do March Madness next year? If not, I guess there is always Denny’s, they over deliver too.
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