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Saying Goodbye: Last Words to a Dying Man

Cancer sucks.

Hell, death sucks. All of the causes of it suck, too.

Let’s be honest:

Death may wait for all of us, just like taxes, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel a-okay about either one.

I lost a friend recently. After years of struggling with throat cancer that turned into lung cancer, he had a series of strokes. When they occurred, he had gone out of town for a few days; his medical teams in Houston and the hospital in Montana consulted and decided to transition him to end-of-life care—and to spare him the stresses of a transfer back to Houston.

Fair enough. Though travel in his last few days would have likely lessened his remaining time on Earth, a number of us would have liked to have seen him at the end. And knowing him—a social butterfly who loved people more than he could admit—he’d have appreciated seeing more of us right about then, too.

A couple friends, his son, and his mother made it to his bedside in the final days. The rest of us sent notes. Though lucid, he couldn’t talk easily. People could read to him, even if he had moments in which he couldn’t read for himself.

What to say?

I had limited time with which to come up with something. As I write plenty—at least, far more than most people—I should have had no problem, right?

And yet I had no words.

I didn’t want to use the past tense for someone still alive.

I didn’t want to evoke the afterlife or religion for a number of reasons, one of which being his lack of belief in either.

I didn’t want to wax maudlin or sappy or weepy. He’d never had much truck for purple prose—and even still, he knew the end had come. He knew he had a mere few days left. Facing mortality hurts. Why depress and sadden him more with pity-party language?

I didn’t want forced joviality. Pretending that nothing had changed and that he didn’t await the end rang false. Acting as though anything could get better if he just kept fighting felt disingenuous.

And so I wrote him memories. I told him stories of times we’d had together: Funny stories, sweet stories, gratitude stories, recountings of our conversations and my takeaways. I tried to make him smile while letting him know that we loved him, that I cared, and that he would live on in everyone he’d touched in his far-too-brief life.

Maybe I could or should have done something else, if only I’d had time for deeper consideration. As always happens when someone dies, I’ve thought of a few more things I would have liked to have said. Yet even if I’d written these things I’ve remembered to say now, other things would pop to mind.

What would you have said?


The Challenges of Sharing Your “Gifts”

Regrettably, I didn’t save the blog entry that triggered musings leading to this post about sharing our gifts. (If I find it again, I’ll rectify the sin of omission.)

The entry posited that each person should share his particular talents or gifts, as our individual strengths would then complement each other and improve the world.

I agree.


How do you define your gifts?

After all, everyone struggles to see himself clearly. Personally, I feel a little egotistical calling something that I can do a “gift.” I may have worked pretty hard at it—which makes it a skill, not a talent. Or perhaps I believe I perform a certain activity with proficiency, but not extraordinarily well enough to feel I have something important to share.

And maybe no one else would consider what I consider a gift my particular strong point. Maybe I don’t even particularly excel at something—and yet I completely miss that fact.

Or perhaps I kick tail at a particular activity—something others would value highly—but it bores me?

A bookkeeper once told me that she didn’t want to volunteer doing what she labored at all day in the office. Instead, she wanted to build houses or feed the hungry. Yet I knew from personal experience with the nonprofit in question that having help with bookkeeping and clerical tasks would have helped its operations immensely. And she didn’t know a thing about carpentry.

Wouldn’t this person better serve the nonprofit by using her actual gifts—even if doing so feels like more of the same?

Further, we all have many gifts. Perhaps I don’t particularly value one of my talents—if I could define any of them in the first place—yet someone else considers it highly useful. If someone else values a particular skill of mine highly, does her estimation weigh more than my own?

How do you define and share your gifts?

P.S.—As with a previous post, I wrote this topic in tandem with Will Pora, who planned to post on the same topic one day later. Check out his blog, why don’cha.


Things I Love: September 2014

Back to products this month after a couple turns discussing services and cafes.

Paromi Herbal Tea

My Paromi herbal tea selections. September 7, 2014.

Want a challenge? Try finding palatable herbal teas for someone who doesn’t like fruity blends.

I discovered a couple creative and tasty options from Paromi at my local Whole Foods. One has a soothing blend of lemon and ginger that shies away from anything too stringent (although I do like a bam-pow kick of both at times) and another has a nice chamomile, lavender mix.

I wish Paromi offered these teas in loose-leaf, rather than in tea bags, but as I often only want a single cup of herbal tea before bed, I can live without the teapot.

Sunfood Super Foods Raw Organic Cacao Nibs

Sunfood cocoa nibs, ready to go. September 7, 2014.

If you love chocolate but try not to eat it too often (like this healthy eater), cacao nibs from Sunfood serve your cravings, cut out the bad stuff often included in processed chocolate (such as cream, added fats, sugars), and add valuable minerals and fiber to your diet. A win all around.

Add them to your baking (you don’t even need to adjust the other ingredients, I’ve found) for a chocolaty flavor and crunch or add them to savory foods, like chili, for a warming chocolate kick.

Door Hook from The Container Store

My door hanger from The Container Store in action. September 7, 2014.

I got sick of carting my bags up and down from my bedroom closet and the clutter of leaving my briefcases on the floor or table near the garage door drove me nuts.

A quick trip to The Container Store gifted me with this handy, reasonably priced, easy-to-install (heck, even I could do it) door hook strap. The hooks adjust to carry differently sized bags, can hold a significant amount of weight, and the brackets barely show on the closed door.


What do you love this month?


Human Nature and Intolerance

Try as I might, I can’t eradicate my fear that intolerance has permanent roots in human nature.

I want to believe otherwise. I want to believe that we can love more easily than we can hate. I want to believe that the violent and frightening clashes seen across the globe today over race, religion, class, culture, and often all combined result simply from some awful trend that we can reverse if we put our shoulders into it.

When did we tip from peace and tolerance into extremism and fear and loathing? Never. A historical review didn’t turn up such a utopia. Not fifty years ago. Not last century. Not at the beginning of recorded time. Sumerians and ancient Egyptians wrote of dynasties, slavery, and warfare.

Researching, I found calls for tolerance throughout history—and few signs that they worked. Instead, I found a melancholy-inducing survey from Time Magazine highlighting intolerance in the United States. I found a historical review noting that people frequently couch intolerance in the language of “protecting values” and “preserving culture.” (Sound familiar?)

I found a psychological analysis of adolescents that addresses how open-minded children turn into hateful young adults. The need for acceptance during a stage of increasingly intense insecurity causes intolerance for differences. I’d venture that insecurity begets fear that begets anger and hate in adults just as often.

And I found a thought-provoking article showing that I, too, foster intolerance. I can’t tolerate hate. I can’t tolerate small-mindedness. I can’t tolerate willful ignorance. These traits make me angry.

I can’t tolerate what we often mean by “intolerance.”

And in this vein, if no other, I’ll stay intolerant.

What I wish for the world, for all of us in it today and for the generations to come? I wish for a world grown more loving, more thoughtful, more understanding. I wish for a world in which all of us had gained perspective. A world in which my current intolerance no longer has basis.

Yet after long, deep, hard thought, I have very little hope.

All I can do: Work as a force of one to eradicate hate and intolerance and spread love and understanding. Perhaps I can convince one or two other people to join me. Can I end intolerance worldwide? No.

Yet infusing even the smallest amount of love into the world has to prove better than doing nothing. And it’s the best any of us can do.

Can we separate human nature and intolerance?


When the Pitch Goes Awry: “Losing” a Deal

A friend of mine emphasizes—and rightly—that you can’t lose something that you don’t have in the first place.

Which means you can’t lose a deal. If a prospect chooses to go elsewhere or stick with the status quo, you didn’t lose the business.

But you didn’t win it, either.

And who doesn’t want to close a deal? Anyone in sales will gush over the buzz of a win. Closing new business means all sorts of good things: A fresh, fun project to tackle; money in the door; work for existing staff; possibly even jobs for additional people. And so on.

A sale doesn’t solve everything, yet it sure helps.

So when a deal doesn’t go your way, the doldrums can strike with a vengeance. For me, combatting them means proactively reviewing the process from lead generation through to getting a final answer after reviewing recommendations with the prospect and, if necessary, following up. I think through every step of the journey—in tandem with my team, when applicable—and assess what went awry and where.

If you can identify missteps at any point in a process, you can better prevent them in the future. When it comes to sales, I’ve noticed a few key areas for especial review:

  • What came in the door? If your products don’t suit the companies coming over the transom, perhaps your marketing doesn’t attract your ideal customer. (You have profiled your target client, right?)
  • What did you pursue? Don’t chase every rabbit that pops its head above the warren. Not everything that hits your radar makes a prime target—even with the best marketing.
  • Where did you go off process? How you sell makes a huge difference to your success. Have a process designed for your target audience and your specific product offering and follow it, even if the prospect wants to take you off track. As every step has a purpose, you can’t afford to get overly excited or confident and skip ahead.
  • With whom did you speak? The decision maker may delegate vender vetting. If the delegate has decision-making authority, go right ahead. Yet if she simply gathers information to hand to someone else, she may not give you the vantage point needed to position your product effectively.
  • Did you blather? Unless you understand a prospect’s needs and challenges, you can’t show how your product will help achieve her goals. And if she can’t see how your product will help, she won’t want it. So shut up and listen.
  • Questions—did you ask them? In preparing for sales meetings, you should develop a full list of questions that will help you understand your prospect, his world, and his needs. Without good questions, you can’t truly determine whether the prospect fits your customer profile—or which of your products best fits his situation. And having questions will help you avoid talking too much.

How do you postmortem the opportunities that got away?

P.S.—Hat tip to the ridiculously amazing Jeff Jenkins, who suggested this post. Though he’s my cousin, I speak of his rock-star-ness without bias. Even near strangers would back up my estimation here, folks. Follow him.