A Life Worth Living: Finding Your Purpose and Daring to Live the Life You’ve Imagined
These were my favorite passages from Kevin’s book.
“The experience of almost dying left me with two clear takeaways—life is fragile, and life is precious. You can lose it all in a moment. I found a new appreciation for how special life is and felt a deeper urgency to make the most of my life. I didn’t want any of it wasted. When the doctor told me I might die, all I could think about were the things I still wanted to do in my life. Now I had a second chance and the opportunity to appreciate it more than I had before.”
“Why I’m Writing This Book Looking back, I feel fortunate to have experienced all the health issues I did. While the pain, uncertainty, and fear were horrible, I feel lucky for the perspective I gained, and luckier still to be alive. How do you calculate the value of a second chance at life? I think about dying every day, not in a morbid or fearful way, just cognizant that every morning I wake up is a bonus. I’ve been living in overtime for the last eleven years, nine months, and twenty-three days. Every year my family and I celebrate the anniversary of my transplant more than we celebrate my birthday.”
“We had a lot of fun and laughter in my neighborhood. It was a fantastic place to grow up. But even in the most idyllic places, pain and tragedy find their way in. Michael
The gun lurched backwards, and a moment later Michael collapsed to the floor. They were all surprised by the blast, so it took a moment for them to realize what happened. But it all became clear when they looked down and saw Michael lying in a pool of blood. Michael died that night, and a part of Robert died with him. Killing his brother devastated Robert and left him crushed with guilt.
“There is no place immune from tragedy and pain.”
Tragedy knows no boundaries, and no one is exempt from the pain.
The World Health Organization reports that 264 million people around the world suffer from depression, an increase of 60 percent over the past forty-five years. For some, life becomes so hopeless they choose suicide as their solution. Over 800,000 die by suicide every year, touching people from every walk of life. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in fifteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds.2 Sheldon Kopp, a psychotherapist and author, summed it up well: “Life can be counted on to provide all the pain that any of us might need.”
Highlight (Yellow) | Location 176
It was August 14, my twenty-fourth birthday. I was on my way home, driving past the university where I rode the elevators and sat in class with Ricky, the happiest guy I’d ever met. That’s when I heard the news on the radio. “Ricky Berry, NBA standout rookie for the Sacramento Kings, died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head in his home in Sacramento.” It stunned me. How was that possible? Ricky had everything, the perfect life. I wasn’t the only one shocked by the news. Martin McNeil of the LA Times wrote, “Berry’s zest for life, combined with an apparently unlimited future, seemed to make him the least likely person to end his own life.”
Ricky’s death had a big impact on me. How could I have been so wrong about his perfect life? Sometimes it’s impossible to tell who is doing well and who isn’t. I watched him for years and never saw a moment of struggle.
When actor and comedian Robin Williams killed himself, it shocked the world. He looked so full of life, and he brought so much laughter to other people. Who could know how desperate he felt about his own life?
How is anyone supposed to find the time to overcome so many challenges or the energy to create an extraordinary life?
The short answer is, one choice and one action at a time. It all begins with resetting your perspective.
There is singing and sharing, laughter and tears. People make their way to the microphone and tell stories of favorite memories. The stories have one thing in common. They’re all about you. This is a celebration of life, a
funeral. Yours. There are people gathered to say goodbye, sharing stories about the life you lived. When your life is over, what stories do you want told about you? What do you want people to remember?
“Stories will be told about the life you lived, not the life you wanted to live. Are you living a life that will generate the stories you desire? Reflecting on the end of your life can help bring clarity to what’s important. It can help you realize the gap between the life you are living and the life you want.”
“In his blog post, Seven Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose, Mark Manson wrote, “Ultimately, death is the only thing that gives us perspective on the value of our life.”
“In South Korea, living funerals are a growing practice.2 Participants write their last will and testament, then attend their own funeral ceremony. They wear funeral shrouds and lie in a closed coffin for ten minutes. The intent is to help people contemplate their death so they will come away with a fresh perspective on their life.”
“One participant, Cho, was seventy-five years old when she held a living funeral for herself. She said, “Once you become conscious of death and experience it, you undertake a new approach to life.”
“It’s a worthwhile exercise to spend an hour reflecting on the end of your life. How do you feel about the life you’ve lived so far? What are your hopes and dreams for the days you have left? Being Irish, I feel I have an advantage because the Irish are seasoned funeral-goers. I’ve attended scores of funerals, of people I knew very well and many I’d never met. Irish people go to funerals of anyone who even resembles a friend or acquaintance.
“He wanted much more. Now that he had seen the reality of his reputation, Nobel would change his story. Alfred committed himself to improving the world and society. He drafted his will, leaving 94 percent of his fortune to set up the Nobel Prizes that would recognize the greatest achievements of mankind. He chose five areas of study he believed could most benefit humanity: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. The Nobel Committee later added a sixth prize for Economic Sciences. Since its inception, the Nobel Foundation has awarded prizes to over nine hundred people.”
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. I wish I had let myself be happier.”
“Wish not so much to live long as to live well.” —Benjamin Franklin
“It wasn’t until much later that I realized there’s no such thing as normal.”
“When my mom and dad arrived in the United States, they had next to nothing. My dad worked several jobs, sweeping coffee off the floor at the Folgers coffee plant, doing janitorial work, and tending bar. He started drinking too much and at some point, my mom had had enough. She took me and my sister back to Ireland to live with her father. To my dad’s credit, he got sober and stopped drinking. My mom gave their marriage another try. We moved back to Campbell, California, to the safe and boring neighborhood where I thought nothing bad would ever happen.”
I joined my kindergarten class halfway through the school year, so I was the new kid who didn’t know anyone. Because I was quiet and shy, it was hard for me to make friends. Trusting new people wasn’t easy. Fear was a big part of my childhood. I was small and skinny, which made me a tempting target for bullies at school and in my neighborhood.
I stayed on the team, endured the taunting and bullying from Mark and Mario, but also gained confidence and skill. In my third and last season with the team, the coaches selected me as the Most Valuable Player. It taught me a good lesson in staying the course even when things get difficult.”
“These events from my childhood shaped me. When I looked at my story, I didn’t like a lot of what I saw. I realized that I needed to overcome my fears and learn to trust people more if I was to live a better life. I needed to step up and face bigger challenges, even if they made me uncomfortable. I needed to learn to take action and not be so passive about my life.
“As we get older, we sometimes forget to keep dreaming big, or keep dreaming at all. We lower our expectations and accept mediocrity.”
“My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, and milk was expensive and always in short supply. Sometimes we resorted to powdered milk, which I hated. I was jealous of the kids who had to drink a glass of milk with their dinner because that wasn’t something I was allowed to do. My perfect life has a well stocked refrigerator with plenty of ice-cold, 2 percent milk so I can enjoy a tall glass of milk whenever I want.”
“I love history and stories of the past. The second world war shaped history, revealing the worst and the best in humanity. Last year I visited the beaches of Normandy, the destination at the top of my travel list. I wanted to walk the beaches of D-Day and see the place where so many died in the fight between good and evil. It was a powerful experience that gave me a deeper appreciation for the peaceful times in which I live.”
“My wife Vicky, the kids, and I have a goal to see all fifty states in America. Every year we pick a few we’ve not yet seen and we hit the road. I’ve realized that fifty is a lot. But with each state we visit, we are one step closer to completing our quest. So far, we’ve been to thirty-two states, and we’ve found interesting adventures in everyone. But the sum is greater than its parts. It’s the quest to see all fifty that’s made the pursuit so special.”
“Normal people who didn’t make a lot of money made an enormous impact with the gifts they gave. Genevieve Via Cava taught special needs students in New Jersey’s Dumont school district for almost forty-five years. When she died, she left $1 million to her special needs students. She wanted to continue to care for them.1 Ronald Read spent his career as a gas station attendant. He wanted giving to be a part of his story. When he died, he shocked his community by leaving $6 million to the local library and hospital.2 Alan Naiman was a social worker in Washington state. He lived an unassuming, frugal life, drove old cars, wore old shoes, and ate at inexpensive restaurants. Alan donated $11 million to organizations that cared for kids who were sick, abandoned, or disabled because he wanted to help those who couldn’t help themselves.”
“taking practical steps. Sometimes we overthink things. We think a monumental goal like creating a remarkable life must require massive, relentless action. It doesn’t. Forget the towering plan and don’t focus on your entire life. Begin with one day. Start with the easiest and most practical things you can do, and trust that over time the cumulative results will make a difference. You are putting in place the disciplines and actions that will yield a life you will be excited to live. Forget extravagance and get down to the basics.”
“Every year I set goals for the year, and I always include a list of people I’d like to meet. It’s random and I know there are no guarantees that I will meet everyone or anyone on the list. But I find unexpected opportunities arise repeatedly that have allowed me the chance to meet people whose names I put on my list.
Morrie is frail, confined to his house, but even in this he has wisdom to share with Mitch: “[Morrie] nodded toward the window with the sunshine streaming in. ‘You see that? You can go out there, outside, anytime. You can run up and down the block and go crazy. I can’t do that. I can’t go out. I can’t run. I can’t be out there without fear of getting sick. But you know what? I appreciate that window more than you do.’”1 Morrie had mastered the art of perspective and appreciation.
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” Sometimes it’s helpful when somebody reminds you how good your life already is.
“Why is it we so rarely appreciate the amazing things in our lives when they are right in front of us and only realize how special they are once they’re gone?”
The sky awash in brilliant color by the setting sun? We don’t always appreciate things until they’re gone. When was the last time you woke up and just appreciated the fact that you can still see?
an instance, everything changed. In the United States alone, there are 5.4 million paralyzed people.
There are 466 million people in the world with disabling hearing loss.8 The singing birds, the sound of laughter, the conversations that happen throughout your day? All affected. How different would your life be if you were deaf? We forget to appreciate the wonder of our everyday blessings. If you want perspective on how blessed you are, go on the internet and watch a few videos of deaf people hearing sound for the first time after getting cochlear implants. The moment they hear sound, it overwhelms them with joy.
In the video we are in the doctor’s office. When the audiologist turns on the cochlear implants, Andrea will hear for the first time. She is there with her boyfriend, whose voice she has never heard. They turn the implants on and, as expected, Andrea is overjoyed as she takes in the surrounding sounds. Then it gets even better. Her boyfriend gets down on one knee, takes out a ring, and proposes. He says, “I wanted to make this one of the first things you hear . . .” and then he asks Andrea to marry him.9 To see the joy experienced as a deaf person receives the gift of hearing will impress on us the wonderful gift of hearing we already have.
but it would be a castle to the homeless person on the street. You and I cry over spilled champagne, while 790 million people lack access to clean water. We hate cleaning the bathroom, but 1.8 billion people don’t have access to adequate sanitation.10 We rarely stop to appreciate that we have access to a bathroom and clean water, but we might if we realized about 485,000 people die every year of diseases from contaminated water.”
Johnny Jones lost both his legs and suffered severe damage to both his arms. Jones had a tough time in the hospital. He felt helpless, realizing he needed to relearn even the most basic life skills. The many surgeries exhausted Jones, and he found himself second-guessing all that had happened. If only I’d stepped left instead of right. If only . . . But Jones soon decided that life was for the living, and as long as he was alive, he would make the most of his life. He decided he would have a positive attitude and use his energy to help others overcome adversity. Johnny Jones exemplifies someone who focuses on what’s right and not on what’s wrong. He loves to say, “People ask how I stay so positive after losing my legs. I simply ask how they stay so negative with theirs.”
Merriam-Webster defines purpose as: 1. the reason for which something exists 2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal 3. determination; resoluteness Synonyms for purpose include: 1. goal 2. commitment 3. motivation 4. single-mindedness 5. resolve
purpose, he followed through on the second half of his goal. Carnegie spent the last half of his life focused on philanthropy, investing heavily in education to allow others the opportunity to improve their life circumstances. He set up the public library system, built Carnegie Hall to celebrate the arts, established the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and constructed Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.
The ability to tune out the noise and insults became a powerful weapon in the girls’ arsenal. Richard took other steps to ensure
“He got up early every day and went to work and returned before dinner in the evening. I never heard him complain about his job once. When I was in college trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I looked at my dad’s routine and was certain I never wanted to do something so mundane and repetitive. Decades into my career, I appreciate more than ever the example of his work ethic and attitude in doing what he needed to do to provide. I am inspired by my dad’s consistency over the decades.”
“You can create purpose in a single moment, and it can affect people for the rest of their lives.”
“One minute Reeve was alone and depressed in a hospital room; the next, he was laughing and optimistic about the future. In a moment Robin reminded his friend that life was still worth living. Hope and laughter are filled with purpose. So is friendship.”
“It was a powerful statement for Pee Wee to stand and support his black teammate. It affected the crowd watching. Pee Wee’s actions spoke volumes. If a Southern Hall of Fame white player could accept a black man on the field, maybe everyone else could too.”
When asked about the moment years later, Reese explained, “I was just trying to make the world a little bit better. That’s what you’re supposed to do with your life, isn’t it?” At the end of your life, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to know that you made the world a little better? As Pee Wee said, that’s what we’re supposed to do with our lives. And that’s what Pee Wee did for Jackie Robinson with one purposeful moment.
So I kept two very separate lives, my dancing life and my regular life. The plan was to keep the two worlds apart and never have one mix with the other. The plan didn’t work.
mom wanted to see Irish dancing before she died, some strange remaining item on her bucket list. Dan knew I danced and asked me if I would come dance for his mother. Every fiber of my being resisted the idea. I had kept my two lives separate. The thought of dancing in front of people I knew from my regular life was more than a little uncomfortable. But every ounce of decency told me to stop thinking about myself. Someone’s dying wish was more important than my discomfort.
I’m certain we wouldn’t have made it home that night without the cheers and encouragement of the frenzied crowd. It wasn’t life or death, or even important, but it showed me what it feels like to have someone give wings to what you are doing. That crowd gave us energy where there was none, and they helped us achieve what we would have thought impossible.
When the redheaded white guy walked out on the stage holding a ukulele, the predominantly black crowd of eight hundred people was in disbelief. Then Ed sang. He finished twelve minutes later to a standing ovation. He had won the crowd over.9
Aesop, famous for his fables, noted, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
There is unrecognized genius all around us. People who have the talent to create masterpieces but are missing someone to give wings to their dreams. Are you taking the time to notice the genius of those around you?
The Gift of Freedom Few things boggle my mind more than the practice of slavery. To imagine any person being owned by another is incomprehensible. Slave owners in America deprived slaves of their freedom, tore apart families, and subjected them to violence and rape. Can you imagine being a slave? Not for a day or a year, but for a lifetime, knowing your life was not your own.
She recalls, “I felt compelled to use this talent to help victims of crime.”9 Lois took action. She went to the Houston Police Department and convinced them she could help. And help she did. Over the next thirty years, Lois would draw thousands of sketches of suspects described to her by victims and witnesses. Her sketches helped achieve over 1,000 convictions. Lois’s success as a sketch artist has earned her a record with Guinness World Records as the artist who has positively identified the most criminals as a forensic artist.
“But the toughest part of the healing process was how desperately thirsty I was after waking up. After twelve hours in surgery my body was weak, and the doctors monitored me closely to make sure there were no complications. I couldn’t eat or drink anything to minimize the chances of throwing up, which could tear out the stitches holding me together. My mouth was parched. All I could think about was how thirsty I was. I would have paid $1,000 for a glass of water. I pleaded with doctors and nurses to give me a drink. For three days the answer was always no. Those were the hardest three days of my life.”
On the fourth day the doctor finally permitted me to take small sips of water. By then I was like a junkie begging for a fix, only the drug I craved was water. I can’t say I’ve ever appreciated a glass of water as much in my life.
The purpose of these organizations strikes a chord with me. I’ve watched videos of the first moments a new well sprays water from the ground. I’ve seen how people in those communities rejoice. They won’t have to walk rugged miles to retrieve and carry back heavy water jugs anymore. People can bathe and feel clean. They can quench their thirst anytime they want with clean water that is nearby and accessible. And the people will suffer less sickness. I appreciate that I can donate to organizations like charity: water and Living Water so I can share in their work bringing clean water to people who are dying of thirst.
Your unexpected opportunity for purpose may be closer than you think.
When it was Bob’s turn, he did what he always did. He asked himself, How can I love the people in front of me? So Bob introduced himself and said, “I just wanted to thank you for the way you treat each person in line.”
Lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action. —Tony Robbins
Money won’t make you happy. But the lack of it can make you miserable. Too many people waste their lives chasing wealth, and no matter how much they accumulate, it’s not enough. There’s nothing wrong with having money, but make sure you don’t miss the best parts of life pursuing it.
A reporter once asked him how much money was enough. Rockefeller’s response? “Just a little bit more.”
Lao Tzu said, “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Life would be much simpler if we determined today that what we have is enough.
They discovered his blood contained rare antibodies that could fight rhesus disease, a disease in pregnant women where the mother’s blood attacks the blood cells of her unborn child. Rhesus disease can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, brain damage, and premature death for newborns. Doctors realized that Harrison’s blood could save the lives of the many babies who were dying because of rhesus each year. Knowing his blood could help mothers and babies, James committed to donating blood again. From the age of eighteen until he was eighty-one, over six decades, James showed up every few weeks and donated his blood. All said, he donated blood 1,173 times! He would have given more, but people in Australia can’t donate blood past the age of eighty-one.
million babies saved by Harrison’s blood donations.1 James Harrison received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his generosity. He’s known as the Man with the Golden Arm. Harrison said, “It becomes quite humbling when they say, ‘Oh you’ve done this or you’ve done that or you’re a hero.’ . . . It’s something I can do. It’s one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor.”2 An interesting side note, Harrison hates needles.3 He showed up 1,173 times to do something he hated doing. Why? He wanted to give back. What makes it extraordinary is not that he gave blood that saved lives, it’s that he showed up for over sixty years. The consistency of his actions makes his story remarkable.
James Clear notes, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”4 Ronan Byrne had a goal to exercise more, but that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until he put a system in place that he found success.
Nobody welcomes difficulties into their life. We choose the path of least resistance. We want our plans to work out as we imagined. And so we turn away from difficulties. Just like Jarrett, we get in the car and declare this part or that part of life “unplayable.” But what if we learned to avoid the sticky keys and pound a little harder than normal to get more out of a bad situation? Like it or not, we are most shaped and molded in the hard times. If we avoid the challenges, we miss the growth.
said, “A guy needs this to live, and I have an extra one.” He added, “The way I was raised, if someone needs help you give it to them.”
The story would end there if it weren’t for the 120,000 people who shared the picture. Each one of them played a part in the story. One of those people told Richie Sully about a post she had read on Facebook. And then there is Richie. We can adopt his mindset. When someone needs help, you help them.
Despite his frailty as a child and heartbreak as an adult, Teddy Roosevelt lived life on his terms. He let nothing stand in his way, not even a bullet in his chest. To live the life you want to live, that’s the commitment and determination you need to have.
Jim Rohn answers the question we’ve all asked ourselves, “How long should you try? Until.”
He was thoughtful as he shared his story. Then he came to his point. He said he didn’t trust many people. He was used to figuring things out by himself. He apologized for not listening to me over the previous weeks. He told me he needed to get to know me more before he could trust me,
True to his word, Mike was attentive and listened carefully and then would try exactly what I had told him to do. He was fearless, and he started making progress.
Like I said, it was a great letter. He signed off saying, If you want to—please write back. I remember laughing and thinking, If I want to? Of course I want to. It was clear he was still the outcast kid that not enough people paid attention to. I put his letter on my desk to remind myself to write Mike back.
Over the next several weeks, my on-the-go lifestyle continued. I swirled through life in a tornado of activity. My room would become overwhelmingly messy, and I would hit the point of necessity for tidying up. I would find Mike’s letter in the growing pile of things to do, reread it, If you want to—please write back, then I’d place it back on top of my stack of to-dos, prominently displayed as a reminder to write back to Mike, as soon as I could. Another month passed. I was at the pool coaching, and a few of my former divers came out to see me on the pool deck. It was fairly typical for former divers to come back to say hello. They always knew where to find me. We exchanged quick hellos and then Jason said, “Did you hear about Mike?” I said I hadn’t. He said, “Mike died. He was in a street fight and someone stabbed him.” The news stunned me. We reminisced about Mike, caught up on the rest of life, and they left. I wrapped up practice and went home.
I got home and went straight to my desk. I rummaged through a pile of papers and found it, Mike’s letter. I opened it once again and slowly read his kind words. I reached the bottom of the letter and just stared at what may be the saddest words I’ve had to read, If you want to—please write back. All I could think was that this kid
who struggled so much with trust and vulnerability may have gotten the idea I didn’t want to write him back. That I didn’t care enough to reply. I felt horrible. To this day, it’s one of my biggest regrets, not taking ten minutes to sit down and write a quick note back to Mike.
Yes, I want to write back! So great to hear from you. I let days and weeks and months pass by, caught up in the busyness of life. I can’t recall a single thing of significance I did during those months, but I will always remember reading his letter again the day I heard he died. Staring at those haunting words, the request from a kid who had a life so much harder than most. The request I ignored from someone I cared about, someone who needed to hear they were important, who needed to hear I remembered him. If you want to—please write back.
notion that you can take care of those things later. Think long and hard before putting a Mike-type letter in a pile of things to do. Right now is the only time you’ve got. Write now. Apologize now. Tell someone you love them now. Live the life you’ve imagined now. You might not have the chance tomorrow. Yes, Mike. I want to write you back! So great to hear from you.
Like the neighbor, we assess events as they happen, making judgments on whether they are positive or negative. But life is too complex, and it’s difficult to interpret as it’s happening. We need the perspective that comes with time to understand the long-term implications of the events we are living. So often the very events that disappointed us turn out to be unexpected blessings that never would have happened had it not been for the bad luck we experienced earlier.
Terry found perspective during his struggle with cancer. He found the silver lining of his struggle. He said, “I guess that one of the most important things I’ve learned is that nothing is ever completely bad. Even cancer. It has made me a better person. It has given me courage and a sense of purpose I never had before. But you don’t have to do like I did . . . wait until you lose a leg or get some awful disease, before you take the time to find out what kind of stuff you’re really made of.
was in a room of people still waiting, a support group of people trying to stay hopeful while waiting for the lifesaving transplants they all needed. I was the only person in the room who had received one. I felt panicked. What was I doing here? How would they feel when they heard I received a transplant after one day on the waiting list? Why did I get a transplant when they had all been waiting so long, some over seven years? I just wanted to leave and get as far away from this support group as I could.
Davidson Hang is currently in Sales at Cheetah Digital which is a Marketing technology company located in NYC.
Davidson is an avid networker, personal growth- life and business coach.
He loves spreading the love and regularly helps people create and design the life they want for themselves.