I was 29 years old when I lost my dad suddenly. He had a heart attack while driving, and crossed the median -- his Cadillac landing on an embankment on the other side of the highway.
A couple years prior to that, circumstances that no longer matter had caused me to grow distant toward my dad, so I avoided him some. I was working in the political world at the time and lived a couple hours away. My job kept me on the road a lot, and one day my drive took me right by the school where he taught automotive technology. I felt something pull my Mazda Protégé' up the narrow drive to the school parking lot. I made my way down the hallway by my dad's classroom and found him busy talking and laughing with fellow teachers as usual.
Though I had not seen him in a while, it wasn't weird. In fact it was quite normal and I instantly relaxed. We talked a bit before walking toward my car. We made tentative plans for a guitar lesson in the coming weeks, and with a handshake and a hug, dad told me he was proud of me, closed my car door, and we waved goodbye.
That was Friday. The following Tuesday we received the tragic news. Dad was unresponsive, and had been airlifted to UT hospital where he later died.
Four years later almost to the day, I found myself sitting on my back deck with my mom drinking sweet tea and planning her funeral. Two years prior she learned she had terminal cancer. Wishing to spare me and my siblings the pain of making tough decisions under distress -- she wanted to get the specifics out of the way. The discussion was lighter than expected. We laughed that day until the tea was gone and the moment passed. It was surreal to say the least. Mom died on my son's sixth birthday. She had requested we still have his birthday party as scheduled no matter what, and we did.
Losing two parents within a short time is tough. I know I am not alone in that. Scores of people experience grief at a much younger age. No matter the age though, death in all its forms is a transition no one is ready for. Dad died suddenly. Death made an unwelcomed visit. Mom died slowly and was in pain -- so in her case death had been welcomed by those who saw her suffer. Both died in their fifties and before I was 35.
Many people talk about "life lessons" parents teach them, but I have found that my parent's deaths taught me six valuable lessons useful in leadership of any team or family. Here's what I learned:
Be transformational. Maintain connections with your family and your team. In good times and bad, be a motivator and a cheerleader. Let people in your life know you're their biggest fan. Challenge them to aspire to greatness, help them take ownership of their circumstances and to take action.
Live intentionally. In your purpose, planning, and practice be willful and deliberate.
There are reasons why we do things or at least there should be. Purpose combined with planning, then put into practice is a beautiful thing.
Trust your instinct. Many times we feel like we are supposed to do something but we are resistant. It's out of our comfort zone. We worry about other's opinions. Sometimes we know we shouldn't do something but we do it anyway. If I had not followed instinct and sought out my dad that day, I would have never experienced that moment when he told me he was proud of me.
Show people they matter. Every time you afford someone your full attention it shows them they matter to you. People notice when you put down the smartphone to listen. People respond when you put them first. The way my mom handled her death showed those around her that they mattered to her. She was in control but selfless even unto death. The people you are surrounded by matter and it's important to show them. Look for opportunities to be selfless and focused and as a leader proactively engage others.
Be willing to take a risk. Life is fleeting, we are not promised tomorrow. Live in the moment. You only get one chance to live it. Not everything works out as we hoped, but even when you take that risk and the results are not what you expected, your resilience and perseverance speaks volumes.
Assess needs and take action. There are consequences to our actions and our inaction. Find out what people need from you, or what they need to be the best they can be, and help make it happen. Regret and second guessing may be normal parts of life, but they don't have to be. Some things just won't matter down the road. Prioritize the different aspects of your family life, work life, dreams and goals, your faith, and even your personal wellness.
This post originally appeared here on The Good Men Project.