Learnings of a lifetime

words: Dr Bill Webster

Happy New Year!

On my birthday in November, I wrote a piece on my Facebook page based on some of the lessons I have learned in my life thus far that I felt were important:

We learn more from struggle than from success

I think my biggest life lessons have come in the midst of struggle and challenge. While I can honestly say I have had a good life, I am also aware that I have known my fair share of heartaches and disappointments.

But while it was not easy going through it, I am honestly thankful for the struggle, which helped me to find the determination and even stubbornness to keep going. Life is never without struggle, and courage only comes in the midst of it. As Mary Tyler Moore said: “You can’t be brave and courageous if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.”

But in the struggle we find strength, and in the triumph we find our true selves.

Even more important than that, I have refused to let my life be defined, derailed or destroyed by negative events, circumstances or even people I have faced, or when life didn’t work out the way I had expected or hoped.

It’s not what we gain, but what we give

I have had the great privilege of being able to assist literally tens of thousands of people with grief support over the years, personally and through our resources. Realising one’s life has in some small way made a difference to people is really the greatest satisfaction.

All of which helped me conclude that life is defined not so much by what you get as what you give. No one is given a ‘good life’. Life is the gift – it is what we do with it that defines whether we regard it ‘good’ or ‘not so great’.

A Henry David Thoreau saying, often quoted by Leo Buscaglia, has inspired me for years: “Oh, to reach the point of death, and realise you never really lived.”

From that I learned that death is not the greatest tragedy in life; a life unlived is the greatest loss. Everyone dies, but not everyone fully lives. I have come to believe that at the point of death, we will be more disappointed by the things we didn’t do than the things we did.

It’s all about priorities

So what is really important for you in 2017? You and I hear many eulogies. Never have I heard anyone at the end of life say “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office!” More often than not, they wish they had done more with their family or taken more time to stop and smell the roses.

So spend time with the people you care about. Make dates with your spouse. I know this goes without saying, but that is exactly the point. All too often, life goes without saying or doing. You make appointments with your clients and you would never dream of cancelling or not showing up. So make an appointment with your spouse, friends, kids or grandkids. Don’t let stuff crowd out what really matters.

Grandparents have so much life experience and history to share within a short window of opportunity, so I make it a priority to visit my grandchildren often – four times last year, and I plan even more in 2017.

So what if I have to fly 3,000 miles to visit them. Air fares are not cheap, but believe me, the rewards are priceless – and I am not talking about Air Miles here.

All too quickly the people we care about grow up, grow old and are gone, and you will wish you had done more with and for them. We have to live 2017 like it were our last, but learn as if it was just the beginning.

And so, as Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh: “Promise me you’ll always remember: ‘You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think’.”

Promise that you will try to remember that for yourself in 2017.

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