“If I Die Tomorrow”

practicing gratitude“If I die tomorrow, I will have lived a complete life. It’s truly been spectacular.”

I filled her wine glass and smiled. I still have plenty to learn, and listening to her reflect on a life lived well was both insightful and incredibly moving.

A few years ago, I would have been uncomfortable in a conversation like this with my favorite teacher. That is no longer the case.

Losing a life partner after nearly 50 years together isn’t an easy transition, and she continues to handle it with the incredible grace and dignity that define her. I also understand that such an experience gives us cause for reflection. It certainly has been a reminder for me that our time here is incredibly short and a night like this one should never be taken for granted. These have become my favorite kind of nights.

The 4-Hour Dinner

My closest friends know about the four-hour dinner experience. It’s a one-on-one event that typically includes a great bottle of red and the increasingly important moment of pause that is required to connect, share and go much deeper than the surface. I relish that experience with the people I love and make it a priority to try and create time and space to make these nights happen. Several times a year, Mom and I enjoy our favorite restaurant, a little too much wine and conversations I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

“Life is about the little moments, Ryan. We anticipate them. They come and pass. The joy of living comes in finding the beauty inside experiencing each one of them.”

Yes, it does. I’ve learned how to live in them much better recently, and I am grateful for the lesson.


As we settled into our favorite restaurant on a recent Saturday night, following a wonderful Thanksgiving, the conversation landed on overcoming the inevitable obstacles and hardships of life. I was listening intently, relishing the opportunity to learn a little more about our life growing up and perhaps gain some valuable perspective on the future.

“There were times when I wasn’t sure how to handle things. Hard times. During those times you have to learn to rely on yourself. And believe in yourself. Enjoy this time now. It’s special. When it gets hard just know you can handle it.”


“Start by being grateful for all that you have. That helps you believe.”

It also helps to have people around you that believe even when you don’t. I am fortunate to have been able to count on those people every step of the way. This reminds me of this sage bit of Jim Rohn advice, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Choose wisely. When you are “making art,” you have to believe. Self-doubt will inevitably creep in. The dissenters are present and the distractions many. Art requires courage, which is the quality of mind that enables one to face danger with confidence and resolution.

Practicing Gratitude

I shared that for 30 days, I had been practicing gratitude almost every morning. It was new to me. Not the idea, but being that focused and intentional in the practice. At first, I was very distracted and my mind would drift almost immediately to my task list or schedule. More recently, I’ve started to notice a shift and it is beginning to have a big impact on the start of my day.

She encouraged me to keep going and revealed she had been practicing gratitude for years.

“As I awake, I began to notice and think about little things. It could be simple, like listening to the rain or the birds outside my window. I am grateful for all of these things. Life is truly spectacular, and I make the time to continue to appreciate these little things and tiny moments as my day unfolds.”

I had no idea, but now it makes a whole lot of sense. I’ve been able to witness to the impact of practicing gratitude when it becomes a philosophy of life. That little insight certainly elevated my own commitment to keep going.

The Gift of Wisdom

My favorite teacher isn’t leaving a legacy. She is living one right now. I have the benefit of a front-row seat and, lately, I’ve been paying much closer attention.

I learned that contributing something that you believe in — that makes a difference and has significance beyond your own self-interest really does matter. That is where you’ll most likely do your best work.

Ironically, Mom and I went through career reinvention together. She retired from her second-grade classroom and is now a working artist. Deep down, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and while my classroom might look a little different, I am really enjoying my own second act. I also believe we are both just getting started. Neither body of work is nearly complete. The next chapter is still a blank canvas. The freedom to create what is next is one of my most prized possessions.

I also believe that holds true for most of us. We all hold the power to create meaningful, lasting change from right where we are. Right now. In fact, this is the perfect time to decide and commit.

I’ve been fortunate to learn from watching a wonderful example.

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