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Measuring Life

The other week we traveled to San Diego to attend the memorial for a dear friend of ours. I met John while in college, and he and his wife were the host family for the cute exchange student who was later to becomemy husband.

I have to admit that I both loved and dreaded going for pizza and beer at John and Marge’s house. They were professors, medical researchers and leaders in their fields. As a twenty-two year old I found it very intimidating. John demanded rigorous thinking, and while he was humorous and insightful, articulating my ideas sloppily would land me quickly on the hot seat.

Turns out there were a lot of us who found ourselves in this position. At his memorial, there were stories about the dictionary that stood on a wooden pedestal next to the dinner table and how John could jump up to find the exact definition of a word that would further yet another lively discussion. These were fascinating explorations that would stay with you for a long time, and John’s incisive questions would kick off the exchanges.

At the memorial we remembered all the trips to ultra-exotic destinations that he and Marge made over the years of their delightful partnership. And as the service progressed, there came the surprises that come out when hundreds of people gather to honor someone who has lived for over eight decades.

I knew John was a medical researcher; what I didn’t know is that he revolutionized his field and in doing so greatly impacted the lives of people with rheumatoid arthritis. I knew John had good relationships with his children and grandchildren, and I didn’t know how very close they were.

One time I was visiting, I felt honored when John asked me to review a grant proposal he was writing in support of an educational program for a school he and Marge helped build in Tijuana. His work with the school came to life for me when a young woman brought us all to tears while expressing her gratitude to "Dr. John" for offering a hand up with his own two hands.

John played his life full out and didn’t leave anything on the field. So the question I heard repeated from eulogist after eulogist stunned me.

John died from a slow degenerative disease, so he had time to do that monumental deathbed pondering. It seems the question he had been asking himself and others was, "Did I touch enough people?"

Here was a man who had changed so many lives for the better and still he was asking if he touched enough people. It seemed to me that’s how he was measuring his life. I hope he was at peace with the answer.

What will you be asking yourself when your time comes? How will you measure your life?

And may be different because you’re asking yourself that now?

Michelle Randall is an executive coach supporting leaders and their teams in creating effective, lasting and successful change. To learn how to make your critical transitions achieve their potential visit for useful resources and a complementary consultation on your specific situation.

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