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books - memoir

Chasing Daylight

Chasing Daylight by Gene O’Kelly

Amazing book. Should be required reading for every executive. My favourite excerpts…

But of all the things I loved about golf, the most important was that it allowed Corinne and me to have time to ourselves. In particular, we loved to play late in the day. The course tended to be emptier. The sun was lower in the sky, making the shadows longer and the trees bordering each hole look more impressive and beautiful. It was a magical time to play. When we were out there, we felt almost touched by something, our senses heightened. It was as if we weren’t just playing golf, but chasing daylight, grabbing as much time as we could.

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IF WE TAKE CARE OF THE MOMENTS, THE YEARS WILL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. —Maria Edgeworth

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I knew hope existed, and I knew it was largely up to me to uncover it. I remembered when my good friend Bill had had a seven-way heart bypass. After three days of lying in his hospital bed, he was told by the doctor that he could take 25 steps. Bill did his exercise in the morning, then asked if he could take 25 more steps later that day. Soon, he was shuffling down the hall four times a day. On one of his outings, he peeked into another room, where a couple of fellow heart patients lay quietly, IVs in their arms. “Wow, they have it a lot worse than me,” he said to the nurse. “No, actually you have it a lot worse than they do,” she said. “They perceive themselves as heart attack victims. You’re trying to get better.”

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My daily experience at the radiation clinic made me realize that proficiency was not the index I could always use anymore. Or even usually use anymore. Not everyone can perform at the level you’d like. Or that they’d like. They simply can’t, try though they may. Maybe they don’t have the physical energy. Maybe their will is shot. Maybe they’re overwhelmed by what they need to do to make a good break with life. As difficult as my trip to the clinic should have been, I felt that each time I went there, my tolerance for people—that is, my tolerance for imperfection—expanded. I understood better the range of human capability; it was far broader than I’d thought. In my previous life, I’d dealt mostly with people at the top of their game. Now I was dealing with people whose capabilities had been diminished. By disease, doubt, fatigue. Things don’t go according to plan.

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When things didn’t go the way those of us there wanted, I watched people around me grow frustrated. I tried not to let it happen to me. I couldn’t change what was happening, and neither could they. But they were having a far worse time of it by not accepting.

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You can’t control everything, I told myself, as hard as it was to hear myself, a Type A personality, say those words. I wouldn’t allow mishaps and bad luck and especially a defeating attitude to throw me off my goals, one of which was to try and make every day the best day of my life. The CEO, the micro-manager, needed finally to let go. I closed my eyes. I let go.

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In my opinion, and that of many others, the most important note the consultant sounded was that we would have greater success in achieving our goals if we tried not so much to control time—an impossibility, as it is outside us—and instead tried to control energy—eminently possible, as it is within

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The present felt to me like a gift. (Perhaps I should say the present was a present.) Living in it now, maybe for the first time, I experienced more Perfect Moments and Perfect Days in two weeks than I had in the last five years, or than I probably would have in the next five years, had my life continued the way it was going before my diagnosis.

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If I told you to aim to create 30 Perfect Days, could you? How long would it take? Thirty days? Six months? Ten years? Never?

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Looking at how some of the people around me had managed their lives, I lamented that they had not been blessed as I had, with this jolt to life. They had no real motivation or clear timeline to stop what they were so busy at, to step back, to ask what exactly they were doing with their life. Many of them had money; many of them had more money than they needed. Why was it so scary to ask themselves one simple question: Why am I doing what I’m doing? Part of me understood the vortex, of course. Part of me understood that they couldn’t stop, particularly if they’d enjoyed success, because if they did stop, they would stop being relevant.

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Perfect often seemed to go hand in hand with unscheduled. I had a Perfect Day with Corinne and Gina not just because I was with my wife and daughter, but because it had all unfolded without total planning. What would have happened had I let spontaneity play a greater part in my life? Any part in my life? Would I have sacrificed success in the business world, something that had given me so much pleasure and satisfaction?

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Accounting is about predictability, about avoiding surprises. It’s about, well, accountability. Wasn’t there something “unaccountable” about spontaneity? Yet wasn’t it part of life? To someone who’d lived as deliberately as I had, the idea was pretty sensational.

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Skiing, I realized, was much more authentic than golf. In skiing, you just reacted. Skiing tolerated mistakes. It was more forgiving. You could make mistakes in skiing and still have a good run, maybe even a great one. In golf, you didn’t have that luxury. I loved golf. Don’t misunderstand me. But maybe I should have done more skiing.

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My plan was to start from the outside and work toward the center. After all, you can’t unwind your most important relationships first, then bide your time with those loved ones while unwinding far less significant relationships, those with acquaintances and long-ago college roommates; it makes no sense. Plus, the closer I got to dying, the more absolutely uninterrupted time I would want to spend with my immediate family. So I’d thought hard about the order.

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Given my attention to detail and my natural thoroughness, I had to remind myself how easy it could be to spend lots of time with the outer circle, which would ultimately be at the expense of the inner circles. I thought about how, during my previous life, I might have unconsciously been too consumed by the outermost circle. At work, with constant demands on my time, I’d got into the habit of meeting with certain people—good people, nice people, but nonetheless fifth-circle people. Was it necessary to have breakfast with them four times a month? I could have done less of that. Had I somehow been inspired to draw my map of concentric circles earlier in my life, when I thought I had forever in front of me, I could have delineated for myself how important certain people were and how less important others were, and perhaps it would have guided me in how I allocated my time (or my energy). Perhaps I could have found time, in the last decade, to have had a weekday lunch with my wife more than… twice? Where had I found the nerve to press so hard for our firm to rework its culture, encouraging our partners and employees to live more balanced lives, when my own was out of balance? I realized that being able to count a thousand people in that fifth circle was not something to be proud of. It was something to be wary of. Please don’t misunderstand: the fifth circle is nice. The people who populate it are worthwhile, and belong in the first circle of other people. They’re just not the people who should have consumed the time and energy that they did.

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