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I was sixteen when my mom was diagnosed with cancer.

The tumor was in her lung (she’d been a smoker), but it appeared operable.  One of the best cancer hospitals in the country was located just across the street from her office.  Her prognosis was good and we were all pretty positive about the final outcome.

She bravely went to every treatment her doctors ordered: surgery, chemo, radiation.  She listened to positive thinking tapes while recovering, pausing every so often so she could throw up over the side of the couch.  She carried a rabbit’s foot in her purse.

And somehow, while dealing with all of that, she found the energy to try to shield me from much of the reality of her situation.  She fought to live of course, but I think she fought harder so I wouldn’t have to watch her die.

After a year, she was given the all clear.  She’d beaten cancer, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  The treatment was agonizing, but we all felt it was a small price to pay to have her back in our lives for good.  I went off to college, secure in the promise of the future.

Until the cancer came back.

She told me the news when I came home on Christmas break my sophomore year.  The tumor had now threaded itself through her spine.  Her words were the same: I’m going to fight.  Everything is going to be fine.  I can beat this.

But the zest was gone.  She was tired.  She knew this was a much bigger fight.  I was now a thousand miles away and her relationship with my father was an emotional drain.

A few months later, I called to wish her a happy birthday.  Our birthdays are separated only by a day, and more than ever, it felt like a double celebration.

As soon as she answered, I knew something was wrong.  Her voice was childlike, confused, and her speech slightly slurred.  I yelled at her to hang up and call the doctor, but she couldn’t understand me.

That evening, she fell into a coma.  My father had her put on life support, even though she had expressly said she didn’t want it, to give me enough time to get home and see her one last time.

She was almost unrecognizable.

To treat the spinal tumor, they had shaved the back half of her head and inserted a shunt, allowing them to drip the chemo agents directly into the spinal column.  Her body was painfully swollen and her hands were tied to the bed in case she woke up and tried to rip the breathing tube from her mouth.

I knew this wasn’t how she’d envisioned spending the last moments of her life.

I stroked her cheek and walked her through my memories of the years we’d spent to together.  I called her my Mommy Swami, the nickname I used as a child, and miraculously watched a tear roll down her cheek.  She could hear me.

And then, far sooner than I ever imagined I would, I picked up the rabbit’s foot from her bedside table and said good-bye.

On Legacy Projects and Dying Young

As I’ve gone through my career change journey over the last couple of years, I’ve asked myself one question to help me decide if I was on the right path: if I won the lottery tomorrow, would I continue the work I’m doing today?

In the past, my career choices had been largely motivated by money and, like an addict, I’m always worried I’ll slip up.  Over and over again, the answer came up yes, I love my work.  I’d continue my blog.  I’d relaunch No Regrets Career Academy.

That isn’t to say what I do isn’t sometimes filled with frustration.  Sometimes I am so very, very tired by my need to achieve, and I wonder if I can continue.  But then I get a good night’s sleep, and I’m ready to dream and do all over again.

I thought a better question to ask myself might be: if 2012 were the last year of my life, would I continue the work I’m doing today?

Now time has entered the equation.  Money issues are still off the table, but there’s a new sense of urgency that doesn’t result from a monetary windfall, a call for some serious prioritization.

Chris Guillebeau recently tackled the urgency question in his manifesto The Tower.

It’s clear, however, that there is often a gap in our lives between what could have been and what actually is. Because of choices or circumstance, some people are limited to a life less than they hoped for, or less than they were capable of.

Chris argues we should look at what we would do with our lives if we had enough time and money.  And it turns out that getting a death sentence is better at giving you that than the lottery.  As Steve Jobs says

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

The truth is, most of us don’t get an early warning.  Even for those that do, many experience what my mother did: years filled with a mixture of fear, hope, agony and sacrifice.

To get the most out of something like The Last Year of Your Life, you have to consciously choose what you want, and then find the courage to go live it.  And I have to say, I’m just not convinced a legacy is all it’s cracked up to be, at least not for me.  Because when I hear things like this from Chris

Instead of knowledge, pleasure, or happiness, the purpose of life is to create something meaningful that will endure after we’re gone.

I have to say, that sounds an awful lot like the pursuit of fame to me, the voice of vanity disguising itself as something more altruistic.

Finding your own answers to the meaning of life

Make no mistake, the voice of vanity is as alive in me as it is in anyone else.

But given the last year of my life, would I really care what endured after I’m gone?  Would my focus be on legacy, or would it be a catalyst to connect more deeply and meaningfully with my friends and family?  Let’s be honest, the vast majority of us will be remembered solely by the generation right before and after our own.  What’s wrong with that?

You get to define the word “legacy” for yourself of course, but I don’t think my mother would have claimed she had one beyond her relationship with me, her family, and as a nurse, with her co-workers and patients.  It’s true, after her death, the clinic where she worked put up a plaque, naming the patient recovery room in her honor, a “legacy” she earned by simply doing the work she loved.

But what I remember about her most fondly is not her work or achievement, but her willingness to drive me to far away tennis matches, even when it was more than a little inconvenient.  Or the times she relaxed enough to reveal her funny side, like the time she spontaneously mooned the dinner table (now there’s a legacy!).

I don’t claim to have this all figured out.  In fact, I think this may be the greatest question of our time.

As technology has enabled us to spread our work and message further and to more people, it’s also ironically allowed us to retreat from real connection.  One of my best friends recently told me she was jealous of my blog readers.  She felt I gave them more of my time (and she’d be right).  It’s not just kids who spell love as T-I-M-E.

I worry a lot about the burden of greatness implied by words like legacy, and how this might be forcing a greater divide in life outcomes: either you feel overwhelmed by the task, leading you to do less than you’d dreamed, or you drive yourself to exhaustion trying to become the next Michelangelo, never feeling like you’ve achieved or delivered quite enough.  I think there’s a reason, and not necessarily a good one, why productivity and time-management seem to be our greatest struggles.

Editor’s note: In light of this idea, I am taking a two-week vacation to rest and recuperate, and spend some serious quality time with family and friends.  The next post, which will discuss the relaunch of No Regrets Career Academy among other things, will be published on January 3.  In the meantime, do read Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto for yourself as well as Leo Babauta’s book The Effortless Life, which, while not free, offers a valuable counterpoint.

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64 Responses to What If 2012 Were the Last Year of Your Life?

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 8:38 am
    • Adam Axon
    • Said...

    A truly wonderful post Jen. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the ‘greatest question of of our time’. It’s certainly one which occupies a lot of my time.

    Deep and meaningful connections with people that matter to you, in the pursuit of something that you love certainly sounds like one of the best answers I’ve heard…

    Thank you for your honesty in this post as well. It’s never easy to share your innermost emotional experiences, but we are all richer for you having done so. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Adam. I love the way you pulled that right out: deep and meaningful connections and doing what you love. It’s simple in a sense, and yet so hard to keep yourself from being dragged under by expectations. I’m so glad we connected, and look forward to another get together.

  1. You’ve given me a lot to think about.
    “Instead of knowledge, pleasure, or happiness, the purpose of life is to create something meaningful that will endure after we’re gone.” I can see why you see this way of thinking as vanity. Not sure if I do or not, again I need to reflect on that. But I do get an immediate “hit” when I read it. It isn’t present oriented at all. I wouldn’t get to be-in-the-moment and enjoy, e.g. my time with my granddaughter because that wasn’t leaving something meaningful (of course I could make an argument that how I impact her life could be part of a meaningful legacy). I’m meandering here as I wrap my head around my thoughts. I wouldn’t want to always be thinking of meaningful & legacy…I’ll have to stop by later as my thoughts coalesce.
    Touching post, thanks for sharing part of your story with us. I look forward to the webinar. Cherry

    • Cherry,
      I’m still trying to wrap my mind around my own thoughts, so I understand if you haven’t fully gotten there yet either! LOL.

      For me, it’s not so much about being in the moment (though I think that’s something I need to work on), but about the pressure that comes with a word like legacy. My dad used to say that words had flavors. Legacy doesn’t necessarily have to mean something grand, but it suggests it. And I think this constant messaging to set big goals, be extraordinary, leave a legacy–after a while, it becomes a burden instead of the inspiration it’s meant to be.

      Or hey, maybe I’m just tired (I am). Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me–always appreciated!

  2. Amazing, heartfelt post, Jen. Thank your for sharing the story about your mother. Wow.

    I think I’ve rubbed up against the issue you’re dealing with several times this year, but I suspect it’s much more intense for you with a husband and child in the mix. I feel lucky in a way that I can be completely selfish with my time and work 80 hours a week if needed without negative consequence.

    So I can only offer a limited perspective here, but I think it all comes down to what legacy is most important to you. As I’ve also heard Chris Guillebeau say, “You can have everything you want, but you can’t have it all at the same time.” I think of someone like Mahatma Gandhi, who undoubtedly changed the world for the better, but apparently wasn’t the best father to his several children.

    I guess my point is that it’s okay not to be amazingly successful in every area of life. We just have to make sure we’re successful at the ones most important to us.

    • Niall,
      Yes, I suspect you’re right, that having the additional pressure of “super mom” and “super wife” (both roles I take very seriously), adds another component to all this. I know that my mom largely felt I was her legacy in the world, and I suppose I feel much the same about my daughter. But I also know I need more than just that. I need work I find intrinsically motivating and rejuvenating. Maybe this post should have been called “It’s okay to be selfish,” as I think the pendulum occasionally swings too far, one way or the other.

      I’m going to try to take your words to heart, Niall. And I’m grateful to have you to bounce these kinds of ideas off of. Good journeys to you!

  3. Truly heart warming post. First of all thank you for opening up and sharing this story with us.

    I think we build our legacy with a lot of small actions, not one beg work. Because even the greater deeds were made with small steps. As long as we take those baby steps and our whole self is aligned and truly believing that this is what we must do, I think, that is our legacy.

    But the question still remains. Would I do what I do if this was the last year of my life? Yes, I would write, and would code.

    Thank you again for this post Jennifer. :)

    • “We build our legacy with a lot of small actions, not one big work.”

      Beautiful, Alejandro, and well said. Perhaps my discomfort comes from my own internal voice of vanity, saying my success has to have a certain time frame to it. But, yes, I do think the last year of your life question still hangs there, doesn’t it? I hope you’ll join us for the webinar. Should be a hoot!

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 11:32 am
    • Stacey
    • Said...

    Thank you SO much for this post, Jen! It is such a lovely tribute to your mom and a perfect “call to action” (or, more accurately, a “call to purpose”) as we enter the new year.

    The end of the year is a great time to reflect on what went well in the past year and what we hope to accomplish in the next. Whether it’s “legacy” or meaningful connection, let’s make sure that our actions are aligned with what we truly value.

    The holidays are such a wonderful time to honor friends and family and celebrate our connection. (That thought inspires me to write a truly personal note on each of my 70+ holiday cards, instead of just shoving them in envelopes and calling it a day. :-) )

    With that in mind, I want you to know that I’m so glad I know you! I’m definitely a better, more courageous, “no regrets” person for reading your always thoughtful and thought-provoking posts!

    • Exactly, Stacey. It’s all about aligning our actions with our values. And I like that Chris talks about his values in his manifesto as well.

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m a better person for connecting with you and your wisdom as well. Thank you for reading and for leaving a comment on a pretty vulnerable post. Means a lot!

      P.S. I used to write personal cards to 50+ people, but ultimately stopped because it stressed me out. This year, I’m reaching out more personally (setting up a time to chat by phone) with a handful of my closest friends, and am vowing to visit as many as I can in the coming year. As a networker, I enjoying meeting new people, but I’m starting to see that I’m missing something by not cultivating depth with a select few.

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 11:49 am
    • Linda
    • Said...

    Your mom raised a lovely, thoughtful, strong and intelligent daughter, Jen. And in my humble opinion, that’s all that really matters. Yes, it’s great to leave a legacy, and achieve accolades and peer recognition, but if 2012 is my last year on the planet, I’m putting the majority of my energies, focus, and passion into raising my 10 year-old.

    Come to think of it, that’s a GREAT question for the couch–”If 2012 were your last year, how would you spend it?” Something to ponder and revisit, indeed :).

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us. May your mother rest in peace.

    • Linda,
      I’d love to know how your patients answered the question. I’ve honestly been thinking about it for weeks, and still don’t have a complete answer. I’m seriously hoping Clint can help me in the webinar. It seems that important.

      Thanks for the kinds words on my mother. She was beautiful inside and out. :)

  4. Wow.

    Jen, I’m kind of speechless. Doesn’t happen too often.

    Do I feel overwhelmed and do less than I’ve dreamed? Yes. Do I ever feel like I’ve achieved or delivered enough? No. Do I live like this is my last year on this earth? No.

    Do I have my priorities straight?

    • Garry,
      I know, it really hits you, doesn’t it? Know that you’re not alone. We’re all trying to figure out this crazy thing called life. The best we can do is to figure it out together, I think. Hope you’ll join us for the webinar. I think it will be really helpful (for me, certainly!).

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 11:57 am
    • Raj
    • Said...

    I won’t be attending that webinar because I have already identified the meaning of my life.

    This is a truly touching post. Perhaps the webinar invite could have been a separate post? I feel that the true essence of this post is somewhat diluted by it.

    • Raj,
      I’m not sure why the webinar invite dilutes the message. I’ve met Clint personally, and I think the stories he himself has to tell about this issue are inspiring and moving. As someone who’d been there, done that in terms of living a year as if it were you last, I think Clint has some good insights to share, whether or not you decide to participate in his program.

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm
    • Atif
    • Said...

    ahhh!! It makes me want to share my thoughts with you. Such a wonderful post and I don’t know how you handled sharing such deep personal experience with your mother but it’s always an intense experience for me to talk about my father or my uncle.
    You raised some truly important questions. I am going to tell you what I really feel even though most of the poeple I know have not been able to relate to it. May be they are not there yet.
    I don’t think there exist a purely logical answer to your question since we are limited in our experience of human race, eveolution and final outcome. It has to start from the creation of an indvidual and the feelings and emotions, the CREATOR has put in him. Whether you want to go against those natural feelings or you have gone one step farther in understanding of those emotions and feelings is entirely up to you. Naturally we have these emotions to achieve fame, to be better from others, to win or the idea of leaving our name behind for people to remember us by seem attractive. Even children have those feelings of recognition. Knowledge (limited as it might be) tells us about the universe, how small the earth is and how small our small houses and our inter relationships and faiths are. In that minuteness of our being, we contemplate, plan, scheme and wish to be somebody. In material world, we are indeed nobody. Once we are dead, the world and the material in it seems to be over for good. Nobody from the past has come back to say otherwise. So with limited knowledge of various things, we go deeper and deep enough to become completely alienated to these basic human traits. Then the question come, Why and what for? Why life, why all this drama? Why the earth and destruction and claims and wars? Why my existence is any different than a hungry 2 year old dying african child with not enough energy to even blink his eye lids. Turns out, its only the dimension of relative TIME and our existence that we can comprehend. Nothing else. Everything is volatile, Our charities, our relationships, our wars. They all exist in reference to us and in that time. This is the point where I turn to religion.. if I can truly carefully submit myself to the CREATOR and may be in his teachings I can find the purpose of my otherwise very meaningless existence. I try or wish to supress my basic human emotions/needs, I feel thats the higher challenge to defeat the negativity in us, to be a better human while we exist, to provide good to other not for fame or any legacy but to pass it on and defeat our inner self centered self absorbed demon who is constantly distracting us and trying to indulge us in meangingless life…Thank you for reading.

    • Thanks, Atif. Your passion came through. :)

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm
    • Steve
    • Said...

    Hospice experiences have taught me that almost no one is thinking about their professional legacy when death is imminent. It’s all about personal relationships, and the well being of those people.

    • Yes, I have read that too, Steve. All I could think of when I truly considered the last year of my life was showering my family with so much love and adoration, the memories would stay with them forever. And then I’d add a “friend tour,” where I went around the world, visiting my dearest friends and telling them I wished I’d spent more time with them. So I don’t know–maybe I should live 2012 like it’s the last year of my life…

  5. You wrote ” Let’s be honest, the vast majority of us will be remembered solely by the generation right before and after our own. What’s wrong with that?”

    Why is that not a legacy? Your legacy usually starts with those closest to you.

    This must have been really hard to write.

    Hugs.

    • Thanks, Susie. I agree that you can assign a definition to legacy that includes that, but I don’t think that’s what most people think of when they hear the word. Is it mincing words? Maybe, but as writers, words matter.

      Thanks too for the hugs. Gladly accepted. :)

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm
    • Portia
    • Said...

    Jen, once again you’ve cut through the clutter and nailed the essence of the conundrum that so many people face. The story/tribute to your mother brought tears to my eyes. This past January I lost my beloved mother in law who was living with us to heart attack – no signs. no warning. One day she was here and the next day she was gone. It was a perfect sunny day. Not only did her sudden, unexpected death leave a gaping whole in our family but it left me questioning about what was really important in my life. I can tell you that experience made me really think hard about how I was spending each and every day. I still haven’t gotten it totally right but I think I’m clearer now about my purpose for being here more than I ever have been. I love what Stacey says above about your post being a “call to purpose.” May we each find ours. I look forward to joining the webinar and reading the book.

    • Oh Portia, I’m so sorry to hear your news. I feel the same way about my mother-in-law. She’s such a positive force in my life (undoubtedly amplified by the loss of my own mother). I agree, I like Stacey’s “call to purpose.” I’m so glad you’ll be joining us on the webinar. I’m looking forward to exploring this topic in more depth, and hopefully bringing us both more peace.

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm
    • Jen Gregg
    • Said...

    Jen, thank you, thank you, thank you! Especially for this: “I have to say, that sounds an awful lot like the pursuit of fame to me, the voice of vanity disguising itself as something more altruistic.” I’ve always felt that the legacy question did not resonate with me in the least. And I wondered what that meant. Does it mean I don’t have any real aspirations? That I have no drive? But thanks to your beautifully insightful post today, I’m thinking it simply means that I think and feel differently about what this life is for and how I want to spend it. I love the concept of one year to live vs. the lottery as well. There is a complete and utter sense of freedom in the former that is limited in the latter. Applying that question to my life brings some answers into sharp relief. Plenty to ponder from this one – thank you again and have a glorious 2 weeks with friends and family!

    • Jen!
      Well, I have to admit that legacy sounds nice to me. I’ve got nothing against it. But when I evaluated that manifesto with the lens of the last year of your life, it rubbed me the wrong way. Work matters, you know I’d never say otherwise. But the people close to me matter more. That’s what my friend was trying to get me to see. It’s easy to save the world and neglect your own friends and family. And that’s simply not a sacrifice I’m willing to make, not even for legacy.

      So glad this post could be of value to you. I think of you often. :)

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm
    • Barbara
    • Said...

    This was very deep my friend. I’m sure it was quite difficult for you to share the death of your mother. We appreciate getting closer to you through stories like this.

    As for the legacy… I’ve said many times, I don’t want to out live my usefulness. Funny thing is… that usefulness changes over time.

    Years ago it was about raising good, strong men who would enrich their circle of influence, whether that be corporate or familial.

    It now means getting the memoir published,to hopefully help others through story-telling. Giving my children and grandchildren enough of me to instill a sense of family and pride in being who we are.

    Think about the people who have influenced you in your lifetime and ask yourself this question: Did they worry about their legacy? Even though they touched you, impacted your life in some way, do you think that was top of mind for them?

    Sometimes I believe these kinds of questions create more stress and make our lives too difficult to be who we truly are meant to be because we are trying to be even more.
    Have a wonderful holiday Jen!
    xob

    • I actually agree with you, Barbara. I think it can be as simple as doing what you love, and loving those close to you. I feel like if I get the last year of your life question right (that is, answer it honestly for me without worrying about judgements or expectations), the stress decreases. So…yes to everything, you wise woman you! :)

        • On
        • December 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm
        • barbara
        • Said...

        I think you’ll benefit from a break. Wallow in the Wonder of this Season and clear your mind. You, too, are a wise woman!
        ;)

  6. Jen, thanks for gathering the courage to share the story with your late mother. Also wish you to have a happy holiday season. Looking forward to see you back in the new year.

    • On
    • December 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm
    • wc
    • Said...

    Jennifer, thank you for this post. I will try to join the webinar as I think I really need it. I’m nearly four years post-cancer, stage 1 thyroid, with a side helping of anesthesia awareness to accompany the other terrifying aspects of that diagnosis. I’ve also lost 93 pounds (on purpose) but the rest of my life, the parts that matter, are empty of any achievements or sense of mastery. My friends are far away, I act like I don’t need anyone to come home to, I’m afraid of having children, and I desperately want to change my career but financial commitments hold me back.

    It’s been sinking in more and more this last month that it’s been four years and nothing has changed even though I wanted to. I don’t know why I am here, I don’t know how to change comfortably (I have years of therapy behind me already), and I’m not getting any younger, obviously!

    Recently, my BFF lost her mother to breast cancer, and I had the privilege of sitting with her during some of her final hours in her home under hospice care, talking to her, etc. It was surreal and underscored what’s important- character, seeking adventure, shared laughter, acts of kindness. Everything else is just “stuff” and 99.9% of it ends up in the thrift store, and certainly not in anyone’s heart.

    • WC,
      Yes, it’s time for change. Life is so precious. I don’t know if this program will provide you all the help/assistance you need, but I agree that attending the webinar will mark a positive step towards loving your present. You’ve already accomplished a lot. You can do it. I believe in you. Hugs!!!!

  7. You really hit home with this one. I think most of the time of what my legacy will be after I am gone. And if my daughter were to look through my life, will she find unfinished projects or things that I have done that have made my life and other lives meaningful. I strive to be successful at everything I do (even health-wise) because I need time to do them, and if I am still living, I better be living the strongest life possible. We are not here on earth to have things easy, I am so glad your Mom pulled it off, we are here on earth to be stronger people, to enrich our spiritual being with things that are truly beautiful and rewarding and it pains me when people miss that simple message of life. I really enjoy your blog, you are such an inspiration.

    • I agree, life isn’t meant to be easy. In fact, such a life (for me anyway), wouldn’t be terribly meaningful or fun. I like challenges that stretch me, but not too much. I love to work hard to build something, as long as it doesn’t grow so fast that it collapses. We’ll figure this out together! :)

  8. In reading through the comments above, it’s clear that you’ve touched a lot of people with this post, Jen – including me. Thank you!

    Your poignant story about your mom reminded me of this small moment that I experienced just before my book launched last week – I was visiting a L’Arche house where I used to work as a program director, and lots of people were excited to see me. And then the last person entered the room – he’s someone who doesn’t say much, but who can say a lot with a single expression.

    And as he entered I suddenly found myself worrying: what if he doesn’t know me? What if I spent too much time on paperwork, and not enough time on relationship, on showing him I care? In other words, what if I didn’t do what really mattered to me in the time I had there?

    But he did know me; his face broke into a big smile when our eyes met. And I knew, deep down, that success in that job was never about checking every item off my list. Instead, real success was about showing up for people, for those significant relationships. It was, and always is, about love. And so whenever I start to feel like I’m not ‘doing’ enough, ‘succeeding’ fast enough, or whatever else, I remember that smile, and I can get back in perspective again. :)

    • I love that story, Caroline. You don’t just dig for treasure in people, you find it and share it. Happy to know you!

  9. Hey Jen…great post. With the passing of my dad last month, I’m contemplating these questions more than ever now. There are only two things I crave as my legacy: the deep and real connection I shared with others and my ability to find joy every day, no matter what I’m doing. Everything else really doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’ve also learned that regardless of how firm you are in your goals and plans, life throws curveballs that you can’t anticipate, so only staying truly present matters. Most people know that living in the present is ideal, but I’m really trying to make it my #1 priority of 2012. No more living for tomorrow or regretting yesterday.

    Please keep up the great writing; I really appreciate the effort you put into your thought-provoking posts! Happy Holidays.

    • Boy, isn’t that that truth about curveballs in your plans! This is where I try very hard to internalize Leo’s teachings on letting go of expectations and illusions of control. I’m not there, not by a long shot, but when I’m really frustrated, it helps. Thanks for the super kind words on the blog. Means a lot!!

  10. Jen, Thank you for sharing this beautiful post!

    In my daily efforts to be more mindful, I frequently ask myself: Am I doing things and feeling the way I want the rest of my life to be? If not, I make a new choice right there.

    If this were the last year of my life, I think I would do everything I could to savor every moment with my three children and my husband and do what I could to spread happiness to as many people as possible. As you’ve mentioned, having deeper connections with others seems to have more value and carry more weight. I think it’s all about relationships. Achievements and material things seem to lose their meaning when death is eminant.

    • Paige,
      I think the difficult thing about your question is that we know we have to push through hard times in order to get to something of meaning and value sometimes. I always used to tell my students that learning isn’t all that fun, it’s having learned something that we love so much. LOL. So I don’t think you can take an emotional snapshot as your yardstick, or you’ll too often back away when you’re that close to breaking through.

    • On
    • December 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm
    • Stephanie
    • Said...

    wow. you blow me away. this is one of my top two favorite posts of all time from you. the other being the one in which you opened up about your childhood and relationship with your dad.

    you have such rich experience and have handled them with so much strength and resilience. your parents must have been pretty incredible too, in their ways. thanks for sharing.

    the timing of a post on seizing the day, or the year in this case, is brilliant.

    • Thanks, Stephanie. My parents were incredible in their own ways. Sometimes I feel like I somehow inexplicably got the best of both of them. I’m pretty lucky. :)

    • On
    • December 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm
    • Felicia S.
    • Said...

    I just want to thank you for being there for all of us, caring and inspiring me and everyone else. Thank you, Jen. God bless you, the family you come from and the family you’ve created for yourself.

    • Thanks, Felicia. I’m glad to have a community to share these ideas with. We inspire each other to live better I think. :)

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    • On
    • December 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm
    • Farnoosh
    • Said...

    Dear Jen, read this here in New Zealand, and while I am hardly keeping up with any of my blogs because of slow connection, I felt compelled to tell you thank you for sharing this story and I am so sorry for the pain and grief you had to endure at such a young age. Your mom would be so proud of you, your writing, your accomplishments, your perspective on life and your beautiful family. I have no doubt about it. Sending you much love and wishing you a lovely Christmas in your new home in London.

    • Thanks, my friend, for taking the time to say that when you are truly halfway around the world. I know she would be proud too. And maybe this is how legacy works. Working to improve the lives of the living, and making the dead proud. LOL. Hugs!

  13. Hi Jennifer,

    Just stopped by to check out your blog and you reeled me right in with your touching story. Losing a mom at an early age is always challenging. You seem to have come to terms with her loss, but I’m sure it’s not always easy, It is so it is wonderful that you are willing to share her story.

    Interesting concept to live through your year as if it were your last. As Steve Jobs mentioned, it brings to the forefront what is really important and you have no reason to worry about what others might think. You are free to be who you really are, which is what we should all strive for everyday.

    Thanks for sharing – this was well done.

    • Cathy,
      Yes, it’s interesting. I knew about the Jobs’ quote for a while, but never dug more deeply until I came across Clint’s program. For me, an admitted futurist, it’s a hard concept to grasp. Even if you don’t decide to do it, I think the answers you come up with are meaningful and can help reset priorities. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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    • On
    • December 17, 2011 at 4:51 am
    • VeehCirra
    • Said...

    Jen I really admire how strong you are to share your story,losing someone and especially a loved one is really hard. Your title really hit home, because 2012 was the last year of someone really close to me,and there are some things I wish I did differently but well…it’s too late.

    Being present and appreciating each day is tough some days, I humour myself with this quote “live each as if it is your last because one day you will be right”

    Happy Holidays ;)

    • Thanks, VeehCirra. It’s true that you don’t always get to say and do everything you wanted, but I like to think the other person usually knew your sentiment anyway. Certainly my mother knew she was loved. Sorry for your loss. Here’s to making 2012 the best we can.

    • On
    • December 19, 2011 at 2:51 pm
    • Martin
    • Said...

    Hey Jen that was very sad for your mother. For some reasons, I find mothers to be stronger at protecting their child than fathers. Some may argue but your mother proved once again that when it comes to the determination to sacrifice in order to see a child happy, women can do them better than men.

    I hope you learnt something from your mum. Thanks for the story of determination

  15. Hi Jennifer – thank you for sharing an intimate and deep part of your life with me. Working through the reality of mortality, as you did, and your late teens and early 20s, can help build perspective and maturity and resilience. Interesting question, if 2012 was your last year how would you live it? I know what I would do. I certainly wouldn’t work more. I probably work less, if not quit my practice completely, and focus on my home and family. it’s a really good question and helps put a lot of things in perspective in my head. Having once worked in a Cancer Center for four years, and walked down the path with quite a few people during the last year, I witnessed most people concentrating on the small sphere of influence their life has on their immediate circle of family and friends, and also working to resolve their understanding of what it means to be mortal, coming to terms with their own mortality.

  16. Yes, your post gives the gift of those existential questions that are prone to cling to us for a lifetime. They are humbling and frustrating questions that force us to look at what the heck we’re doing with our lives and then ask why. Our answers may reveal internal drivers, external ones, or old fashioned pre-conditioning/imprinting. The issue is whether or not we can we escape them and do we want to.

    The more capable we are and the more able we are to see life from 30,000 feet, the more weight comes with those questions. Although I have and still do struggle with many of the questions you raise, I am still reminded of the last words in Rita Mae Brown’s book about Dolly Madison. Dolly asks her maid the question, “Why are we here.” The maid answers, “We’re here for each other.” Something to sleep on. ~Dawn

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  18. Jen,
    I was moved by the poignant and sad description of your last moments with your mother. My own mother will be 91 this month and lives far away in South Africa. When I call, she can’t hear the words anymore, but she knows it is me. I think connections with loved ones are the most important thing in life. And the feeling of having contributed to a better world in some way, whether by raising children who will contribute, by inspiring, touching, or guiding others with our work, or both. And, if i had one more day to live, i would want to spend it with my family.

    • On
    • January 9, 2012 at 11:20 pm
    • Rachael
    • Said...

    Having lost my beloved, dear mother in law, and two friends from cancer recently I have spent many hours questioning whether I am making the best use of my time on this earth. It’s not a question that I have put down, nor do I think I ever will again. I am determined to live this life consciously and the loss of good people reminds me to keep making the most of my time here.

    But leaving a legacy does not form part of my intention. To me the word legacy suggests pressure and expectation. Both of which don’t inspire or excite me. Instead I will leave this life satisfied if I have a loving family and a good group of frineds, who know how much I adore them because of the time and love I gave them and to also know that I made a difference, for even the smallest group of people, through the work I love doing.

    Great post Jen. It was just the right topic to pull this lurker out of the shadows.

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