I have a soft spot for anyone that serves or has served in the military. It might be that my Great Uncle Emmett, from whom my son and I got our middle name, is a Purple Heart recipient from World War II. It might be that my father and father-in-law both served our nation. It might be because we live in the heartland of the country, a place ripe with national pride.
Like most things, I’m sure it’s a mixed up combination of all of that and more.
So when I was asked to meet with a 70-year-old, United States Marine, Vietnam veteran for breakfast, I jumped at the opportunity.
You know that feeling when you’ve had four of five cups of coffee, been up longer than most people, already listened to your favorite music and then walk into a room full of people that are just getting going?
It’s like you’re going 100mph faster than everyone else. That’s what he did to me that morning.
He blew me away.
Here was this tough, courageous, experienced, successful guy that used words like: engaged, optimistic, hope, alive and kindred.
Tough guy words, huh? But of course it spoke my language.
The man is running an incredibly successful wealth management company and there wasn’t a prideful word in his vocabulary.
At the end of our time together, he asked me if I’d “share my story” to this group of 50 or so men that he gathers together on Wednesday mornings.
I looked around to see who exactly he was talking to, surely it wasn’t me.
“Uhh, yeah, of course I’ll share my story” is what came out of my mouth.
“Uhh, is he serious? What in the world would I say?” was banging around between my ears.
Thankfully I had a few weeks to prepare, so I did what I always do when I have time. Put it off until the day before.
Share my story? What am I going to tell these mostly older, successful, seasoned guys?
About 10pm the night before the 6am meeting, it finally clicked.
What Kind of Story is Your Life Telling?
I scribbled an outline together. Scratched through a bunch of stuff. Rewrote. Typed it out. Stayed up too late.
The next morning, I had a bunch of coffee, listened to my favorite music, practiced my talk a time or two and then walked into a room full of men that were just getting going.
I was blown away.
I can’t take credit for what poured out over the next 35-40 minutes. Because it all started with the Marine.
It began with a comment he said at breakfast, one that gripped me until the night before I shared my story.
“When your only other option is death, you choose to live.”
He began saying that in response to his combat experience, but what he was really saying is that most of us sleepwalk through life, unaware of what’s really at stake, alive but barely.
His comment fueled my entire time at the podium that morning, imploring those men to examine what kind of story their lives were telling.
Is it one that’s captivating enough to turn the page?
Is it one of jealousy, comparison, rivalry ?
Is it one of boredom and fantasizing about someone else’s life?
Is it one of power-playing and money-grabbing?
Is it one of fear and hesitation?
Is it one of criticism and skepticism?
Is it one that is lulling people to sleep?
Since that breakfast, I’ve had this new energy. Urgency perhaps. A sincere desire to see people live lives marked with:
Significance, not just success. Influence, not just popularity. Meaning, not just monotony. Abundance, not scarcity.
What are we waiting for?
If your only other option is death, how will you choose to live?