At What Cost

Years ago, I was in a class with this guy who always seemed to find the bright side of things. People say the same about me, but this guy had me beat by a lot. Granted, he was a bit strange and seemed to believe sandals went with everything, but outside of that, really cool guy. It was a relatively long class so over time those surface level conversations led to deeper conversations. One day, a few of us were discussing our backgrounds and what led us to that class and he mentioned his wife and kids. Someone interrupted him to ask if his wife was in the same line of work as him, and he paused. An emotionally intelligent person could easily see his demeanor change, he said “no, she died in a car accident with both of my daughters a few years back”. Talk about sucking the air out of a room.

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Mood Shift

I won’t describe the horror that washed over the face of the young lady that asked him the question, but she was moved to tears almost instantly. Naturally, this completely shifted the mood for everyone. Sensing the good times were done rolling, he tried to lift the mood in the room, but then he explained what happened. They were hit by a drunk driver on their way to his in-laws. He was going to meet them there because he had something that needed to be done at work that was considered really high priority. He received a call while he was still working on that project telling him his family was being taken to the hospital and he immediately rushed to where they were, only to find out none of them survived. 

The Process

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A thousand moments I had taken for granted, mostly because I assumed there would be a thousand more

Morgan Matson

I spoke with him about it one day and he told me that he blamed himself for the accident for a while. He lost focus on his work, picked up a drinking habit and almost gave up on life. He decided to take a sabbatical and began traveling around living out of his car. He ended up on a beach somewhere in Florida and decided he wanted to get back to “normal” and that was the place to do it. I had never been to Florida at that time, so when he said that, it made perfect sense to me because all I knew was Miami and Disney World. Now that I have been to Florida though, I wish I would have asked him exactly what part he was in that inspired him so much. I digress. He began going to therapy and AA classes, got into real estate and formally resigned from that old job. He still had a considerable nest egg so financially he was fine, but it didn’t matter to him. This is also when he picked up his love of cargo shorts, sandals, and flimsy shirts with tropical fruit prints. 

What I Gained

In all honesty, at that point in my life, I wasn’t particularly inspired by his life story post losing his family. He was making less money and looked like someone’s hippie granddad brought his wardrobe back from Hawaii. The whole story always stuck with me though. His relative success before the accident caught me at the time since I didn’t have a wife nor kids, I was driven by not being poor. I remember thinking that I’d love to be as successful as he was before the accident. Now that I have a bit more sense, I think his take on life after the accident is more inspiring to me. I’d still like his pre-accident success though, to be able to take a sabbatical is crazy to me.

It took him losing the people that mattered to him most to realize his work was not that important. His quest for financial security, although successful, he’d give at a moment’s notice to have them back. Unfortunately, life doesn’t allow such trades, no do overs at all and rarely the chance to make things right with those you love or once loved. In his case, I believe he took the best lesson, made the best of it and it worked for him. He began filling his time with doing things he genuinely felt passionate about. In addition to figuring his own life out, he is an inspiration for others to either avoid his mistakes or show there is life after such a tragedy. That’s dope to me. 

We’ve added years to life, not life to years

George Carlin

How Is He?

As far as I know, his story has a happy ending. He re-married and had a kid with his new wife before I ever met him, we lost touch when the class ended. I imagine he’s down in Florida with some worn down Crocs and a thin Tommy Bahama shirt enjoying the days passing by. I joke about his attire because right now, I fully understand. He told us that he wore very nice suits daily Monday through Thursday, slacks and collared shirts for casual Fridays the entire time he was working in the field before the accident. On his weekends off he was always on a golf course schmoozing and boozing with other men with money and that was just the norm for him, not necessarily what he wanted to do. After the accident, he decided he was going to do the things he wanted to do. He started dressing less corporate and more beach bum. He was making less money, but he didn’t really need anything. Peace of mind was all he wanted. 

The Major Takeaway

I don’t subscribe to looking like a Tommy Bahama model, however, I am in sweats and joggers more than suits and slacks…and I like it. I have thus far achieved a decent level of success, not nearly to the level he was at, nor the level I desire to be, but I can’t complain. Sometimes when I think I need to grind harder, or work more to get more, I hear his voice saying “at what cost” and that grounds me a bit. I give my daughter a hug and kiss on the forehead every night she goes to bed because I know exactly how important these moments are. It’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve more, but sometimes success comes with a price some people can’t truly afford.  

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