How Will You Measure Your Life?
I lost three friends recently. They were taken from the world way before their time and the loss of each of them impacted me immensely. I started introspecting about what, beyond their friendship, was making me mourn their loss so deeply and intensely. This got me thinking about their contribution to the world and I found a common thread – each of them stood up for the little guy.
Mike Gestrin was a man with a big heart and an even bigger personality. During my year at Templeton College at Oxford, I was a 22 year old living outside the country for the first time and the youngest on my MBA course. I was navigating challenges around race, professional inexperience relative to my peers, and the financial stress of living in an expensive country on limited means, with loans to pay back. Mike always, always, treated me as an equal and with dignity and respect. The respect you would bestow upon a fellow human being regardless of his or her race, colour, experience, background, gender or financial status. And when he saw me, or someone else, being bullied on account of any of these reasons, he always stepped in and shut it down.
Jonathan Atherton was the man on who’s shoulders the stand-up comedy circuit in South East Asia was built. Like Mike, he always always treated everyone equally. And he always took the time out to speak to new comedians and offer them honest advice, while boosting their confidence early in their comedic journey. He spoke 10 languages, never discriminated against anyone, and had the ability to connect with people from any and every country in the world.
Both Jon and Mike were flawed human beings in their own way, as we all are. Yet each of them lived their lives on their own terms. I mourned each of them deeply, not just for their friendship, but for the goodness in their hearts, which they generously bestowed on the people around them.
I didn’t get to spend as much time with Vijay K Sondhi as I did with Mike and Jon. But in every interaction I had with him, he was kind, supportive, took time out for me, and always had my back. The three hundred people who were physically present at his cremation are a testament to how he made those around him feel. The same with the internet being full of posts from around the world about Jon when he left us.
I was recently asked to speak about the three pieces of advice I’d give my younger self. Many people wrote to me about how strongly those 7 minutes resonated with them. A lot of them forwarded the clip to their children to watch.
I think the reason my advice resonated with people was the same reason I mourned my friends so deeply. It was not because of how rich, famous or ‘successful’ they were. While I respected them immensely for living lives true to themselves, I respected and mourned them deeply for how they treated me and other human beings around them.
Understanding and appreciating the legacies of my friends left me reflecting upon the words Robin Williams said as the unorthodox professor John Keating in Dead Poets Society, “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Rest assured if you make people feel the way Mike, Jon and Vijay did, whether they say it out loud or not, in their hearts, the people who’s lives you touch, regardless of your flaws, will be standing on their desks and saying, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ Could there be a legacy greater than that? So I ask again – What will your verse be?
The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
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