Death and Dying

Two colleagues have died suddenly in the past two weeks – one was in his 60’s and one was in his 50’s.  Both shook me up.  A close friend’s mother is very ill.  And a close friend’s father died earlier this year.

I’ve had a physical challenging year.  I ran a marathon in February and was geared up for a lot of running and then hurt my back.  Seven months later I’m better, but I had five months of solid and consistent pain (never getting below a two on a 0 to 10 scale and often reaching eight or nine.)  On top of that, I’ve had a few nasty colds, including a staph infection in my earlobe that scared the shit out of at least one doctor.  Oh, and two weeks ago my extrovert completely burned out.

When I read the title to Fred Wilson’s blog this morning (Pacing Yourself) I thought he was going to talk about “personal pace.”  His post ended up being about investment pace (and is a very important one), but it has deep roots in personal pace, even if they aren’t obvious on the surface.

I’m turning 45 in a few weeks and this is the first year of my life that I’ve felt any amount of sustainable physical fatigue.  Every year I run extremely “hot” until I burn out, but then I recover in a week or so of deep sleep and rest.  Suddenly, however, I’m feeling tired on a more regular basis.  My binge sleeping on the weekend is reaching new levels.  It takes me a few days to recover from a redeye (and, as a result I’ve decided not to take them anymore.)  The periodic intervention from my partners about “pushing too hard” seems to be turning into an annual affair.

Fear of death motivates a lot of human behavior.  I’d like to believe that I’m tranquil about death (when my number is up, it’s up) and when I read posts like Regrets of the Dying (thanks @djilk) I smile and feel good about how I approach my life.  But this year feels like a transformative one for me as I am suddenly acknowledging that I’m probably not in the first half of my life anymore.

I had a couple of dreams that past few days about death and dying and good versus evil.  I’m 99.9% confident these dreams are a result of me watching the Star Wars episodes over the past five days (Return of the Jedi is tonight – then I’ll be done).  As I come out of my latest burnout cycle, I’m starting to ponder how and what to adjust so that year 45 if a healthier one than 44 and doesn’t have a burnout week (or month) in it.

  • edit – just realized that’s a nice acronym: f3 – jbminn

    Family, friends + fun. Adjust the dosages of each as necessary.

  • Frank_ille

    I just turned 47 last month and hate to admit it but like you the running hot pushing hard lifestyle is not as easy as it was just five years ago.

    Balance is a very difficult thing especially as we enter middle age…ugh did I just write middle age?

    Work-life balance: Tips to reclaim control

  • Brad, I had to mildly smile when I read about “1 week holiday”. You are crazy. I grew up in Germany/Switzerland, where 4-5 weeks a year are normal. I personally think you should take 3 months a year (I am 45, I am an entrepreneur, running 2 businesses, and constantly developing new products). Also, you should not work more than 4-6 hours a day. And should try to work 4 days a week only. You are a brainworker. What counts in your life are the results only. Not the amount of hours you put in. And once you hurt your health, it is difficult if not impossible to get it back (I speak from own experience, and 20 years of working like crazy, with no holidays or weekends. When I was young, I just had too much energy, and I used it all. Now I use my brain a lot more, and that is a lot healthier. By the way, I jog a lot too.). I achieve a lot through better ideas, and a lot of outsourcing.

    • I actually take a week off the grid every quarter (so four weeks a year). I
      do a total downshift during that week – no phone, no email. But your
      suggestions / sentiments are right on the money!

  • Sorry to hear about your colleagues, and that you think you’re in the second half of your life. Both are indications that “we shall have to work faster”.

    The regrets of the dying are not the best place to look for vindication of your approach to life (see for instance Rather, you should consider the respect and envy you attract from the young and healthy!

  • Anonymous

    Today is the youngest any of us will ever be.

    A related post:

  • Joy Casey

    Very interesting post. One thing you might find interesting…that I have recommended to so many people is a site called People from all over the U.S. and even the world….post emails about their experiences with various home remedies. A very popular one…and one that made a huge difference in my life…was simply taking a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar in a cup of water (Braggs…because it’s not pasteurized). I also add a little powdered vitamin C and a little MSM to my “cocktail.”

  • Robin

    I have been reading your blog for the last few weeks. I find your topics interesting, but your approach and style fascinating. I am about as far from a “geek” as you can get, yet your words impact my life. At 52, I have come to realize that what I can give to and get out of life have changed. The years of 45 to 48 were one of eventual acceptance. Obviously, you have to do what you can to be healthy, but the body has its limits. You can change how you still accomplish what you want to accomplish. Rather than always going faster, sometimes a slower approach produces amazing results. Please realize that what you are already giving the world and your community is beyond what most people would even consider possible for themselves. Yes, wisdom is a compensation for less energy. As long as your priorities are what you really want them to be, you’ll be fine – and happy with the results. If you have to let something less important go – then so be it.
    Moving very fast is for the young. Moving smart is for the more mature among us. The results can be of equal value.

    • Wow – awesomely well said.

  • Tal Keinan

    Bred, I am always amazed by the topics and the timing of your writings. Just this week I had a long discussion with my wife about the subject of life (and death). More specifically, I was trying to think if I would live differently had I known in advance my death date. Whenever I think about the subject, I’m always reminded of Steve Job’s speech at Stanford. It’s highly possible that you are working as hard as you do because that’s what makes you tick. You enjoy these periods of stress, as well as the binge sleeping that come afterword. Any other way and you’ll be miserable. Alternatively, it is also possible that something changed, and at 45 it’s no longer the case. I sure hope that it’s not the case, as we all benefit from you “pushing hard”.

    • It is in my nature to “push hard”, but I’m starting to ponder different
      approaches as the level of intensity – at least on my physical self – is
      starting to be noticed – at least by me.

  • First off I’m sorry to hear about your colleagues. Being an entrepreneur and driven to succeed, I think it’s common to push ourselves to the limit until we crash and have to recoup. Is this healthy? Maybe not, but it’s hardwired in many of us. You have already struck a fantastic balance in your life and I hope to emulate parts of it in my husband and I’s. Here’s a piece of advice from my in-laws:

    20’s are for thinking you know it all
    30-40’s are for realizing you don’t. Then learning what you need and getting where you want to be in your career / life.
    50’s are when life really gets good and you get to enjoy all your hard work.

    Just think of 45 as one more great year of learning, teaching, mentoring and accomplishing your goals.

    • Sorry, I posted that under the wrong Disqus account. My apologies. – Jenn

  • Brad, I lost two friends this week, both younger than I. Like you, I ran marathons in my forties (8 of them) and started two businesses. I didn’t really think I was mortal until my husband, who was 9 years older than I, died at 65. That shook me up and caused me to leave Intel, where I was flying all over the place every week. I started a third venture, but it’s much less “busy,” and I make sure to pace myself. We have NO employees. My rules: get 8 hours of sleep every night. Get one hour of exercise every day. Never take red eyes except to Asia. And “Just say no.”

  • Thanks for sharing Brad, and good seeing you last week – here’s a book I liked with some interesting thoughts on the broader subject.

  • Andy Blackstone

    Brad, I recommend reading “Younger Next Year.”

  • I’ve read you forever but have never commented. What a jerk I am for that. How would you ever know that you’re appreciated? Sorry.

    I’m 40. This has never been of interest to me until a few weeks ago when I woke up with a sharp pain in my chest. It turned out to be nothing especially bad, and I’ll be rumored to live, but my blood pressure turns out to be up and my doctor said (in medical terms): “you’re fat and you’re stressed out.’

    I know I’m fat. I didn’t believe that I was stressed out.

    It’s taken me several weeks of looking inward to find it and feel it. But here’s what I’ve come to realize, and also what I’m doing about it:

    * I can’t work on 1000 things and still make them all turn out amazing.
    * 8 hours or so of sleep makes me super powerful. My old 4 hours felt cool, but wasn’t.
    * If I were to die, what would my legacy be at this very moment? Not of all time, but these last few weeks (or similar). Live with that in mind.

    Glad you’re still here. feel better. Find it (that other “it.”)

    And keep writing.

    • Chris – great comments – thanks for writing them. I’m glad I’m not
      the only one out there thinking about this.