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Lessons Every Leader Can Learn From a Dying Woman’s Letter to the World

A young Australian woman’s reflection on mortality has a lot to teach us about the right way to live, both at work and away from it.

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BY John Hall - 12 Jan 2018

Lessons Every Leader Can Learn From a Dying Woman's Letter to the World

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Today started off as a typical day. I was woken up by my 4-year-old talking in my ear about how it was time for her to watch "PAW Patrol." As I turned on the porch TV, I glanced at my news feed to see what was going on in the world. Instead of checking out some article for or against President Trump, I caught the headline "A Dying Woman's Heartbreaking Letter to Humanity."

The letter, written by a 27-year-old Australian woman, Holly Butcher, was posted to Facebook at Holly's request after she died from a rare cancer. As I read through the letter, it aligned with some recent realizations I've made and made me think of people whom I've met and come to admire. Holly urges her readers to be more grateful, honest, and helpful, which are all qualities I strive for and value in others.

Holly's letter was emotional and personal, but as I read it, I started thinking about how much it needs to apply to the professional world as well. As an entrepreneur, I see many of my peers focusing on material things, getting pissed off over minor issues, and exhibiting many of the other negative habits that the letter combats. I strongly encourage you to take two minutes to read Holly's inspiring words.

Here are some of the letter's points that stuck with me and that all leaders should pay attention to.

1. "Help each other more."

In the letter, Holly mentions that she wishes she had done this more and that during her last days, she was very aware of and grateful for all the help people gave her. I personally used to be somewhat selfish, but I have learned that the more I help the people around me, the happier I am and the more success I see in business.

2. "There are more aspects to good health than the physical body."

Because I'm always traveling for speaking events, I worry a lot about how I look, and there have been times when I put some stress on my body by following extreme diets (or, on the flip side, by overindulging in conference food). Health is not only physical -- it includes your mental and emotional health as well. As an entrepreneur, it's easy to put my career before my health because I'm always on the go and don't make time for a mental break. Holly's letter was a good reminder of how much that is needed.

3. "Let all that s*** go."

Holly points out all the insignificant things that get under our skin. I can't say that "new fake nails ... got a chip" is something that gets to me, but I let a lot of minor things bother me every day. This not only causes stress, but it distracts me from being effective. Whether it's a business partner screwing you over or somebody trolling you on the internet (Sidenote: Sarah Silverman had the best response to trolling I've ever seen), it's not worth letting it tear your life down.

4. "Each day is a gift, not a given right."

I recently wrote an article on being grateful that got a good response from people. But if I'm being honest, I'm a big gratefulness hypocrite. I always tell my 4-year-old that she needs to be thankful and that she takes things for granted, but then I, as a 33-year-old, don't recognize all the great things I'm blessed with. In her letter, Holly tells us to consider how lucky we are just to be able to breathe.

5. "Don't miss out on experiences."

Holly's advice reminded me of this viral photo of an older woman who is actually enjoying an experience while everyone around her is just taking pictures of it. What a great reminder to live in the moment! Last year I actively made an effort to have more experiences with employees, partners, friends, family, etc., and it's made a big difference in those relationships.

I didn't plan to write this piece today, but when I woke up and read Holly's letter, I wanted to do my part to draw attention to some great advice from a really cool woman who learned a lot in her last days. Lucky for us, we still have time to take it.

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