When I saw my dad after his legs were amputated, he was pretty out of it.
The hospital staff wheeled him out of the operating room while he was still under anesthesia. He was in a lot of pain. His diabetes had progressed to a point where it made sense to have his legs amputated below the knees.
Lying on a gurney, my dad’s bandaged stumps protruded below his thin blue hospital gown. His hair was disheveled. The hospital’s fluorescent lights gave his skin a pallid hue, and he looked tired, haggard and scared. He looked so different from how I had always known him to be: strong, powerful and in control.
My dad had a presence you could feel. Just being in the same room with him, you could sense his energy and intensity. People like him are sometimes described as a force of nature, for good reason.
In the hospital at that moment, it made no difference that my dad was one of Utah’s wealthiest, most well-known, respected and influential people. He owned an NBA franchise and dozens of other businesses, employed thousands of people, provided scholarships for hundreds of students, and he donated millions of dollars to charity every year. But the significance of all that was overshadowed by the fact that he would soon be leaving this world.
My dad was a college dropout who grew up in a blue-collar family in a middle class neighborhood. His dad worked at an oil refinery and his mom was a secretary.
In his younger years, my dad worked as a bookbinder, a delivery truck driver, a hod carrier and behind the counter at an auto parts store. He didn’t have a clear vision of how he wanted his life to turn out, but he surrounded himself with good people, cultivated his talents, was honest and worked hard.
He and my mom went into business for themselves by buying a Toyota store in Utah in 1979. My dad was 35, and he spent the next three decades building what would eventually become a multibillion dollar group of companies.
He succeeded without any sort of masterplan. He simply followed his passions of making deals, building things, winning, and helping people.
When I was growing up, my dad was gone to work by the time I got up for school in the morning, and he was still at work by the time my mom read me a bedtime story and tucked me in. Somehow, I knew my dad loved me, but it wasn’t because he came to my little league games or helped me prepare for science fairs.
He was too busy working sixteen-hour days, six-days-a-week, a routine he maintained for nearly twenty years. For the better part of his career, he prioritized his work above his family, his spirituality and his health.
Eventually, his high stress, poor diet, no exercise, little sleep, and not going to the doctor caught up to him. Although I never heard him complain about them, he developed a long list of ailments including the diabetes that claimed his legs, as well as retinopathy, kidney failure, arthritis, gout and calciphylaxis. He even survived a couple of heart attacks.
He died at 64 years old—before he even reached the age of senior citizen.
Seeing my dad after his amputation, I reflected on the way he’d lived and worked. I asked myself, “Is this man successful?” And, I wondered, “Is this the price of success?”
In that moment, I decided two things.
First, that would never be me.
I swore to myself that I wouldn’t prioritize my work—or anything—above my health. I would eat healthy food, exercise, rest, meditate, visit the doctor regularly and cultivate loving and supportive relationships.
Second, I would encourage others to carefully define success for themselves, and I would help them find ways to achieve it without paying a price they would later regret.
This blog post, my next book and the School for Good Living are all expressions of those decisions.
The way I see it, if you find ways to make each day of your life meaningful and enjoyable, by the time you reach the end—and rest assured, the end will come—you’ll have lived a meaningful and enjoyable life.
There’s no mystery to it, but it doesn’t happen on accident either. It happens by deciding what you want and what you’re willing to pay to get it.
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