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How My Dad’s Death Unveiled My True Purpose In Life

Written by on 09 Jan 2018

There I was, fighting back tears, avoiding the eye contact with the 40-year-old, blue-eyed, farm-owning, ex-Marine who was, by all accounts, “giving me the business.”

“Right now, Tracy, you’re half-assing your own life,” he said. “Sure, your friends think you’re awesome and your mom is proud, but are you really doing what you need to be doing to get where you really want to go? Do you even want it at all? I don’t think so. You’re not even close. You have to go all out, balls to the wall, run like hell, and get rigid AF… only then, will you even have a shot at making it.”

I sat there, stunned. Completely motionless. Thoughts racing. Well, only one thought really…

Did he really just SAY that to me?!

Yes. Yes, he did.

For the first time in three years, someone was calling me out. And not subtly. He wasn’t calling me on the bullshit I was saying to him, per se, but on the bullshit I was saying to myself. That BS went something like this:

I’m doing everything I can, and it’s just not working.
Next year, when I’m feeling better, I’ll have more motivation.
I’m just waiting for the timing to be right, then I’m going to be amazing.

100%, complete and total, grade A bullshit.

You can check the sticker.

Now, you might be wondering: Tracy, how long ago did this happen? Surely, it was years ago, right? I bet this was the motivation you needed to get off your butt and start your business! A-ha! Got it!

Nope. Not even close.

This conversation wasn’t three years ago. It wasn’t even three months ago. This conversation happened three WEEKS ago.

That’s right. I got my ass handed to me just days before the end of 2017. Merry Christmas to me!

So what led to this tirade, you ask?

In order to answer that question, we have to go back in time, well, over a year ago, to the day my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

April 17th, 2016. That day started, as they say, just like any other day. Only, any other day my dad wouldn’t have been in the hospital for 4 straight days awaiting a diagnosis for the fluid that had rapidly accumulated in his lungs over the last few weeks.

For months, we had been in and out of doctor’s offices. General practitioners, pain specialists, ENT doctors, chiropractors, orthopedics. Not one of them had an explanation for the pain my dad was experiencing in his neck and shoulder. It wasn’t until our family doctor noticed the fluid in his lungs that we decided to admit him to the hospital and just “figure this thing out, already.”

Four excruciating days later, we still had no answers. By Friday the 17th, I was exhausted and disappointed. Still no word. Still no information. Still in limbo.

Oh, to be in limbo again.

Around noon that day, I got a call from my mom…

You know those calls you receive, and before you answer them, you just know something about your life is about to change, dramatically? It felt like that, only it was sunny out and I was sitting on my couch gazing out the window. Life was still happening outside.

The phrase WTF comes to mind.

I held my breath and asked for the information I had been so desperately seeking.

“It’s cancer, baby.”
W-h-h-hat… what?! What kind?
“Lung cancer.”
H-h-how bad… like how, how bad?
“Stage 4.”
But… but…
“…”
What does that really mean? How much time do we have?
“….”
Mom??
“12-18 months.”

Boom.

There it was, out in the open. Breathed out of another human being and into my ears. And in that instant, as they say, everything changed. I had been racing toward the proverbial finish line in life—my business, my relationships, my faith, my career—and I got tripped just after the gunshot went off.

Being a writer and a “journalist” of my own, well, personal journey, I did what most people might find unthinkable in that moment. I forced myself to pull out my computer, put finger pads to keys, and record everything I was feeling in real time. Here’s just a small excerpt of the stream of conscious that ensued:

He was just getting better
Doesn’t seem fair or right
We just got better with our relationship
Spent most of our lives not getting along and not understanding each other
He won’t be there for so many things
Wedding
Grandchildren
Wow, I’m selfish
What about him
He’s finally at a place in life where he doesn’t have to worry about anything, money, food, house, lawn, family, me, mom, and this is what he gets
That just doesn’t seem right at all
All the people who aren’t going to get to know him for who he really is
He’s a fighter
He’s the most positive of the three of us
Says he’s going to fight this
But what does that really mean if less than 10% of people live longer than 5 years
He’s still going to miss so many things
And here I was thinking he was invincible and going to live forever

I was a mess.

But, I was a mess in shock. I just couldn’t accept or absorb this information without placing myself on the outside of it. This had to be happening to someone else’s family. This must be a dream. I do have seriously realistic dreams. Maybe I’m in a movie or getting pranked or something.

However, over the next few months, the state of my family and my dad’s health would become much clearer. Much more real.

June and July were spent shuttling to and from doctors, pain therapists, and chemo treatments. In August, he came within hours of dying from kidney failure. Turns out, he was dehydrated. (Yes, sometimes it’s that simple.) In September, he and my mom decided to stop treatments. I was unhappy about this. October was usually our family’s happiest month because it includes, among other things, my birthday, my mom’s birthday, and something we affectionately call “Timm Family Fun Day.” Instead, my mom and I traded shifts with the hospice nurses and tried to force my dad to drink enough Boost milkshakes and water to get from one day to the next. In November, all of our close family members flew in to visit, a littler earlier than planned.

Then, on November 24th, Thanksgiving Day… he was gone.

160 days after initial diagnosis, he was gone.

So much for 12-18 months.

Oh, to be in limbo again.

The death of my father was, without question, one of the most shocking, horrendous, deadening, borderline indescribable experiences of my life. My mom and I literally sat, each of us holding one of his hands, as he took his very last breath.

Unless you’ve experienced that yourself, there’s really no way to explain how it feels.

But it’s ok, because that’s not the point of this story.

December was a blur. Planning. Viewing. Funeral. I gave the eulogy. I heard it was good. Burial. Reception. I remember there being cookies. And chicken salad. A trip to Puerto Rico. Our “grief getaway.” Christmas. New Years.

2017.

The new year came before I was even able to process that life hadn’t completely ended on Thanksgiving Day. That previous year had been so different. At the beginning of 2016, I was ready to take on the world. And by all accounts, I was killin’ it.

I was in my second year in business and growing by about 50% year over year. I started a podcast that was getting rave reviews. I had plans to create an online course and start doing more one-on-one coaching and even a live event. I had two parents I adored and boyfriend I loved. My group of friends in Dallas was solidifying and included a group of 7 girls that I trusted and admired. I had an amazing living situation. Life was good.

I was running full speed ahead, and didn’t see the stumbling block coming.

Between diagnosis and death, life was frantic and exhausting. Too frantic and exhausting to really understand or accept what was happening. My mom and I just tried to make it through each day, do the best we could, and mentally prepare for the next one. But 160 days later, the reality of his situation was laid bare. No more ignoring. No more pretending.

He was gone.

Devastation didn’t hit me the way I had expected. I wasn’t in bed for days at a time. I wasn’t angry with the world or with God. I didn’t even buy anything crazy or declare that “life is too short,” quit my job, and go on a trip around the world.

(Oh, wait. I already did that.)

Regardless, what happened was definitely not what I expected.

Devastation didn’t suppress me. Devastation changed my very being.

I’m an incredibly outgoing person, and all of a sudden, I just wanted to spend time alone, crying, getting “through it” on my own. I love my friends more than anything, and all of sudden, I didn’t want to talk on the phone or go out. I’m a networking fanatic (yes, those exist), and all of a sudden, I cringed at the idea of meeting anyone new and having to answer even the most basic question, “How are you?”

Everything was different.

Everything, except for my work.

In a lot of ways, work is compulsory in our culture. You have to pay to play, as they say. Meaning, you have to find a way to make money in order to do the things you really want to do. And most of us, in most circumstances, will settle for something that makes us enough money and allows us enough freedom to do the variety of things that we like. And for most of us, in most circumstances, that would be enough.

But what happens when your world shatters?

What happens when everything is different?

Do you know what’s going to sustain you?

Faith? Yes, 100%. But, unless you’re a member of the clergy or sweeping the floors, you’re not going to get paid to spend all day in church, even if that’s all you want to do at times.

Friends and family? Yes, of course. But, remember, they have lives, too. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but when tragedy strikes, you’re going to get about a month out of most people. Then, they move on. And you’re left holding the bag, because you’re never really going to “move on.”

Your significant other? Yes, definitely. But, if you expect one person to be your be-all-end-all, 24/7, until you “find yourself” again, you better try wakin’ up. No one will live up to those expectations, and you’ll find yourself bitter and resentful.

What’s really going to sustain you when shit hits the fan?

Your passion.
Your pursuit.
Your purpose.

And if you’re lucky, that means, your work.

Never, in my entire life, have I been more grateful for my job than when my dad was sick, dying, and gone.

There were days when getting out of bed was unimaginable. Why bother? My dad, the third member of the “Three Muskateers” could be/will be/is no more, so who cares? I’m out.

But then, I would look at my calendar and see that I had a training or a new coaching client that day. I would drag my sad ass out of bed, begrudgingly “get ready” (a process which became shorter and shorter to allow for more time in bed), bitterly get in the car, and arrive at my destination knowing, beyond all doubt, that this was pointless. Not only was I going to hate it. I was going to suck.

Then, a miracle happened.

The minute I began talking about personality in the workplace or how to truly find work you love or what regrets really are and how to live without them… I became… transformed. I was no longer the compromised, altered version of myself. For that moment in time, however brief, the grief went away. The devastation went away. The unwanted change went away.

I was me again. I was awake again. I was alive again.

My absolute belief in the value of the work that I do, my capability and excellence at my craft, my ability to build wealth and freedom, and the knowledge that what I was doing really mattered to people combined to release me from my grief and give me a brief taste of my previous life. I had found my raison d'être. My ikigai. My reason for being.

And because that was my work, it carried me through one of the most intensely painful periods in my life.

I learned that, yes, it’s great to find your purpose.

But it’s even more profound to know that if you make your purpose your career, then the work you love can sustain you through even the worst trials and tribulations of life.

If there’s a question in your mind as to whether or not you should “go for it” and finally take the (scary) steps toward your purpose, remember this. The hits are coming. It’s just a matter of time. When you’re living your purpose, the very act of your work has the power to carry you through.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I wasn’t bounding out of bed at the prospect of working with a client. If feet could drag any deeper, I would have been leaving train tracks behind me everywhere I went. Working toward your purpose doesn’t erase the pain. It doesn’t take away the sadness. But it does give you a much-needed break. It lightens the load. It makes everything else just a little more bearable.

So… you might be wondering…

Why in the hell was an ex-Marine yelling at me and making me cry after a story like this?!

Because… I asked him to.

I realized at the end of 2017 that something wasn’t quite right. I was doing everything in my life reasonably well, but nothing with excellence. Sort of like a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. So, I sought out my friend Donnie who had just started a success coaching practice to get some straight-shooting advice.

And boy, did I get it.

He encouraged me to confront all of this head on. To finally share the story of my dad’s disease. To make it my mission to help others find work they love so that they, too, can survive the tough times ahead. To teach what I’m trying to do right now, so I can become the person I keep telling everyone else to be. To finally listen to my own damn advice.

Do something scary? This is f-ing scary.

Live with no regrets? I’d regret not telling this story if it changes even one person’s life for the better.

Dedicate yourself to work you love? Here I am. Ready to serve you.

If there’s any question in your mind whether or not you’re doing your life’s work, then you’re not. Join me, and stop half-assing your own life. Whether it’s a death, a divorce, or a dead-end, the trials are coming. There’s no question about it.

The real question is, will you be ready?

What is going to sustain you?


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Comments
  1. Anonymous   On   09 Jan 2018 at 6:45 pm

    Tracy, this is AMAZING. Thank you for being so open and vulnerable and sharing your life, your experience, your thoughts, and your advice to anyone who is ready and willing to listen. Hit home for me today. XO

  2. Anonymous   On   09 Jan 2018 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your courage is inspiring. Keep doing great work and changing lives.

  3. Anonymous   On   09 Jan 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Loss and pain are realities for everyone, but they only become personal when it impacts you directly. So very sorry for your loss, but so very happy for your wake up call! Hugs! XOXOXO

  4. Anonymous   On   09 Jan 2018 at 11:00 pm

    So sorry to hear about your Dad. So happy to hear that your purpose was reignited by a close friend who had the courage to be honest.

  5. Anonymous   On   10 Jan 2018 at 4:32 pm

    Well spoken Tracy! The power of your voice, in whatever form, is just a glimpse of the passion native within you. I look forward to witnessing and experiencing your successes, with ALL life has to offer.

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