What Dad taught me about life

Brendon Burchard 12-17

If you had to give the commencement address to 15k university students as they were about to charge out into life and contribute, make their difference and leave their mark, what would you say?

What is your life philosophy that you would like to teach other people to have? Some simple rules and principles about life that you would love others to have in their own lives, to live a meaningful life, to live a fully charged life.

What’s your life philosophy that you would share with other people?

Have you ever thought about that?

It’s nice when you develop your own little philosophy that you can share with people over and over again, because that becomes part of your mission. It becomes part of your message to other people. It’s what your legacy becomes. It’s what people carry on after you’re gone. It’s what they remember you for, is when you impart specific things like that.

I lost my dad in 2009 to acute myeloid leukemia. It’s a fast disease that really takes your body from diagnosis to death. We were with dad for 59 days. What I remember about my dad is so many of our great moments together and so much of our fun and so many of the amazing extraordinary experiences we had together. Mostly just the simplicity of hanging out, being around and some of his life lessons.

Before he passed away when he was in the hospital and going through chemo, I called and said “Dad, I’m coming down there, but could I interview you?” because I was honestly scared I might not get there before he passed away.

He says okay. So, I called him and literally asked him about life on the phone and I recorded it. It’s one of my most treasured things in my life is having his voice from the interview. I just asked him lots of questions about life and what came out of it was so much of his life philosophy. Nothing was new it wasn’t like he had all these new insights towards the end of his life. He was saying these things to us throughout his life, and I realize he had this philosophy he was always saying in one way or another.

In one direct statement he kind of streamed them all together on the call and it was like wow. He had these things he was always saying.

The first thing he was always saying is be yourself.

He was always telling us kids, be yourself, be who you are, do what feels right for you. He really wanted us to be our unique self. He didn’t want us to be carbon copies of everybody else. He would always say that in certain ways. He inscribed it in books that I have from him and it would say hey son, be yourself and I was always like wow, he always said that.

He also said be honest. Tell the truth. Be honest and direct and straightforward and explicit with people. It was such a simple thing, but how many of us sometimes we tell lies that we don’t need to tell or we say things that may not even be true. It’s just about bringing it top of mind and paying attention to what we’re saying. Be honest even when it’s hard, even when you might be held accountable for it, to always be honest.

He always said do your best. Whatever you’re going to do; do your best, know that you gave your all, just do it with excellent care that it goes right. Care that you’ve done a good job for yourself, but also for other people. Do your best and know that you gave.

He was always saying take care of your family. Love your brother, your sister, your mother, even as he was going through his third treatment of chemo - it just wasn’t working - and he kept telling me, take care of your mother. He was always thinking about taking care of family. He was always that person in the family. He was strong and would care for others, lend people money and just be there. Whatever he could do, he’d take care of the family.

He also said, treat people with respect. Know that everyone is going through a hard journey in life, you never know their story, just be nice to people. Be kind. Have some courtesy and compassion. It was always about treating other people respectfully, elders as well as those younger than us. Everyone on your team, your family… treat your family and neighbors with respect. He said that over and over.

He was also saying all the time to be a good citizen. Be active in your community. Go vote. Care about taxes. Care about how much we pay our teachers. Care about the important things that are shaping the world. Read the news. He was always reading the newspaper every morning, he loved his newspapers. Be a good citizen. Be active. Be informed. Do something good for your society, for your culture. He cared about those things, it was amazing.

The last recurrent thing he was always saying was follow your dreams. Always follow your dreams. Know what you want and follow them, even if it’s hard. Chart your own path. Do the things that are important to you. Don’t let off your dream just because it got hard, fight for those things. Follow your dreams. Keep following our intuition. Keep following where life is taking you but know where you want to take life. Follow your dreams.

Those were things my dad said and when I think about my dad I think about those things. One way or another I think about how he embodied them. I think about the experiences, things that I screwed up in my life and he’d teach me them or just remind me as I was going off to do something… or he’d say something, and he’d write an inscription in a book or write a note, birthday card and I carry his message with me.

People will carry your message with them, so what do you want to say?

I have a life philosophy. It’s simple - four things for me. I carry all my dad’s messages and I’m always sharing his message, but I’m developing my own too as I live my life.

My life philosophy first and foremost is to be thankful for all that you have and all that you are.

Be thankful for this moment. Be thankful for the gifts you’ve been given in your life. I’m so thankful for the time I got to spend with my dad. I wish he was here longer but I’m extraordinarily thankful for the time I did have. I’m thankful that I had a dad. I know some people don’t have a father figure or they don’t get to spend much time.

I was lucky I got to have him for 30 years of my life. I feel extraordinarily blessed by that. I had a good one and I’m thankful for that. I hope that you’re thankful for your family and your friends, the people who love you, the moment, the gifts and strengths, all the blessings you’ve been given by God, Creator, Universe, by nature, by dumb luck. Whatever you believe, have gratitude for that. It will bring happiness and joy, engagement with your life. It will give you a sense of soul and depth to life when you have more gratitude.

For me, I also believe you should work hard for all that you desire. If you desire something work hard for it. Really work for it. If it’s important to you work for it. Never forget when you knock on the door of opportunity that it is Work who answers.

You want change?
You want something new?
You want a better quality of life?
Discipline will be required.

Work, strength, really, just that grit, that sweat, that time and effort, consistency and constancy of effort towards their dreams, that is work. Be proud of it.

People blow my mind today - they’re so anti-work. They’re like, “I hate work.” So it’s like, do different work, but find something and work towards it.

You should be proud of giving a days work. You should be proud - you go home and you’re wiped out and exhausted from giving your all that day, something you found important and meaningful and purposeful and when you go to bed at night you’re fatigued, not because you hated it and fought it all day but fatigued because you lived joyously that day. You go to bed peacefully because you gave all.

You’re spend but not spent forever, it’s just that day it was full, it was awesome and magnificent and you’re ready for sleep. You have to work like that, I believe. That’s my life philosophy.

Next is to be intentional in who you are becoming. By my dad giving me those life philosophies, he was saying pay attention to these things and that will make you happy. It will make you a better person and I think we have to be very intentional about who we are. Are we intentional with how we greet our lover or spouse at night after a long days work? Are we intentional about what we’re telling our kids? Are we intentional about how courageous and strong and confident a person we’re becoming or are we hoping that maybe one day I’ll be happy, courageous and strong? 

Those things you generate with intention. I always say the power plant doesn’t have energy, it generates energy. We have to have the intention to be something and to live into that intention, to activate that intention in the world and to bring initiative to that intention, and that is all about paying attention to who we are becoming.

Are we becoming rude little brats or spoiled bastards or are we becoming service-driven, excellent, giving, loving, accomplished human beings who move towards the things we care about?

We’re becoming something, are we paying attention to what we’re becoming?

Lastly, love and respect others on this journey.

It’s like love others, because that’s why we’re here.

I think about my dad’s ultimate legacy and there’s no question, it was the love he had for us kids. He did lots of cool things in his life. He worked his ass off. He did 20+ years in the Marines. He did three tours in Vietnam and got all shot up, came back and helped recruit people into the military, even when at that time the military was not popular. All because he believed in being a good citizen, serving his country, his country gave him so much he was trying to give it back.

I think about all these things he did and accomplished. He gave and created, from building sheds and bird houses to teaching us kids to golf. But what comes back over and over again was love.

I hope that in some way we are dedicated in thinking about how much we love other people, to be a grand amplifier of this divine energy around us that is love, to give it and direct it towards other people so they feel adored and appreciated by us.

Are you doing that? Are you adoring and appreciating other people on a consistent basis? They know how you feel about them. They know that they’re priorities, that you deeply care for them and their well-being and who they are. That’s living a different quality of life. That’s magic.

When you have that intention to do all these things that we’ve talked about. Maybe some of these things inspired your life philosophy. Maybe you already have your own, but I hope you will do one thing, share your life philosophy, whether it’s 15k people at a commencement address one day or it’s five people at lunch, your buddies at dinner or your kids and the people you lead.

Share your life philosophy. That’s your message. That’s what people remember. And if you live that life philosophy each day, you wake up and have that goal, you have that dream to live your life philosophy, it activates everything in you. You can’t wait to wake up tomorrow, because that enthusiasm to live that philosophy pulls you into the future. It pulls you into that style of life and you feel so remarkable because you’re aimed again.


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