What Really Matters
This piece is focused on one of the greatest lessons I have learned this year. It is a gift Karina granted me as I witnessed her transition and something I intend to live by for the rest of my life. It's about what really matters.
My life has radically changed over the last year. The intensity of Karina’s sickness and ultimate passing was like sitting in a fire for 6 months, burning away everything in my life that did not matter, leaving only my Spirit upon which to rebuild. Going through something of such power changed me.
I have tough moments and am very much still on my grieving journey, but life is different now. It is easier, more relaxed. I know how to find happiness on days when I’m sad. I both love and like myself. I feel stronger than I’ve ever been.
Of all of the realizations I’ve had this year, there is none more applicable to each day than my shift in priorities from things that don’t matter to things to do.
I used to think that everything mattered. Every little email, every opportunity, every dollar earned or lost, every goal scored or wave ridden. My emotions rode those waves. I used to check my sales report at my business several times a day, and if sales were good, I felt good. But if they were poor, I was stressed. My emotional well-being was directly tied to my success/failure in my business and activities.
Karina and I’s relationship was profound and pure. I had my health, I lived in a place that I loved, I worked for myself, and had so many other blessings in my life. I could have been happy, relaxed, and enjoyed the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship over the years. I did at times, but I also turned down opportunities to travel, to surf, to go out and enjoy life more with Karina because I prioritized my work. I wasted a lot of energy being stressed and upset by things that really didn’t matter.
The moment Karina was diagnosed and we realized the severity of what we were dealing with, I felt the weight of missed opportunities. “Get her well enough to get on an airplane” became the goal that I held onto as I dedicated my life to her wellbeing. When the opportunity to experience life in all of its beauty gets taken away, you realize how important it truly is. Nothing else mattered.
I remember taking walks with my dog on days that I wasn’t staying with Karina at the hospital and seeing people going about their day as I thought, “if they only knew what a blessing it is to be healthy and alive, no one would be stressed.” Karina didn’t get to take a breath of fresh air or feel the sun on her skin for 40 straight days. The moment she finally did was glorious, a moment I will never forget. Yet the rest of the world seemed to take this for granted.
I felt angry and guilty that I could walk my dog while Karina was in a hospital bed, unable to walk. Yet here were all of these people, going about their lives and caring about money and jobs and social media and news, and all of these things don’t matter.
But why wouldn’t they? Can you really understand the blessings of life without seeing them ripped from you or your loved one? I sure didn’t, until I did.
As I sat in the fire, I saw clearly what does matter in life for the first time.
With your soul, with your body, with your emotions, with your family, with your partner, with your friends, with your community, with nature, with the universe, and even with those who have harmed you.
This is what really matters, and my grieving process is based on healing, cultivating, and deepening these relationships. To me, living life to the fullest is doing just that. Connecting profoundly with myself and all the people I come into contact with has uplifted my spirit and rebuilt all of me that burned in the fire.
Karina always understood and lived by this. That’s why she was so loved by everyone. She saw that she was not separate from them and so treated everyone with the same care and love she had for herself. She used the analogy of the sun: we are all beams of light coming from the same place and are made of the same stuff, seemingly separate, but are really just one.
Understanding this is understanding Love and is the foundation of compassion.
On Christmas day last year, one of my gifts to Karina was a bucket list book, an empty book with prompts about things to do in life before you die. When she opened it, she looked up at me and said, “I love you so much, I’m so proud of you.”
At that moment, she realized, even before I did, that a major shift had occurred in me. That I finally understood what she knew all along. That life is meant to be lived. That priority should lie in the time spent with the people you love. We didn’t get a chance to fill out a single page in that book, but that didn’t matter. It was a major transformation, an alignment of understanding between us that she had always craved and finally received. I finally got it, and that meant so much to her.
As Karina has now left her physical body, this understanding has only grown within me. My focus each day is not on how much I can get done, but how good I can feel, how much I can connect with myself, how much love I can share, and how supportive I can be to those in need. Anything I can do to deepen my relationship with people in my life will take priority over everything else, other than my connection with myself (see Self-Love).
Now, this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped working and will let my businesses slide. On the contrary, my work is inspired and in flow. My focus is not on maximizing the bottom line, but empowering my employees to be their best, teaching them what I can, and building a system where everyone thrives. Financial reward is a byproduct of this work and it has shown as we’ve had the best year since the founding of my business 10 years ago, despite me working fewer hours than ever before.
This shift in priorities is contrary to what I believed most of my life. I was always taught to be successful, you have to grind and give it your all, even if that means you suffer and miss out on joy in your life. I did that for years, sacrificing my happiness in exchange for the possibility of future success. I always thought, "I’ll miss out on good times today so that I can have them later."
In Karina and I’s case, we will never get a later. That is a mistake I will never make again. Life is fragile and unpredictable, the only time you have is now. If you are lucky enough to have your loved one still in your life, I hope my experience of loss can be an inspiration for you to take full advantage of your time together, to live life in joy and love above all else. This is how I am living my life these days, and it is one of the greatest gifts Karina has ever given me. I know she is proud. Onwards and Upwards
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