How My Father’s Death Taught Me to Take Responsibility for Creating My Future

Man watching a sunsetMy dad had a massive heart attack at 47 years old. I was 21 at the time — just shy of 22. To say it had a profound impact on my life is an understatement. As I’m writing this I’m in my early 40’s. Crazy to think that I’m not that far off from how old he was when he died. Crazier still to think about how that event was a catalyst for change in my own life.

The point of my sharing this isn’t to garner sympathy. Instead, I hope to share some of the lessons I learned as a result. There’s truth in realizing that even the most painful or difficult challenges can bring with them important lessons, assuming we are willing to accept they exist, and be open to identifying them. Often, we just have to get a bit of time behind whatever the experience was to fully realize there was a life lesson to learn.

I often joke that I’ve lived my professional life a bit like the main character in the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  If you haven’t seen the movie, the short of it is that the main character ages backwards. In my case, I started working at 15 in our family business at the time — my first job was to do outbound telephone sales calls and prospect for new customers.

I can still remember my dad and I developing a script of what to say when I called. He said, “if you will remember it’s just a numbers game, and also remember that each person you reach, is one more person that you might be able to help through what we offer, in time this will be easy.” He taught me to track progress, and with each attempt learn and get better. In fairly short order I got better.

Looking back, there were a ton of lessons I learned from working with him at the time. Perhaps most importantly is that during this time I started cultivating my entrepreneurial mindset. I was able to see that my work life didn’t have to look a set way. I came to realize that I had control, at least as much as any of us do — not necessarily the huge stuff life throws our way, like life threatening illnesses, when it’s our time to die, or even how others choose to respond to us, but many, many things we do have some level of control, if we will only accept that we do. That control comes into play when we realize it’s how we react to those things that are happening to us.

I’m talking about things like what we do professionally, and the quality of friendships and connections we make in life. Many things. I’ve learned to accept the truth in the statement, “we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always control how we react to what happens.” And friend, make no mistake, how we react is something that’s always under our control.

With that said I bring to you…

10 Life Lessons for Living Life on Your Own Terms

1. Always treat people with respect regardless of their perceived position or place in society.

My dad used to tell me, “Josh, you need to be as comfortable sitting on a front porch with someone wearing overalls, as you are sitting at a formal event wearing a tuxedo.” It’s true,  every one of us comes into this world naked, and not a one of us makes our way out of it alive.

One of the best lessons I learned early in my life was when a man showed up at our office. He was wearing work clothes. He was friendly enough, but I didn’t think much either way beyond that. We chatted a bit — then he went in to meet my father.

After their meeting, and he’d left the office my dad asked me if I’d met him. I said I had. My dad said, “would you believe he owns multiple rental houses and some apartments?” Today it wouldn’t surprise me at all, but I confess that at the time it simply didn’t fit with what I was sure someone who had accomplished what he had at that point in his life was supposed to “look like.”

It’s silly to think I saw it that way at the time, but I did. And I would bet if you’re honest with yourself you would admit to seeing things like that the same. Hey, in many cases it’s culture that tries to convince us to view things that way.

Thinking back on that lesson I’m so grateful I learned that you simply can’t always judge a book by its cover. If I had never learned it, I shudder to think of all the opportunities, experiences, and incredible people I would have missed out on along the way.

2. You can always make a comeback from any shortcoming or failure.

It’s not where you find yourself now, but where you end up that counts. You still get to count something a success no matter how many bumps you experience along the way. Several years prior to my father starting the business that I ended up working in, he had went through a business failure.

The short version is that he trusted some friends and colleagues with a major part of a project he was working on. When they didn’t honor their agreement things went really bad. We ended up losing virtually everything financially and having to start over. My father had been successful in business from a fairly young age, at least with regards to how most people choose to define success.

He began in insurance sales in his early 20’s. Eventually went on to sell his agency, moved into real-estate development and completed a number of successful projects. He had a track record of great accomplishments. I have to imagine that played a role in his ability to make his eventual comeback in another business.

You see, while there are times that things don’t work out — it’s important that we be able to distance who we are, from whatever shortcoming or failure we might happen to be in the middle of.

We are not our failures or mistakes, they don’t have to define us, unless we allow them to. When you’re faced with great adversity, one of the key things you have to do is to find something else to pursue. In my father’s case, he ended up starting another business. It began modestly enough, he literally started it on our dining room table.

Several years later when I went to work in the business it had moved to a small office in town. And by the time my father passed away we had moved the business into a much larger office and had a full team of really wonderful people. That certainly isn’t to say that the path was all smooth sailing. It wasn’t always, but I did get to see the comeback, and even more importantly I ended up being a part of it.

Being able to see all this unfold has served me well along my own life’s journey, not just professionally, but in my personal life too. When things don’t work out I’ve been able to lean back on the understanding that I can evaluate the situation. Plan a new course if needed, or just make any adjustments and by putting action behind the plan begin to see results. We human beings are unbelievably resilient.

Being able to grasp that adversities which spring up in my life are meant to be overcome has served me well. When you stretch beyond what scares you there’s immense opportunity for not only personal growth, but also untold rewards.

3. Know your strengths and delegate to those who are stronger in the areas you aren’t.

Over the years I have observed that it’s very common with small business owners and entrepreneurs to try and handle all aspects of their businesses. They do everything from sales, to handling the accounting. It’s hard for them to relinquish control in areas — even when doing certain tasks isn’t going to bring the biggest return on investment of their time.

Over the years I’ve certainly found myself in the same boat. For example, years ago when I started my first site I did all the design and development of it. I still enjoy tweaking parts of the site, but as a general rule, rather than getting into the weeds of it as I once did, I choose to have others that are much more gifted in that area do it for me. Could I do it? Sure. Would the time I trade doing it all be as an efficient use of my time as say if I decided to write an article for the site, or work on developing another product, like a book or audio program? I don’t think so.

See, tasks aren’t all created equal. They may very well all be important, and need to be done. It just doesn’t mean that we need to be the one doing them. We need to assemble a team of people who we trust, and are proficient in the areas that we need help in. Then it’s a simple matter of delegating whatever tasks need doing as they’re necessary.

You can take this approach in business as easily as you can your personal life.

At a certain point you’re going to have a hard time scaling your efforts if you can’t delegate things that need done to others. Starting out you may be able to swing it, but as your list of responsibilities grow it’s going to get overwhelming, and your stress level is going to keep expanding.

Even if you think you’re doing it all well — the reality is you probably aren’t doing it as efficiently as you would if you got help in certain areas. Not to mention, what would it mean in terms of added revenue for your company if you got to spend the bulk of your time doing business development and sales, while you had someone else handling the bookkeeping and administrative duties that needed to be done. Obviously you will check back in regularly to make sure the other person is doing things correctly — that’s a given. It’s just that the entire thing isn’t on your plate anymore.

Another thing to keep in mind as you delegate are these words from Craig Groeschel, “If you delegate tasks, you create followers. If you delegate authority, you create leaders.” I don’t think he’s talking as much about the type work or task you’re delegating as the attitude that people will bring to the work you have them doing.

Leadership isn’t a position or job title. People can practice leadership in every aspect of their lives. I can assure you that if you’ll develop people to perform their work, and develop into great leaders themselves everything is going to be a lot better than if you end up with a bunch of followers that never do much more than take orders on what you want done, and wait for you to approve every single task they do before, and never feeling empowered enough to move to the next task without your OK.

Again, it’s not about relinquishing total control. Instead it’s about letting those we delegate to grow and as  result become vastly more effective, which ultimately helps us, and the quality of work they are doing for us.

4. Contrary to conventional wisdom it doesn’t always take a lot of money to get started.

I’m not saying in some instances, and some businesses you aren’t going to need money to get started. My point is that there are bunch of businesses you can get into where you start small, even with no money initially, and grow as you go.

Remember, the comeback business my dad started, he literally worked off the dining room table to begin with. And by the way, this was a business that required him to meet face to face with customers. How did he pull that off you’re wondering?

He would conduct business over the phone initially, calling on prospective clients. Then for convenience sake, he would setup appointments to take the application with customers at either their home, or office. Whatever was most convenient for them. You see, he turned what most people would see as an insurmountable obstacle, not having an office to meet clients, into something that customers actually appreciated even more — him meeting them where it was most convenient for them.

The bottom line is there will always be things that will keep you from the goals you’re after — unless you are willing to get creative and work through them. That obstacle ended up being a key differentiator for us as a company. As the business grew we met clients at the office, but there were still salespeople that would meet customers wherever it was most convenient for the customer. If you take inventory of your situation I bet you can find some things that look like roadblocks, but with a bit of creativity you can make work for you too.

5. You can leave a lasting legacy.

There’s a saying I bet you’ve heard before. It says “in 100 years no one will remember you, or what you’ve done.” Or at least heard some variant of that. I think perhaps whoever said that wanted a reason not to live their life in a way that made a difference. In my experience I’ve seen where that can be true, but I’ve also seen many instances where people are remembered well beyond that 100 year mark.

I would humbly submit that it’s worth trying to live your life in a way that you and I strive to leave a legacy that outlasts our time here on earth. Not just for what it makes of us to do so, but for the way in which it can positively impact others. It is a worthy goal, and one that’s worth the effort.

I remember realizing that everyone had the opportunity to leave a legacy, not just the select few who made it into the history books, right around the time of my father’s passing. His funeral was packed with people. People from all walks of life. Varying socioeconomic statuses. You name it.

As I would have conversations with people about him, and how having known him in some way made an impact on them, I found a lesson I have taken into my own life. He lived the dash in his life — that is, the time between his birth and death, serving others.

In his case, he served them as friends, and clients. And sometimes as an encourager. Lots of various ways, but most of all, providing value to others. That’s not to say my dad was perfect, he had flaws as we all do, but he did try to lead a life of serving others. And in doing so, there are countless people better off for having been in his life.

My intent for writing this is to capture some of the things I learned from him, yet I’m sure I’ll neglect to include many important lessons.

I hope that each day you will take this particular lesson to heart. Accept that you can live your days by happenstance, in fact, many people do just that, or you can choose to start doing things that can build a lasting legacy for yourself — and in doing so help others to lead richer lives at the same time.

One of the best ways to get started is to look at the lives of those you admire, read books and articles about them. See what they do. Emulate and model them when doing so makes sense. Practice the skills you learn in your life.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the decisions you make can have a lasting impact on not only your life, but those around you. That doesn’t mean you can dwell in the past and beat yourself up forever over bad decisions you’ve made. It does mean that you need to always be asking yourself if the decisions you’re making are helping to develop the legacy you want to leave after your time on earth is up. If not, course correct. This isn’t about being perfect. Believe me, anyone that knows me will tell you that I have made plenty of mistakes, and taken wrong turns in life. We all have.

This is about realizing that we aren’t our past. We aren’t our mistakes and bad decisions. That you and I have the ability to change, adapt, grow, and become better versions if needed. Be intentional about the legacy you will one day leave. I promise you it’s worth the effort.

6. Life is precious, and we’re not guaranteed tomorrow. Make each day count.

This one is obvious on the surface. Yet, how often do we really live each day with this in mind. Ensuring that we are filling our lives with rich life experiences. Doing more of the things we say we’d like to do. Learning the new skills, or pursuing the opportunities that are around us. I came to realize that there is power in the “start.”

When an idea comes to you that you believe you want to pursue, I’ve found the difference between whether or not one ever does or not, is often in the time it takes them to get started on the activity. When we begin a thing it helps to anchor us to whatever it is. The longer we wait, the more likely the law of diminishing intent will set in. To get started you don’t have to take a huge first step either.

When I first started what is now it really began with an interest in sharing the work of others speakers and authors who I admired. People like Zig Ziglar, Norman Vincent Peale, and Napoleon Hill to name a few. My “start” was literally just a page where I linked from my website to the sites of those people I admired, and thought had a message others would benefit from hearing. From that humble beginning the website began to feature articles from many of those people. As the audience took off, more and more folks would contribute to it.

The point is, if I’d never started, as small as a step as the first one was it’s likely things never would have been more than another well intentioned thought. It doesn’t mean that every undertaking is going to succeed. At the same time by getting started I like to remind myself that I’ve got at least a 50 / 50 chance of success — just because I was willing to begin. Consider how many people don’t even take the first leap — don’t join their ranks.

I’ve come to see the journey as important, and get joy and fulfillment from the steps along the way. When I am writing for example — I love having it completed, but the process of pulling the ideas out of my mind, and getting them into some coherent form is rewarding too. Just how coherent my words are at times is up for debate — and I’ll let you be the judge. Haha.

The takeaway from this lesson is not to live your life in fear that we’re not promised tomorrow, but instead to try live a fuller life. Whatever it means to you — try to take in more of what life has to offer. Make deeper friendships and cultivate relationships. Try to do meaningful work.

That doesn’t even mean your job has to be something you’re passionate about, find time for something you get joy from. I know today it’s almost blasphemous to say you don’t have to be passionate about the work you do. Please understand that I’m not saying that passion isn’t important. I’m just saying you can have it in one area — and perhaps not in others.

For example, let’s say you work in a career that you’re not terribly excited about. You don’t completely dread it, but you certainly don’t wake up with the tune of the Sound of Music running through your mind as you head out to the office. Yet, you do have another area in your life which you find great joy. Let’s say you love to travel. While you may not be able to travel for a living (many do though) you can still look at the job that you may not have passion for, as a source to allow you to pursue the thing you do — travel. It’s a shift in the way we see things, but it can make all the difference. You might also choose to pursue ideas that get you excited.

There’s no rule that says you have to burn bridges on what’s paying the bills. In fact, there’s something to be said about being able to fully pursue a venture without having the challenge of paying your bills. Some folks will agree with what I’m saying and some won’t.

My point is if you have a dream and want to pursue it there are almost always limitless ways to get started, and the key is that you find what works best for you, and get started sooner than later. I’ve found time and time again that the quicker you begin the more likely you are to see things through.

Whenever doubt sets in — you know, the voice that tells us we can’t possibly do something. Remind yourself that in fact you have no idea just how much you are capable of. That the only way to know for sure that you can’t do something is to never get started. Then, write a quick plan, include a first step to take, and get started. You may very well look back in amazement at how you’ve turned your big idea into reality.

7. When you pursue something, be in it to win it.

Whatever you have deemed worth your time give your best to it. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the day after my dad passed away. When I think back on that day it’s almost like I’m watching a movie — where someone else is playing the role of me.

You see, I was in the office along with a number of other people from our company. Why was I there? Because lots of customers had put their trust in us to help serve them. Plus, there was a whole team of people that was also feeling sadness, and of course uncertainty for their own futures. It would have been easy to simply retreat to a private place, get my thoughts together and return when I was up to it. I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone that would choose that route.

In my case, I had been raised and taught over the years of being around the business that you need to serve your customers, and those who put their trust in you with special care. And so, to the best of my ability at the time, that’s what I did.

That’s not to say I didn’t grieve in my own way. Of course I did. I just found that being there that day was so important, not just to help keep a little security and normalcy in what might otherwise have spun into an far worse situation, but also because I learned that even when times are especially tough it’s important to help and serve others.

It helped me immensely to get out of my own head and to take my mind off what was my current reality. There was certainly plenty of time to grieve — and I did. But deciding to be at the office that day was the right decision for me. Again, it may not be for most, but it was for me. And I believe it was very important for our team members and the customers who had put their trust in us.

I share the above example not to toot my own horn. I’m no superman, believe me. What I hope you take from the story is that whatever you happen to be pursuing, there will be times when you just don’t want to show up. Show up anyway. If you ultimately decide you want to move in a different direction, that’s OK, but while you’re still at it, be present and always show up in a big way.

8. Maintain a workable plan for how you’re going to accomplish your goals.

I’m big on simple action plan lists. While I definitely believe in goal setting — both long-term and short-term goals. I think it’s worth going the extra mile and keeping a daily action plan of what needs to be done in order to make sure your goals actually get done.

Make no mistake, in most cases writing your goals down isn’t enough. You need to be working on them each day in order for them to come to fruition. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s amazing how many people claim goal setting doesn’t work — yet upon digging in a little deeper it becomes evident that they didn’t do much beyond the initial goal planning phase of writing their goals down.

Friend, that’s akin to declaring you’re going to make the dean’s list this semester and never cracking open a book or studying. It’s just not going to happen. You have to be an active participant and working on what you want to see play out in your life.

Don’t over-complicate your actions list. It can be as simple as a daily to do list. Just make sure whatever you are working on gets recorded on your list. Remember, whatever gets your attention gets done. Write the important stuff down and keep it nearby. This simple habit will multiply your productivity and keep you plugged into working on what’s most important. This is a very practical way to be intentional everyday.

9. Ultimately, the choice is yours to live the kind of life you want. Choose wisely everyday.

This was an especially big insight for me to grasp. A real eureka moment. In fact, I spend time on a fairly regular basis evaluating where I am in life — and making course corrections whenever I feel the need to do so. It’s easy to get in a rut and feel stuck in life. This occurs in most cases because we lose sight of the fact that we have control over what direction we are taking in our lives.

We get to decide what people we enter into relationships with. We get to decide the work we pursue. As we discussed above, we don’t get to control it all, but we aren’t puppets, we get to play a large role. The thing is, often we just run through the motions of our day, just reacting to what comes our way. It’s no wonder why we feel stuck at times.

It’s liberating and freeing to know that we can change our lot in life by the decisions and actions we take. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be easy. It may very well mean stretching some comfort zone you’ve put firmly in place, but it’s in your ability to do so, and thus change the course of your life if you decide to. That should be incredibly empowering. It certainly is for me. And the cool thing is that life change doesn’t always have to involve some massive action. A simple decision acted upon day after day can get you to places you’d never dream were possible.

The interesting thing about putting movement behind a plan, no matter how small is that overtime your momentum builds. Your belief in your ability to accomplish whatever it is also builds up. Action placed firmly behind a worthy goal or idea can create magic.

Each day I would encourage you to look at your life like a canvas. One in which you can paint whatever masterpiece you wish. Instead of paint, you’ll be using your mind to envision what it will look like, and to plan the steps out for getting there. And by taking those action steps you will find yourself moving closer to the plan you’ve written down.

Everyday come back to this work of art you’re creating. Look at your progress. Evaluate what needs to be done next. Be an active participant and you’ll be astounded by what a richer, fuller life you will find yourself living.

Living a BIG LIFE is about being intentional in the direction you move in your life. You will make mistakes and take wrong directions, but you will find it far easier to make the necessary corrections if you’re living your life as an active participant than simply floating through it and reacting to whatever happens to come your way.

10. Cultivate and attain mastery of the soft Skills.

Everyone knows it’s important to have a strong command of whatever technical skills are required in the areas a person wants to pursue. I would say it’s equally important to have great “soft skills.” Think of these as things like: the ability to have control over your own emotions, solid decision making skills, strong self-motivation and not being susceptible to procrastination, and leadership skills to name a few.

Additionally, being able to work well in a team environment, strong creativity and problem solving skills are also examples of important “soft skills.” That isn’t an end all description, but should give a good idea of what’s involved. Each of these skills are incredibly important in their own right. I would suggest spending time daily improving your soft skills. Doing so can be as simple as following the writings and blogs or experts who happen to teach in the given area you’re interested in becoming more proficient in.

Any skill set you want to learn is readily available. Provided you take the initiative to dip in and learn it. I admit to being biased here, but the website I founded years ago ( is a terrific resource for honing your soft skills. There you can find some of the leading experts and thought leaders sharing on all the different types of soft skills, from motivation, to leadership, communication, success thinking — you name it. Just as you want to stay proficient with your technical skills, so too do you want to put the time in so you can excel in this area.

An important thing about the soft skills is that they are transferable, and can be applied regardless of what industry, or area of life you are operating in at the time. They’ll help you to perform better in a professional setting, as much as your personal life.

I would encourage you to keep a journal if you don’t already. Don’t see it as a diary, where you put in the events of your day. Instead, put the noteworthy things you learn in it. The goals and dreams you aspire too.

While I do put things that happen to me — daily in some cases, I avoid the urge to make it a place for recording “gripe sessions.” If I think having it recorded in my journal will serve me in some way I’ll include it.

Whenever I hear something noteworthy on a podcast, or read something I’ll put it in my journal. Overtime it’s become a remarkable resource — and even a place of validation that I’m growing and becoming a better version of myself.

Reflection, just as application is an important part in the self growth process. We don’t have a shortage of knowledge, and knowing what we need to do in order to get the results we are after. I think our challenge is that we’re short on actually doing, course correcting as needed, and ultimately sticking through on things until we see them through.

Your journal will be a welcome companion along your path towards a better you. This idea will really help you along your journey. Use it and be the better for it.

I hope you found the lessons above helpful. There’s a funny thing about reflective writing — if I had tried to write this article even a few years after the event I’m not sure I would have been able to identify a lot of the things I now see as life lessons.

It’s funny how getting a bit of distance behind something, no matter how difficult it was at the time — can offer life lessons that allow for growth if we are open to heeding what those lessons are trying to teach us. I suspect if I were come back to this topic several years from now I’d have new insights to share. Perhaps I’ll do that. For now, I hope you will apply what I’ve shared and in doing so find it helpful.

It’s Your Life, LIVE BIG!
Josh Hinds

* Author of It’s Your Life, LIVE BIG, Why Perfect Timing is a Myth, and Motivational Quotes for Living BIG.