What I Learned From the Life of My Grandpa

May 2, 2013

On Monday I spoke at my Grandpa Jerry’s funeral and on Tuesday I turned 35. It’s been an impactful few days, with a unique mix of memories from the past and hopes for the future. I was born in the small town of Troy, Montana, with a total population under 1,000. My Grandparents owned a fancy (Montana fancy, that is) restaurant and bar in the neighboring big city of Libby, Montana. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa carried with it many fond memories: sitting on Grandma’s lap playing Keno, drinking Shirley Temples, and petting their many horses. As we discussed these memories over the last few days with friends and family, I kept thinking of the amazing potential of one single life to influence so many.

The impact of a single life.

My Grandpa Jerry had a lot of friends. Dozens and dozens of people that showed up to remember his legacy. He was a logger, a restauranteur, a miner. He served in the Air Force, embraced three step-children as his own, had 12 grandchildren, over 30 great-grandchildren and many life-long friends. His life had a big impact on those he knew, and will continue to even after his passing.

When someone you love dies, it really forces you to think about your life in a whole new way. It has made me think about my legacy, and just what is I want to leave behind when I’m gone. Perhaps my oldest brother said it best when he said, “As you look around the corner of life, don’t forget what’s already by your side.” Your legacy might be defined by the one big thing you do, but it’s more likely to be defined by the millions of little things you do throughout your life.

Here are five things I learned from the life of my Grandpa: 

1. Everything teaches.

Everything we do tells a story. It tells a story about what we care about, how we spend our time reveals our most prized things in life. People are watching and being impacted for good or bad by everything we do. My Grandpa worked hard, and this had an impact on everyone he influenced. It wasn’t a lecture he gave about the 10 steps in hard work. It was a life on display. He taught us with his actions. 

2. It’s the little things that matter most.

Many people told stories about my Grandpa this week, and you’d be surprised how most of them were about simple, everyday pieces of life. He didn’t give a million dollars to charity, but he did give generously to his friends. He didn’t send his grandchildren to Disney Land every year, but he did use what he had to invest in us. It’s easy to live life waiting for the next big thing, but when we do, we miss the little things. Over a lifetime, the little things add up to a very big thing. Make them count.

3. Stuff is just a tool.

I talk about this in my book Money: God or Gift, but the cold, hard truth is that our stuff is just a tool. We put so much emphasis on the stuff we have or the stuff we want, but it’s simply a tool. A tool to help build a good life, but more importantly a tool to build up the lives of those we’re blessed to know and blessed to have an impact on.

4. Make sure you know what’s truly important.

Times like this give us the chance to reset our priorities, adjusting the goals on our horizon as needed. When we are confronted so closely with death, it’s a sobering opportunity to ask ourselves what matters most. It’s good to reflect where the course we’re on today will end up in 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now. We may have a vision for the future, but do our lives today align with that vision? Legacies don’t happen on accident.

5. As always, people are primary. 

As people started pouring into the funeral home to remember my Grandpa, I overheard one guy say, “I figured there would be a crowd.” There was. A crowd of people that were impacted by the life of my Grandpa. He held many different titles to many different people, but the one thing we all had in common was the fact that our lives were somehow blessed by him. At countless points along the course of his 80 years on Earth, he touched the hearts of many people.

The people we are given the opportunity to bless and influence are primary – always primary. Thank you, Grandpa, for understanding this and leaving a legacy of character that will last for many generations. You are missed!