March 1, 2022
He was one of the most successful men in his company. He closed all the big deals. He won all the industry awards. He was held in high esteem by all who worked with him and for him.
In spite of his many accomplishments, he was always gracious, never arrogant. Perhaps understanding that no achievement was great enough to excuse him from the ultimate fate that awaits us all.
That fate eventually came for him. And at his funeral, among the many tributes shared by friends and family, was the reading of a poem, titled The Indispensable Man.
Written by Saxon White Kessinger, the poem is the ultimate ego check — revealing in its lines that no one is indispensable. Here’s a short extract,
“Sometime when you feel that your going,
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;
Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.”
While it may seem odd that these were the words shared at the funeral of such a great and successful man, it was revealed that he often opened his public speaking remarks with this poem. He said it kept him grounded.
In many ways the poem was prophetic. The company where he worked — where he was once the hero, the rock star — it’s still in business. It continued after his retirement, and barely noticed his passing. In fact, very few of the current employees even attended the funeral. Most were unaware that the world had lost a man that was once integral to their firm’s success. He had made a splash in the water but not a hole.
It was suggested to me to include this anecdote in a commentary. I rejected the idea at first. Too depressing. How meaningless is life if our accomplishments are so quickly forgotten? It’s not something you like to think about.
But I did think about it, and the more I did, the more I realized the brutal, painful truth it reveals is not depressing at all but liberating. How freeing to let go of that egotistical worry that the world can’t get on without us. It’s a particularly novel concept in our narcissistic, image-obsessed age.
I don’t think the point of the poem is to give up, rather the opposite. Life is short, and there is no time to waste. True, none of us are indispensable and when we are gone most of us will not be widely remembered outside our circle of family and friends. That this man learned this truth early on, might have contributed to his success — his drive to work hard today.
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