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22 February 2017

Living fully, if too briefly

Written by
Jennifer Garvey Berger

Our friend and colleague Tim Pidsley died this weekend in his home in Christchurch. Last week Tim went on the grueling and beautiful BDO Wellington to Auckland cycle challenge. He seems to have arrived home over the weekend, gone to sleep, and apparently never woke up. A friend found him there after he uncharacteristically missed a meeting Monday morning.

Some of you reading this blog will be colleagues who know well Tim’s ready smile and probing questions. Some of you will be clients who had the pleasure of working with Tim and learning from and with him. Many of you reading this will have never met Tim and might be tempted to skip over this and leave the grieving to those who were fortunate enough to know him. But I think there’s lots to say about life and leadership and uncertainty for all of us here.

Tim was one of the first colleagues I met once I came to New Zealand, and I took him out for a coffee and a pizza seven or eight years ago to try and lure him into working with me. I was attracted by his fine mind, his curious nature, his ready smile. As the years passed and we started Cultivating Leadership, he was our first associate, and he has worked by our side with nearly every large leadership development client we’ve had. He was always a keen—and kind—observer of human nature as well as a thoughtful teacher and facilitator. This year at our whole firm meeting he told me he wanted to come closer in, get involved in the design of our programs and not just the delivery. I was looking forward to that.

Tim’s death makes that impossible. In fact, it makes many things impossible. All of the conversations we meant to have and the work we meant to do together. The collaborations we were going to get to as soon as our schedules opened up. You know this lesson, I’m sure—live each day as though it could stand as your last.

But really, when you’re in your 30s or 40s or even 50s, you can say those words and still think you have a few decades to live into them. It is the constant error our brain offers us—we are not prepared, really, for the great uncertainty of the world, no matter how often we talk or teach about it. We are not prepared for the fact of our mortality, even though no one has ever made it through life alive. We know about our pending death from that first existential crisis we have as little kids, when falling asleep gets frightening. And then, for some of us, at some point totally unexpectedly, falling asleep really is the end.

I believe that Tim lived his 52 years as well as it is possible to live. He loved life, loved his work, loved his colleagues. He had close circles of friends around the globe, in his native UK and his adopted New Zealand. Tim was a Christian and his faith was strong and pure. It guided his actions and I think was a part of his greatness. His faith, his fine mind, and his huge heart connected him to his purpose, and he lived that purpose whether he was working with clients, kicking around ideas with colleagues, or sailing on his little boat, riding the wind and looking for dolphins through the surf.

At Cultivating Leadership, one of our core values is bringing our whole selves to work. We are a community of colleagues who are friends, a community of friends who work together. We  support one another to grow and change and in so doing, we both deepen our friendship and also deepen the skills and capacities we bring to our clients. Bringing our whole selves has many upsides, but the downsides are that when one of your colleagues is suddenly gone, there is a hole in your heart much bigger and harder to fill than the hole in the facilitation schedule. This is a key part of the attraction Tim found at Cultivating Leadership, as our first associate years ago when this firm was really just an idea. He told me last month that it fed his soul to be in a place of openness, vulnerability, and kindness along with deep expertise and intellectual rigor. He told me that combination made him feel most alive.

And being most alive is the point. Being open to deep relationships anywhere opens us to pain, but at work it can be particularly scary. Today we are feeling that openness as the wind of Tim’s loss howls through. Still, one of the lessons Tim’s life—and his bewildering death—teaches is that living fully is the thing that matters. Living fully at work, on a bicycle, with friends and family. What we want is a life that feels most alive for as long as we get to live it.

So, in honor of Tim today, I wonder if each of us can go out and be just slightly more alive today than we would have been without him. I don’t know what quite that means, but I didn’t know yesterday how to live in a world without Tim today. So we’ll just have to do it the way we do everything in complexity and uncertainty and figure it out as we go along. In this way, whether we get another year or another decade or three, we will stretch into whatever time we have and fill into it, as Tim did last week on his bicycle, riding through hills and plains in this beautiful land.

18 thoughts on “Living fully, if too briefly”

  1. John & Marie Randall says:

    Thank you so much for this tribute to Tim. We have known Tim and his family for more than forty years. A precious man so prematurely gone. But what a life he lived – full of love and service and full-on activity. He will be missed by so many.

    1. Jennifer Garvey Berger says:

      Thank you so much, John and Marie and I’m so sorry for your loss–for the world’s loss. We don’t get to choose how many days we have, but we get to choose how to live those days. Tim chose beautifully–which is exactly why he’ll be so missed by so many.

  2. Marcia Hyatt says:

    A beautiful tribute and invitation to live a bit more fully today. Thank you for sharing. And my heartfelt sympathies for your loss of a wonderful friend and colleague.

  3. Thank you for your tribute to Tim it reflected so much of my experience of him. Tim joined my company Minerva 30 years ago as an instructor in outdoor pursuits. He stayed with us and helped develop us, so that we ended up running teambuilding and leadership programs worldwide. He was a cornerstone with values. He would turn intuitive off the wall ideas into practical reality with a timetable. After he left Minerva and went to New Zealand a small group of us would meet up with him, usually once a year when he came back to the UK and share what was happening. It was clear New Zealand was made for him and him for it. A chance for him to implement his integrity and values. We will miss him.

  4. Keith burgess says:

    Thank you for the honest words and love. I heard last night and still find it hasn’t sunk in, such a loss

  5. andy simpson says:

    Jennifer – thanks for such a considered reflection and in so many ways it speaks of Tim’s constancy – that the man I knew at university 30+ years ago; climbed with; played squash with; occasionally cycled with; had a beer with; shared birthdays and weddings with; worked with and prayed with – is the same man you describe.

    the grief of loss is healthy – albeit unpleasant – but to face it unexpectedly and with it the realisation of unfulfilled promise is all the harder. BUT there is contentedness in knowing Tim was engaged in so much of what he loved and made him the vital man we will remember. AND there is confidence in the Hope which was so central to him. #nopuncturesormidgesinheaven!! (please pass on love to AR)

  6. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for this loving tribute to your beloved friend and colleague. Healing thoughts to you all.

  7. Jennifer, Sadly I did not know Tim, but the beautiful way you speak about and remember him speaks volumes about Tim and you and your team. Blessings to all those who loved and cared for Tim.

  8. Alastair Mitchell-Baker says:

    Thank you for a beautiful reflection on a wonderful wise gentle and generous colleague and friend – we loved him being part of the Tricordant family in the UK when he could visit and virtually join in. We heard about and loved hearing about leadership lab and cultivating leadership too. Tim had so much to give that it seemed right that he worked with some many in his network so generously.

  9. Kathrin O'Sullivan says:

    Thank you Jennifer for this beautiful piece on Tim that captures his essence so well. We miss him. And I’m sure he wants us to live life to the fullest.

  10. Bill Zybach says:

    Tim and I had talked on a number of occasions – about working together – though New Zealand will a pull, Tim has always been a magnet for me. I feel deeply privileged to have worked and played with Tim – it was always authentic, fun, and of substance for my mind, body, and of utmost – and paradoxically – beautifully subtle. I have never crossed paths with such a man, and so like many others – I Am Blessed!

  11. Rev. Richard E. James says:

    Simultaneously, I extend my warmest wishes to your team and encouragement as you grieve in healthy ways, and affirm the great blessing it must have been to work with such a person as Tim Pidsley. I celebrate the meaningful life that he led and the gifts to his colleagues he left behind. Perhaps that is one reason why the grieving task is weighty, yet worthy.

    One day soon I hope to matriculate through your programs. Until then I offer this recent blog article written to encourage those in the midst of life’s journey filled with adversity and uncertainty. http://www.ahchealthenews.com/2017/02/17/working-patients-darkest-days/

    May the blessings of health, faith, hope, and love be yours.

    Serving Humanity Inspired by Divine Benevolent Intent

    Rev. Richard E. James, Senior Staff Chaplain, M.Div., BCC,
    Advocate Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children’s Hospital
    Mission and Spiritual Care

  12. Paul Lane says:

    Your tribute sums up the many qualities that Tim had an in abundance, especially his love of life. I worked with Tim on many management and leadership programmes with Minerva Consulting from 1991 onwards and I would also call him my spiritual friend as we shared our faith and beliefs which have guided our lives. I will pray for him and will fondly remember the times that we were together, as I grieve for his untimely passing from this world.

  13. Sandra says:

    Thank you for this tribute and message – I didn’t know Tim yet your reflections touch me deeply. I will indeed live life a little differently today and the next and the next …..

  14. Marc Kerslake says:

    A beautiful and nuanced tribute. I didn’t know Tim nearly as well as I would have liked, but his strength of character and deep well of wisdom was clear even in our scattered meetings.

  15. Brendon Packard says:

    I did not know Tim but remember his face as we lined up for the Wellington to Auckland event this year.
    I only learned today of his passing and am deeply saddened from this news.
    It was a tough yet satisfying race and although I didn’t complete the “full monty” (those who did the cycle know what I mean) due to an accident I’m certain he had a great time doing what he loved.
    Thank you for posting this… they are very thoughtful words and through them know a little of the large hole Tim has left behind.

  16. Bridget Mintoft says:

    Hello, and thank you for that moving and wise tribute. You and Tim have reminded me of the importance of living with gusto while also living with uncertainty and loss. I’m sorry for the pain you feel. Following your suggestion, I’m going out to buy tools, to make beautiful things.

  17. Andy Pidsley says:

    Thank you Jennifer, beautifully written. It was lovely to meet you at Tims NZ memorial and also great to meet Keith, Wendy and Anne when they went well out of their way to travel to Exeter to meet our family. You may be interested to hear that I am currently reading Tims copy of yours and Keiths book with interest.
    Love to all the team at CL.
    Andy (Tims brother)

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