Living fully, if too briefly
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.