Blog Post

The Importance of Living Life

The circle of life sculpture in Vigeland Park, Oslo
The circle of life sculpture in Vigeland Park, Oslo
Yesterday brought me a simple memo: live life.

It didn’t came on a piece of paper. It was more like a series of disjointed scenes from a movie reel lying on the floor, waiting to be clipped together. It didn’t come as a revelation; instead it came as itself: life.

Like many San Francisco days, it started out gray, wet and cold, enveloped in fog that makes you apprehensive. And like many California days, it ended in bright sunshine, and blue skies with warm wind that caresses the skin.

I started my uniquely American day at a Jewish Temple in Palo Alto, celebrating the life of my friends Saar and Patty’s baby boy. It ended with the memorial service of my friend Rajeev Motwani, a famed academic and venture investor, but most importantly a great human being, in a church on the Stanford University campus. It started with tears of joy and it ended with a quiet tear of sorrow.

And that’s just it — Friday turned out to be metaphor for life. If one event bookended the start of the journey, then the other simply highlighted the destination. And in the process it taught me that it is how we live that is really important.

Saar’s boy has his entire life ahead of him, just like a blank page, only to be filled by the ink of time. Rajeev’s life is like a great novel that has come to an end, filled with stories. I sat in the back of the church and heard a lot of Rajeev’s friends, family members and business colleagues tell stories about him at a heavily attended memorial service that included everyone from his current students to random strangers to two of his most famous students, Larry and Sergey. (Google has endowed a chair in Stanford’s computer science department in Rajeev’s name with a $2.5 million donation.)

Someone called him a great connector, others called him a brilliant mind. But to me, he was just a quiet, thoughtful, kind man, who spoke not with his words but with his actions. He communicated with a smile, and not with a frown. It was not who he was or what he did, but it was how he did it that will remain with me forever.

Of the many who spoke at the memorial, it was Lakshmi Pratury who put it best when she said (and I paraphrase) that in our life we spend too much time agonizing over things related to work, almost forgetting to celebrate and savor the little, countless moments of joy and happiness. And that’s what life is all about. She reminded us that Rajeev used to enjoy those countless moments. The little joys. Perhaps we should, too. (Share you memories about Rajeev at http://rememberingrajeev.com.)

Last night, when I had difficulty falling asleep after my long and emotional day, I decided to watch the season debut of “House.” In the episode, Dr. Greg House, my favorite malcontent (after me, obviously), when asked why he obsesses on failures so much, says, “Successes only last till someone screws them up; failures are forever.” I guess we’ve all thought about life in those terms. I know I did before my own brush with mortality.

Later in the same episode another character, Lydia, remarks: “Everything ends. Life ends. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the beginning.”

To Rajeev, good-bye till we meet again. To my friend Saar’s boy, welcome.

Photo Courtesy: The circle of life sculpture in Vigeland Park, Oslo by Quistnix via Flickr

46 Responses to “The Importance of Living Life”

  1. Beautiful sentiments, Om my friend. You and I have discussed the importance of living life more than once, and I’m glad to see you are doing so. The important things in life are not things, they are the people in our lives and how much they mean to us. Only we can show these people how much we care about them, and we must do so. It’s not good enough to think that they already know. Tell them and show them. Spend quality time with those who care.

  2. Wonderfully written, and aspired to inspired. What a talent of unique thoughts of good life and bad. Will someone be able to sort out all the goodness of life, leaving the all the unwanted pains of life? How skillful one can be to bring about the ‘corona’ of life in to the arena of life! Practice goodness immeasurably.

    Warm Regards
    Sardar Saeed Malik
    September 27, 2009

  3. Brett Glass

    Wish I could take the day off, Om. But I’m busy working at my business. People want Internet and I’ll provide it, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It’d be a lot easier to do this if I hadn’t lost all of my investors due to the threat of Internet regulation (which you and your editorial staff have been advocating on this site).

  4. Marivi Lerdo de Tejada

    The minister at my old UU church in NYC, Forrest Church, passed away this week. Below is an excerpt from the last letter he wrote to the congregation, less than a month before his death:

    Death may approach silently on tiny cats’ paws or sweep our loved ones (or us) away like a thief in the night. Hence, with our loved ones especially, we should never squander the opportunity when signing a letter, before setting the phone back in its cradle, or, from the kitchen or bedroom before the front door slams shut, of writing, speaking or shouting out, “I love you.”

    I love you.

    F.F.C. (RIP)

  5. I learned this decades ago from a racing car driver. Back in the day – before Armco fence and carbon fibre bathtubs and modern helmets.

    No less worthwhile in today’s world. I’ve outlived my parents’ generation as expected and pretty much all of my own – plus some of those who followed.

    I have a few old regrets I have trouble forgetting occasionally; but, getting them out in the air with someone you love and trust really does help. Got rid of a couple like that.

    Pleased as punch to see it’s still working well for you. Om.

    Bravo!

  6. I grew up with my mother telling me to live every day as though it were your last, because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I have tried to live up to that, but your notion of life being like a novel seems more gentle. Thank you for sharing this concept. It embodies what I would like my 4 year old to learn about life.

    I, too, watched House this week and after it ended discussed the “failures are forever” line with a friend. I definitely overlook my moments of success and focus on things I could have done better. While a bit of this IS healthy and gives me opportunity to grow, I need to work on forgiving myself. I know I am not unique here.

    Sometimes you read a something that puts life into perspective. I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  7. My brother died last year. He requested no funeral, but his visitation was over two days. On the first day, one couple we know had to leave because they were also going to a baby shower. On the second day, another couple who were present gave birth several hours later. I didn’t know it at the time, but the wife was in labour when she came to pay her last respects.

    These two events brought a deeper meaning to that day that I have a difficult time expressing. Thank you very much for writing this.

  8. Lindsay Ronga

    Om, so glad I came across this post. What a great reminder to just LIVE and LOVE free of judgement. I’m a huge fan of House. What a great episode/message on “freedom” and what that means. I think when we accept others, we accept ourselves and live free(r) from our own self-imposed barriers. A tweet I posted an hour ago: Take a moment, breathe in, open your heart & feel all the love that comes from that place. Exhale breaths of love today.
    thanks again for your thoughtful post.
    Linds

  9. I am in bed holding my one-week old son, Ryan and appreciated this post very much. I wanted to get to both of these events but life intervened. Om, everyone I meet who knows you (one of Om’s best friends was in the hospital having a baby while we were there) always speaks so highly of you. Thanks for being a good role model and let’s get together soon. How about this week?

  10. INSIGNIFICANCE OF WORK

    Fantastic post and thanks for putting things in perspective. We, especially readers of Gigaom, startup-types, Silicon Valley types etc. frequently forget the most important things in life. Thank you for reminding us that living life and appreciating the little things is far more important than obsessing about work.

  11. Well said, Om.

    Staying grounded in what’s amazing about right now is important and challenging, especially when a big part of what makes our work so engaging is excitement and optimism about the future. There’s richness in both, the trick is creating a balance — to savor today and look forward to the future, in appropriate measure.

      • Disclaimer: I swear I am not some crazy hippie!

        One thing that’s helped me is thinking of the finding of the balance as a practice, rather than a finite solution. To be looking for it at all means your tending to its creation.

        It’s so VERY easy to get distracted, whether it’s because you’re so consumed with the day-to-day or you’re future-tripping has creeped upwards and whoops, suddenly it’s eating up 99% of your headspace. It’s also easy to get frustrated, since we’re usually failing, at least a little, which makes it tempting to give up trying at all.

        Maybe we’ll never find the perfect balance, but we can enjoy and appreciate being mindful of trying to get there? I guess I do sound like a crazy hippie, huh?