If you've ever found yourself trying to figure out what to say to a loved one near the end of his or her life, you know how challenging and uncomfortable it can be.
I found myself in that situation during the final days of my dad's life. He was an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur, but the long hours he'd spent working and the fact that he'd neglected his health had finally caught up to him.
Sitting by his hospital bedside, I wasn't sure what to say. I wanted to connect on a deep level. Speaking from my heart, I said, "Dad, it's been a privilege to have been your son, and I want you to know that I will spend the rest of my life practicing lessons I've learned from you and also teaching those lessons to others."
My dad lay on the bed, head on his pillow, eyes closed. He didn't say anything, but I sensed he could hear me. "But," I continued, "I know as I do that I will spend the rest of my life comparing myself to you."
A few moments passed in silence before he responded, "Don't. Don't measure yourself against me. I don't know if you're more than I am or less than I am — I really don't — but it's not important. Measure yourself against yourself. It is enough."
His words were one of the greatest gifts he ever gave me. They contained such humility, wisdom and generosity. Here was one of the most successful and respected people I'd ever met, encouraging me to believe in myself. He knew I thought so highly of him and wanted to be like him, and he was helping me to believe in myself.
While speaking with many people who knew my dad, I learned of hundreds of acts of service he performed for them. Some of these were small like buying a refrigerator for someone or paying for a car repair or covering a medical bill. Others were large like paying off a mortgage or giving or lending money to people to save them from bankruptcy. His generosity extended beyond money, though. He also gave of himself, freely sharing his time and advice and frequently performing personal acts of service to others.
I wondered, "When did he have time for all that? Was it between negotiating NBA players' salaries or building new automobile dealerships?" My dad never told me of these acts of service — I figure he was either too busy performing them or too humble to share.
It hit me that providing service to others wasn't something my dad did after he became successful. Providing service to others (always with my mom as his partner) was how he became successful. It's whythe two of them became successful.