07 Jul Lessons From My 108 Year-Old Friend
One of the most remarkable people I have ever met passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 108 (no, that isn’t a typo!). Most of what I have tried to teach over the last forty years was embodied in this one man’s life. John Boyd was born in 1913, the year after the Titanic sank, and he lived an extraordinary life.
I met John in 2005 when I conducted what I called the “wise elder” project in which I interviewed 250 people over the age of sixty who had been identified as the “wisest older person” someone knew. At the time, he was only 92. He was featured, among others, in my book The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die based on what I learned from those wise elders.
The Four Lessons from John’s Life
In honor of John’s passing, I want to share a few lessons from his life, in the hope that it might help us lead long, full, purposeful lives. The first lesson is Stay Curious. Dissecting John’s long life shows that well into his 100s he remained an incredibly curious person. He never stopped learning, never stopped growing. He kept his mind active, kept on seeking new knowledge. John came to stay with us when he was 96 and during this visit, his desire for interesting conversations challenged me to keep up with him every evening.
He was focused on purpose, and we know that people who have a purpose are happier and live longer. For most of his entire adult life, he was dedicated to helping build a more equitable, fair world. This was his purpose, to which he remained dedicated right until the end. One of the things that struck me about him was that he told me was not afraid to die, but was sorry he wouldn’t get to see what came “next for humanity.”
Love was important to John. He kept on building and nurturing relationships throughout his later years. He was also continually inspired by younger people including the new social movements driven by youth to create a better world. He wrote: “I’m an optimist. I believe that future generations – those of my two great granddaughters and those that follow – will find a way to challenge the greed and corruption and injustice in the world, and know that some of my efforts for a better society will not have been in vain.”
Two Enduring Images
As I think back on my time with John, there are two enduring images. He told me that as he got older, every time he would see a beautiful sunset, a lovely child playing, or a compelling painting, he would think, “I must enjoy this because I don’t know how many more I will see.” He taught me that every sunset and every beautiful moment should never be taken for granted.
The second enduring image was when I asked him about his fifty-year marriage. He told me that whenever he was angry with his wife, he would always ask himself, “Is this thing I am angry about more important than the love we share?” The answer, he said, was always no. Focus on love, he told me, and little else will matter.
My friend Nancy MacKay, founder of MacKay CEO Forums, is a great entrepreneur and one of the people who inspires me. She has what she calls the “100 Year Club” with a group of friends. Together they hold the intention of not only living to be 100, but maintaining a deep sense of purpose. It’s a club I am honored to be part of. I don’t know if Nancy or I will make it one hundred, but she sure shows the signs of what I saw in John Boyd: purpose, curiosity, focus on love and letting the young inspire you.
One final moment remains in my mind about John. He told me that after he turned ninety, when people asked him how old he was, he would always say “ninety-two and a half,” much like a child might say about being seven and a half. Whenever he told me that, he had a twinkle in his eye, displaying the child like curiosity that helped explain his long life.