Yesterday I had a conversation with a guy who had spent his entire adult life cooking. He was a chef — that is, until recently.

He was running a kitchen, had become a chef and then one night, out of nowhere, he had a brain hemorrhage, then a coma and lost function in the left side of his body.

In an instant, everything he had been working towards and becoming was taken from him. All of the hard work and all of the sacrifices left him feeling broken and unsure of what might be next. The only sure thing about what would be next for him in his life and career is that it wouldn’t involve the kitchen. The career he’d been proudly building for himself was no longer a possibility.

I hear these stories often and we see them happen in the lives surrounding us all over the place . A spouse gets sick. Our child is in a serious car accident. A parent dies. Often these life-changing moments are right around the corner, but we never expect them.

After our conversation, I then thought about this man, his situation and how I would have responded. How would I have dealt with it? OR maybe the better question is,

What would I have done differently the days, weeks, months and years leading up to it, if I had known?

I know I would have appreciated and enjoyed that time in the kitchen doing what I love a lot more. I would have created a lot more thoughtful specials. I would ensured every single dish leaving the kitchen was perfect, and I would have appreciated my team — the people around me — a lot more.

The problem is that we never know when one of life’s curve balls might show up. We’re never sure of tomorrow, or of the things that we have now — if they will be here tomorrow.

I think a lot of us would approach our lives, our relationships and our opportunities to do the work we were born to do, differently if we knew any of them could be taken from us in an instant. That instant, whether tomorrow or fifty years from now gives us two choices.

To continue on with life as we’ve always known to do, OR to be grateful for the opportunities we are presented with every day and to make a difference by connecting with the things that are most important to us.

The thing is, say that day when it’s all taken from you is some fifty years away, but you continue to operate in a way that it could be taken from you tomorrow — imagine how much more rewarding your life might become over the course of five decades? I think a lot of us would stop going through the motions. I think we would all be a lot more present, as it relates to the things we hold most dear.

It all starts with gratitude and finding reasons to be grateful today — not tomorrow or next week of fifty years from now.

If you want to do better work, be a better spouse and do more good in the world, it starts with understanding and appreciating what you have today.

Most of us learn the lesson too late. I hope you’re not one of them.

The best way to remind yourself, and to appreciate what you have today, is to know that it might not be around tomorrow. It’s scary and eye-opening at the very same time.

LEARN ABOUT MY BOOK:

MAKING THE CUT: WHAT SEPARATES THE BEST FROM THE REST

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