Death, Dying, Grieving … and Living

Jann FreedLiving Leave a Comment

Life is about taking some risks. So I threw my name into the hat and applied to be a a TEDxDes Moines speaker. I am excited to share that I was selected! The event takes place next Tuesday, May 11th. It is a hybrid event which means you can buy tickets for in-person (details can be found in this link) or you can watch online. There were 142 applicants and I was one of the lucky 13! But this has been a lot of work.

Since this is a TEDx event, the talks are only 12 minutes. Whereas, the TED talks where highly recognized people tend to speak (Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Tim Cook, Simon Sinek among others) are 18 minutes. But 12 minutes can seem like a long time when you are the one on the spot. We have all practiced and practiced for hours. We have coached each other. Then Wixted & Co. volunteered their professional time to coach each of us. Not only have I learned a lot that I can carry with me, but I have met a group of people whom I admire and may never have met.

The theme is Through a Different Lens and the talks are all interesting. I am amazed at the storytelling ability of this group and how we tend to complement each other. My title is: Embrace Death: Find Meaning in Life. Yes, I talk a lot about death, dying, and grief. But the purpose is to help people find meaning in life.

This talk comes right out of the book I am writing. The working title is Your Breadcrumb Legacy: Find Meaning in Every Day. One of the chapters is called “They Call Me Dr. Death.” I describe how my students started calling me Dr. Death because I talked about death and dying a lot—probably too much.

I set out in about 2007-08 to interview Sages (gurus) about leadership. My main question was how can I prepare students to be the best leaders possible. After interviewing more than 100 of the top authorities in the field of leadership, one strong theme that emerged was that I should teach them about death, dying, and grieving—and this was before the pandemic. The results from this research became my book Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts.

This was a big aha for me, but the Sages explained how industries were dying, companies were disappearing, and jobs were evaporating. This is all about loss and each of these losses is a mini death. Fast forward to the pandemic and death, loss, and grief is even more pronounced. Research says one in five of us have lost someone we love to COVID. Death has become up close and personal. This information is even more important now than when my book came out.

So my TEDx talk is about how I teach students to find meaning in their lives by thinking about how they want to be remembered.

COVID has many of us re-evaluating our lives. As we see the light at the end of the tunnel, how do we want to live our lives? Who will we let back into our lives? I have read several articles about how people are thinking about how to spend their time and with whom. Time is our most precious resource and health is the real wealth.

Our TEDx talks will be posted on YouTube sometime in the future. It has been a rewarding experience in so many ways. It is hard to get out of our comfort zones—I know. But I encourage you to take some calculated risks. Meet someone knew. Try a new skill or talent.

Even former President George W. Bush took up painting without any lessons. I actually really like his paintings that were made into a book Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants. I may buy it. He said he took up painting because he wanted to keep learning. He explains how he has always been interested in solving the immigrant situation. This is a great interview with him on CBS Sunday Morning. In this interview, Bush seems humble, authentic, and compassionate. If you missed it, I recommend watching it.

Bush’s paintings remind me of my friend and former colleague, Tilly Woodward, and her Immigrant Project. She created wonderful portraits of immigrants in Iowa doing their important work as citizens of Iowa.