My brother, Steve, died in May. In addition to the sadness of such a loss, it is important for me to remember what he taught me by how he lived his life and, in fact, how he died.
My brother was not in the financial services industry. He was a sales executive and salesperson in the men’s clothing industry for about 50 years starting while he was in Baruch College in the City of New York. He originally worked for a gentleman who taught him the business and went on to partner with him. Steve eventually opened his own business. The history is not all that important other than the experience he gained on his journey.
When it was time to leave his business, Steve worked for a number of men’s clothing firms and became president of several firms responsible for sales. Over a fairly short number of years, he had been through five or six clothing company jobs, as they were all closing down and businesses were moving overseas. There was a period where finding a job was tough. There was only one time I saw Steve concerned.
However, growing up, we learned an important lesson from our father, who owned and operated a small retail business with his brother. Dad always said that he would dig ditches if he had to, to feed his family. Dad wasn’t a teacher or teller of how to live our lives. We had no instructions, no book of rules or ways to be. You learned from Dad by watching how he acted and what he said in conversation.
Steve knew what he had to do and did it, as always. So, the first two lessons are never give up and do what you have to do to fulfill your responsibilities.
Eventually Steve found his last job selling men’s clothing in a high-end NYC retailer. Despite it not being a perfect environment, Steve became the highest producer in men’s clothing in their New York flagship store and the first person to break $2 million in sales in the store. He was also the highest producer in the country for distinguished Hickey Freeman suits for a period of time.
I suggested Steve write a book about selling, but he didn’t want to. He said it was too easy, and didn’t need to be written down. He said his “secret” was to show up every day and put your pride away. He was good to his customers, showed respect, maintained relationships, took an interest in who they are, showed he cared about them as people, kept in touch, called them when there was a sale going on or he had something special they might like and treated them like friends.
All basic stuff, right? We all know this stuff but we forget or we get lazy or we’ll do it tomorrow or, or, or. Not my brother Steve, it wasn’t that he was a professional—though he was. It was that he didn’t forget, he wasn’t lazy, he was Steve and he really cared about you and who you were. It’s not that you can’t write that stuff down, it’s that you can’t teach it. You have to decide who you choose to be. Steve decided who he was and did it well.
Steve died as he lived, with gratitude for all the things he had in his life. When he was given his terminal diagnosis, he thought of three words: gratitude, hope and acceptance. He had:
- Gratitude for the love from his family first and the love he could give
- Gratitude for where he lived and how he lived
- Gratitude for where he visited around the world and how he visited in our country, because he loved to drive
- Gratitude for who his friends were; he could make friends in an instant and create a close relationship in a minute
- Gratitude for what he did in his life, whether playing golf or cooking or playing with his children and grandchildren, going to his meetings, helping other people by giving of himself, entertaining friends and even cleaning up afterwards
It’s not that Steve never met a person he didn’t like. He met a jerk or two here and there but he didn’t let it ruin a moment of the joy he felt every day he was alive because it was such a rich life, rich by the standard of being happy and having a happy family. He made it that way.
He learned how to wear life as a loose garment. It wasn’t easy to learn, but he figured it out so he could be there for himself and all those around him. Even as his older brother (much older, as he preferred to say), I frequently went to him to learn how to handle life.
In addition to gratitude, he lived a life of hope. Certainly, he and we hoped immunotherapy treatment would help extend his life. It didn’t. But, way before that, he always had hope, hope created by his positivity.
He hoped he would live a good life in New York. He did. He hoped he would move back to Southern California for retirement. He did. He hoped his children would succeed. They did and continue to. He hopes his grandchildren would succeed. They are succeeding. Yes, the hopes are realized through positivity, in part. But also by knowing your goals and having a value system that brings internal success and one you share with those around you that you care about.
Steve’s third belief was in acceptance. Steve knew that he had a good life and was grateful for all of it. He and we hoped for more, but Steve knew in the end that whatever was to be, was to be. He accepted that and it gave him peace. He taught us both how to live and how to die.
A few months ago, Steve asked me what I thought his legacy would be. It wasn’t a casual question and I knew it was important to both of us. As I often do, I wanted to see what others said about legacy, so I went to Google for help.
Peter Strople said something quite inspiring: “Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.”
That is Steve’s legacy. He leaves love, appreciation and caring for all around him, especially his family.
Billy Graham said, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
That is Steve’s legacy, character and faith. Faith that character and integrity were their own rewards. His legacy is showing that doing the right thing is not about expectations of anyone else doing the right thing back, though perhaps it would give others the opportunity to learn that doing the right thing is solely about doing the right thing. We also learned that from our father.
As Shannon Alder said, “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” What could fit better than stories about each of us doing the right thing?
Gary Vaynerchuk said, “Please think about your legacy because you are writing it every day.” You don’t do things because you are thinking about your legacy, but your legacy is that opportunity for others to learn by your example.
Finally, Joan Moran writes, “Leaving a legacy is an important part of your life’s work. A legacy develops from a life dedicated to self-reflection and purpose.”
I know many people have and can continue to learn the lessons my brother has left for us if we choose to. Thank you for allowing me to share some of what I hope I have learned from him.