Book Review: Chasing Daylight

I finished Gene O’Kelly’s book Chasing Daylight in tears. Seeing that this is a highly infrequent occurrence, it says something about the effect this relatively short book had on me. I highly recommend Chasing Daylight to everyone, especially driven business types.

Here’s the Cliff Notes summary of the book, from Chris Yeh’s review:

O’Kelly, then the CEO of KPMG, discovers suddenly that he has inoperable brain cancer, and has around 100 days to live. He sets out to achieve the best death he can by reaching closure in his relationships with colleagues, friends, and family, while documenting his quest in his book.

Here’s more from Brad Feld’s review:

He determines to have the greatest possible existence during those last 100 days, systematically saying goodbye to all the people that have touched his life, trying to have as many “perfect moments” as possible, to live always in the present, and to chronicle the experience of dying as one of his last acts on this planet.

The book spoke to me on a number of levels.

First, it brilliantly captured the common mortality we all share and the classic Type A response to such a realization. If I were told I had 100 days to live, I would do the same as O’Kelly: Pull up Excel and systematically organize how I would want to spend the rest of my existence. This is nothing to be ashamed of.

Second, it reinforced the point we hear time and time again but oft ignore: We spend too much time chasing material successes and pursuing activities which are only a means to an ends and too little time with the people in our life we care about.

Third, it showed how O’Kelly grappled with and ultimately conquered his fear of death. Fearing death is, again, nothing to be ashamed of. What’s admirable is how honestly O’Kelly presents this emotion and the practical insight he offers to grapple with it yourself.

Although I’m sure O’Kelly’s story will rattle around in my head for a long time, this much I know: I will feel grateful when I see the daylight stream through my bedroom window tomorrow morning; I will try to tell the people in my life how important they are to me; I will try to focus more on the present than the distant future; and most important, I will try to remember Jonathan Swift’s immortal words: "May you live every day of your life."

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