Ode to Martin: Life Lessons From An Old Friend

Today I write this blog post with a heavy heart. Just last night, we returned from a trip back home to visit my family. Normally, a trip like this is filled with joy and laughs, sharing stories, and general goodness.

This time was different. You see, 2012 has been a tough year for all of us. We lost my last two grandparents in March and July. Last week, we lost my 26-year old nephew. My sister’s son. The baby I rocked to sleep when he was just a tiny little guy back in the late 80s.

Martin LeBlanc Candid Prom Photo

Martin LeBlanc
Nov. 7, 1985 – Oct. 18, 2012

Martin was a very special person. He was born with a list of health issues including dwarfism, adrenal problems, and a sunken septum. We knew his life would be shorter than most of us. But with medical advancements and hope, we watched as he grew into a man.

It wasn’t easy. Martin had frequent blood sugar crashes and needed daily medication to sustain stability. He was under constant watch, and for good reason. My sister and mother were absolute saints, tirelessly monitoring his condition, jumping in to take care of him when needed, and getting him medical care when he needed it, even in the middle of the night or when traveling on vacations.

Martin also had huge challenges in dealing with his condition. Drinking was a vice of his, one that made the condition worse. He used it as a crutch, particularly after he made a mistake that prevented him from chasing his dream of taking part in the fire department. The kid had a tough life, there’s no question about that.

But in spite of the cards he was dealt, Martin had a great heart. He was always there to make people laugh. When anyone was down, he propped them up and told them it would be okay. At times he covered it in a veil of anger, but what he really wanted most of all was to be loved and accepted. And to help others in any way he could.

The past week has been very difficult. But it came with a great deal of reflection. In reflecting, I realized that Martin’s life illustrated some very important lessons that we should keep in mind both personally and professionally. I want to share those with you today. So I offer you an Ode to Martin.

Lesson 1: Be Brave

How many times do you find yourself shuddering at the thought of taking on a huge problem? Or having to face the music for a mistake you made?

It can be all too easy to be afraid and run away from problems. But most of them will pale in comparison to what Martin lived through. Every day, he had to be brave from the moment he woke up. Any day could have been his last. But he gutted through it, and so can you.

Lesson 2: Take Action Now

What goals do you have in front of you? Have you started pursuing them? If not, why not?

We are all here for a limited amount of time. For each and every one of us, that timeline is unique and unknown. Are you living the life that makes you happy? Or are you waiting to get to it “some day”?

Martin took the time to make small differences in the world every single day. He knew he had to live now, because his days were limited. He was putting forth effort to be the best person he could be and making real progress, if only the clock allowed him more time. Sadly, his is a story that will remain unfinished, much to my and my family’s chagrin.

“Some day” may never come. Get off your rear and make it happen now. If ever “Carpe Diem” were appropriate, this is it.

Lesson 3: Don’t Take Time or People for Granted

Martin LeBlanc Toddler Picture

Ever since he was a kid, there was rarely a trip back home where I didn’t at least get to see and say hello to Martin. In July, when I was there for my grandmother’s funeral, we never managed to connect.

Thankfully, my (brilliant) wife urged me to call him after we returned home, and he answered the call (we never talked on the phone because he hardly ever kept it with him and answered). We had a nice conversation which lasted maybe 10 minutes, but I was able to tell him I missed him and wished we could have gotten together.

We are all busy. There are only so many hours in the day, days in the week, etc. It takes effort to consciously do the most with your time, to be productive, and to fit in all the people who matter. When it is so easy to just text message, tweet, or otherwise avoid taking real time to focus on an issue or a person, we can lose sight of what is important.

Every second and every person matters. Appreciate the opportunity to spend the time while you still can. Before you know it, you may run out of chances to appreciate some of the gifts life brings to you. This matters both personally and in the business world, more than many realize.

Lesson 4: Everyone Can Teach You Something

I meet a lot of people in my line of business and through networking. Too many folks focus mainly on the heavy hitters, the “up and comers”, and people with accolades. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, it would be foolish to deny yourself the opportunity to learn a more well rounded set of lessons. This is found through everyone we meet.

Martin touched many lives through his sense of humor and supportive nature. He taught me that even physical shortcomings can be overcome, and you can still have that fire inside which lights up the lives of others. He was lucky to have the 26 short years he did have, and he lived a lot in those 26 years. And he taught something to everyone who was lucky enough to meet and get to know him.

Lesson 5: Learn From Setbacks, And Move On

This is perhaps the toughest one. Martin survived a litany of close calls and setbacks, many of which found him in the emergency room or laid up for a day or two. But he bucked up, pulled it together, and moved on each time. He knew that one day, he wouldn’t bounce back. It didn’t matter to him.

From my perspective, his passing itself has been a rather significant setback. Sure, it’s tough to lose not one, but two grandparents in a single year. But they had long lucrative lives, one making it to 100 years old and the other to 98. I miss them, but they were ready for it. For the candle to go out on a 26 year old kid who was just getting his sea legs in place for life, that’s just plain tough.

This post is me taking my own advice. Martin wouldn’t want us to despair over him. He specifically told us not to mourn, but to throw him a “party for the ages” – that’s our Martin! In honor of his wishes, I am learning and taking it forward with me, so he can live on through that influence.

This holds true for businesses as well. Things go wrong, sometimes very big things. The key is not to avoid mistakes, but to embrace them and grow from the experience.

Lesson 6: Be Who You Want To Be

Martin was a very vocal guy, and he really didn’t care if you agreed with the words he said or how he said them. This got him into trouble at times when he was a bit too colorful or blunt for some folks.

One thing about him though: He was who he was, and who he wanted to be. Don’t live your life or run your business to get approval from others. Crystallize the vision of what you stand for, and start acting on that vision today.

Final Word: Know a Hero When You See One

Heroes are all around us in everyday life. The guy in front of you at the grocery store, the kid who delivers your newspaper, even the janitor in your kid’s school could be carrying burdens that you simply cannot imagine. but they all keep their chin up and tackle life the best they can.

This was Martin. He was a hero in his own way. I respect and miss him, and I hope these thoughts help improve your day and your year in some small way. He’d be pleased.

Thank you for reading. Namaste.