As an entrepreneur, you’re often so consumed with your venture that you forget to take a step back, and put everything into perspective. But a death in my family recently forced me to do this, making me reflect on how I hope to live life to the fullest.
My uncle, James Chang, recently passed away. He was 73. I didn’t know my uncle well, as he was a man of few words, but I know he lived a life of service. He was a surgeon, and dedicated himself to improving others’ lives. However, five years ago, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and the tables turned as he became the patient.
As my cousin wrote in his eulogy: “it was the greatest challenge in his life to confront his own doubts and fears, and he often faltered, and wondered how he could keep going. But in the face of it all, he continued to struggle with dignity, and he found the strength to live in the moment and find meaning in the time he had left.”
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My uncle’s passing was a stark reminder of how short and precious life is – a reminder to savor every moment, even in the face of all the struggles of starting a business. It’s made me reflect on how I want to live my life, without any regrets. To me, that means:
1. Living a life of authenticity.
Live by your values, and do things in life that resonate with your core – regardless of what others think. My parents thought it was crazy for me, at 23, to quit my management consulting job and join a startup nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization helping orphans in China.
I went forward with my decision anyway because I believed in the cause with all my heart. Despite years of disapproval, I never looked back, and knew I made the right decision in following my passion.
The work paved the path for me to start my current company, which creates low cost infant incubators for developing countries – and now, these incubators have helped over 200,000 babies. (A coda: after being invited to the White House to present my work to President Obama, my parents finally gave me their approval).
2. Not letting fear hold you back.
As a beginner surfer, this is one of the things I often struggle with out on the water. There is no scarier feeling than being held under by a wave, frantically trying to find your way back to the surface. But I know if I don’t let go of that fear, I’ll never have the chance to improve my skills, or to catch the best waves.
Be clear about your values, and live by them. It is the strongest foundation of who you are. Tweet This Quote
Similarly, I try to not let fear hold me back in other aspects of my life. Starting a business and moving to India for four years to launch it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. But by focusing on my mission, rather than being overwhelmed by possibility of failure, I was able to forge ahead. You never want to miss out on an amazing opportunity because you were too scared to give it a try. Know in the face of failure, you can simply try again.
3. Defining yourself by your values, not external validation.
It’s so easy to let your sense of self worth be defined by what others think about you, or by achieving certain goals, recognitions or accolades. As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly moving from one goal to the next, always trying to achieve the next milestone: that flashy award, quarterly revenue goal, or prestigious speaking opportunity.
But at the end of the day, what is most sacred are the values you live by – and for me, that’s trying to do the right thing, having integrity, and helping others. Ensuring your actions are aligned with your values is far more important than achieving success in the eyes of others. Your sense of self becomes fragile when it’s dependent on external validation. Instead, be clear about your values, and live by them, because this is the strongest foundation of who you are.
4. Spending time with people you love.
Startup founders love their work – it’s part of what makes them successful and driven. But often, we entrepreneurs become so fixated on our projects that we fail to spend time on what matters most: our personal relationships.
Our businesses may very well outlive us, but human beings are mortal. Tweet This Quote
I’ve certainly made this mistake – and am ridden with guilt when I’m having dinner with my parents, checking my email every five minutes or simultaneously dealing with a fire drill at work. That’s why the passing of my uncle threw this priority into relief for me: our businesses may very well outlive us, but human beings are mortal. Express your gratitude to those whom you care about now, and treasure every moment with them as if it were your last.
5. Having fun.
This is another lesson surfing has taught me, which I treasure so deeply. My work can be extremely intense and serious, and there have been many periods when I’m so focused on the end goal, I forget to have fun in the process. I adored one of my co-founders, Linus Liang, for always bringing humor into our workplace, no matter how stressful the situation was. Life is too short not to find the fun in anything that you’re doing. As someone once told me, “the universe will go on without you.” Don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy the journey of life, wherever it ends up taking you. Laughter is truly the best medicine in life. Find the activity that brings out your inner child, and indulge in it as often as possible.
This post originally published on Forbes.