Leadership Spotlight

How Do You Live Your Dash?

Stock image of a man looking at the ocean during a sunset.

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?1

This always has been one of my favorite poems and has served as a life lesson and reminder to me of what is really important. The poem meant even more recently when I received a call from a hospital emergency room that forever changed me and gave me one of life’s course corrections. My beloved sister and one of my dearest friends, Vikki, had contracted the deadly H1N1 virus, and I was being asked by a nurse 3,000 miles away to immediately make life-support decisions. The efforts to stabilize her were failing, she was in a coma, and the prognosis was bleak.

Vikki always was an inspiration to me—vibrant, healthy, and full of life. She never met a challenge she could not tackle and just recently had gotten her pilot’s license, bought her own airplane, and compassionately volunteered her time, money, and fuel to transport rescued animals to new owners. She always had been there for me, and now, eight hours after that dreaded phone call, I was standing there helplessly watching her hooked up to a roomful of machines, fighting for her life.

For the next three weeks, at her bedside I could not help but reflect on how I have spent my dash. Have I truly made any difference? Have I left the world a better place? Have I helped people through tough times? Did I lead with compassion? Have I accomplished what needed to be done? Have I led a good and honorable life? Have I focused enough on appreciating the wonderful people who make my life a blessing?

Life is full of course corrections. Do not wait until you “get the call” to remind yourself how fragile life is and how brief it can be before you ask yourself, How can I better spend my dash?

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel John Forquer, a leadership instructor at the Center for Police Leadership and Ethics at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.



Linda Ellis, “The Dash,” http://www.linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-.html (accessed May 14, 2014).