The death of beloved Capt. Tom Moore on Feb. 2 at the age of 100 reminds us that our most valuable possession is not fortune or fame.

If you’re not familiar with Capt. Tom, last year this World War II vet and British resident set out to raise 1,000 pounds for the healthcare workers in his country.

His advanced age prevented him from the typical physical things people do to raise money (running, cycling, skipping rope). Instead, Capt. Tom walked 100 laps of his backyard … using his walker.

Media coverage about his efforts inspired and captured the attention — and wallets — of people worldwide. His fans included Queen Elizabeth II, who knighted him. According to the New York Times, he raised $45 million for British hospitals.

Capt. Tom’s death teaches us a lesson about time and its value. After living on this planet for more than 65 years and having successfully battled cancer last year, I’ve come to realize the four most valuable things we can possibly own are:

  1. Time
  2. Good health
  3. Close family
  4. Good friends.

Let me explain.

Without time, everything else in life doesn’t matter. A person might have an unbelievable amount of riches or a life that most would envy. But without time, that person can’t enjoy their success.

In his 2016 autobiography Born to Run, my favorite song writer/poet/philosopher Bruce Springsteen pointed out that someone could lose a fortune and make it back (think George Foreman). He added someone could damage their reputation and often restore it (think Marv Albert).

“But time … time lost is gone for good,” wrote Bruce, 71.

How often do we hear someone say they would trade all their worldly possessions just to have one more day of time with a loved one who has passed? Time is the one thing we have that we can never replace.

Health: Let’s say someone lives to be 100 like Capt. Tom but spends 80 of those years confined to a hospital bed and hooked up to a breathing machine? Even though they have lots of time, it’s not worth much if they also don’t have quality health. You need both time and good health.

Family: I come from a close-knit family of six. Although our dad passed away in 2007, my mom will turn 97 this year. We talk practically daily.

Two of my three sisters live within 20 minutes of my house. My wife and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary this year. Our two adult children and our grandson all live two miles away.

To me, family is so important. Ask anyone who comes from a close family — or anyone who doesn’t — and they’ll probably (hopefully) tell you the same. Family members know you the best. They know all your strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures … and they still love you and even remember your birthday! That’s invaluable.

Friends: Good friends are almost like family, no? You might have grown up with them. You might have met them at school or work.

You can count on them when times are good or bad, and they can count on you. You share common interests and/or experiences with them.

Maybe I’m unusual but among my friends is someone I first met in nursery school (now called pre-k); someone whom I grew up with on the same block on Long Island; a few guys with whom I went to elementary, middle and high school; some folks I met in college; many folks I worked with at various jobs through my 40-year career; and even more people I met through my membership in three communications-related organizations. And that’s without using Facebook.

When I grew ill last year, my family and friends supported me in ways I could have never imagined. One friend described them as “an army of angels,” and she was right.

So there you have it: your four most valuable possessions, and they don’t even include fame or fortune. Which brings me back to Bruce Springsteen. I was just listening to his new album Letter to You. On the first very track, Bruce, whose sister died in a tragic accident at age five, sings, “One minute you’re here. Next minute you’re gone.”

Truer words were never spoken. The next time you’re upset about something at work, just remember Capt. Tom and appreciate the four most important things you own. Then make the most of them.

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Churchill said it best: Make it brief!

by Tom Unger on December 31, 2020

in Uncategorized

I’m reading the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Erik Larson. In The Splendid and the Vile, Larson recounts the many challenges Winston Churchill faced as prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II.

Germany had already conquered Poland and Czechoslovakia. On Churchill’s very first day in office, Germany invaded Holland and Belgium.

Germany then soon successfully invaded France and the British troops were forced to flee back home through Dunkirk. The Germans started bombing England. The British feared a Nazi invasion would soon follow.

In other words, Churchill had his hands full. He had no time to waste as he worked to defend his country, keep up morale among its citizens, lead its armed forces, find sources for more supplies, increase the production of fighter planes and convince the United States to provide military materials and/or to also enter the war.

Churchill realized the value of brevity and simplicity in communications. He understood how they relate to time saving and clarity (these are the same concepts I teach in my News Writing and Business Writing workshops). For instance, according to Larson:

In a memo to his ministers and their staffs entitled simply “Brevity”, Churchill wrote, “To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.”

Churchill insisted his cabinet ministers and their staffs compose their memos with brevity and limit their length to one page or less. “It is slothful not to compress your thoughts,” he said.

Churchill also asked his ministers to improve their reports by replacing cumbersome phrases with a single word. He even cited two examples: “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations…” and “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect…”

“Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational,” he wrote. The resulting prose might “at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving of time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clear thinking,” said the memo.

Churchill also suggested that when composing a memo, the ministers identify their main points with a series of “short, crisp paragraphs”. If a report involved further explanation of complicated issues, Churchill requested the minister include an appendix. Often, he observed, a full report could consist entirely of headings, “which can be expanded orally if needed.”

I love Churchill’s advice! So often in the business world some workers feel the need to write lengthy memos or articles, feeling “more is better.” But today’s busy employee doesn’t have time or inclination to read lengthy communications.

The next time you’re editing something you wrote, remember to think and act like Winston Churchill. Writing with the “less is more” mindset will position you as a communicator who doesn’t waste people’s time.

Want to have Tom present a Business Writing or News Writing workshop to your staff? Contact him to discuss your needs.

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Lessons to be learned from the recent presidential election

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A local angle to national/international news = a successful placement

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Regardless of your political affiliation, the biggest story in the national news right now is the efforts by Democrats to impeach Pres. Trump. My hometown newspaper, The Oregonian (based in Portland, Ore.) published a story in its edition today that is an example of one of the proven strategies I will teach in my News […]

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Become a comms hero by using what already exists at media outlets

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I was watching a news story the other day on the local ABC-TV affiliate where I live and noticed they have a feature called “Everyday Heroes.” It highlights someone in the community who does great things for others with not much fanfare. I later realized that what I did next would make a good lesson […]

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