Tuesday, January 31, 2006


The second item on Eugene O'Kelley's to-do list is "Unwind Relationships." His approach could have come out of some strange Franklin-Covey seminar for the terminally ill. He evaluates his relationships in a series of concentric circles, starting with his wife, then his children, than his family, and moving out from there to lifetime friends, close business associates, and "People who because of shared experiences or shared passion are friends that enhanced my life and I in turn."

The approach a window on a tightly disciplined mind. In other circumstances it would almost seem like self-parody, but seeing it diagrammed in the dying man's shaking hand makes it seem more poignant and dogged than obsessive.

It turns out to be an enormous task. O'Kelley identifies 1,000 people in the outer circle. Undaunted, he starts sending letters and making phone calls. Many of the people he contacted he had not talked to in years. The effect was to replay scenes from his life:

I was able to conjure so many pleasant memories, momories that I hadn't thought of in years and that, had I not been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, I might never have thought of again, except for the occasional random association. I was amazed at how truly full and overlapping my life really had been.

It may seem a luxury to have spent more than a little time on this circle, but it was very gratifying.

Still, it was too much. Just do the math: if you have to spend 1/2 hour contacting 1000 people, that's 500 hours. Giving him eight good hours a day for his remaining 90 or so days, he had about 720 hours at his disposal.

I spent almost thee weeks going through the fifth circle, then I was done with it.

By removing this layer, as with the next few layers, I was simplifying my life as I got down to the innermost circles. But three weeks was a lot of time to spend on the fifth circle for a man who had maybe three months. Too much time, actually.

I had miscalculated. I hoped it wouldn't come back to haunt me.

(I'm reading "Chasing Daylight," a forthcoming book by the late CEO of accounting behemoth KPMG. It's a memoir of his life following the diagnosis of his fatal brain cancer. Prior posts here, here, here and here)

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