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When a colleague passes on

Most of us go to work each day without any expectation of bad news to come. Or if we do anticipate bad news, we tend to focus that worry on ourselves. Will I get laid off? I don’t think I’m going to get that promotion. John stole my idea… How should I address that? But never do we expect to be gathered — a small group of colleagues who from having spent so much time together over the years have well become almost like extended family — to learn the news of the passing of one of our own.

It took me a full year to be able to write this, for two reasons:

For one, I’ve had a hard time discovering just how much this news and event affected me. I didn't want to feel it, so I put off feeling anything but emptiness for a long time.

And for two, it wasn’t about me. In fact, it had nothing at all to do with me. While I admired the person in question, learned much from her, and had a relationship with her, we were not a large part of each other's lives. For that reason, I felt guilty for asserting any kind of feeling at all. This, in time, turned to guilt for not feeling anything at all.

Last week I looked at this person’s Instagram account. Maybe subconsciously to punish myself for pushing away any kind of feeling about her passing for an entire year. This is when the feeling finally came, and it was overwhelming.

The beauty she brought to the world and the uniquely beautiful way she saw the world are preserved, right up to the weeks before her passing, on Instagram.

I remembered the day I pitched an idea to this person and fucked up the PowerPoint presentation. She was so gracious and cool about that. She always addressed me as if I was on her level, even if I certainly wasn’t. And I admired that about her because not every executive did that.

I remembered her desk, behind my own. It was covered in post-its with creative thoughts and ideas written on them. I would often steal a read of them when she wasn’t there because she was traveling, for inspiration.

And most of all, I remembered how she wanted to help people. Any time someone would say, “It’s just business, nothing personal” she would respond, “Business is personal.” She chose to care when many others would not. And she never let bullshit get to her enough to stop her from being a force to be reckoned with.

We all lost an important part of our extended family last year, and an incredibly important part of the business, too. She was irreplaceable. It was my first experience with losing a colleague. I didn’t know what to feel or how it affected me for too long. And the only thing I wish now is that I’d made more of an effort to truly know her while I’d had the chance.

I believe it's true that the world is not always fair, but there will always be a silver lining to every failure, every injustice if we choose to see it — something may not seem fair but that doesn't mean it won't be the catalyst that propels us to a better place, or even greatness. I also believe that we are never truly in control. All we have control over is ourselves, and even then sometimes we don't. We could walk into the street and be hit by a car, or our bodies could betray us with disease — even if we work a lifetime to take care of ourselves. Believing that and understanding it shapes how I live. It’s taught me to let go more, to be less controlling and more free-spirited, less afraid of failure, and more likely to take reasonable risks and try new things. 

The importance of living for today is huge. The experience of losing a colleague is one small part of what has informed that view for me.

Alyssa YeagerComment