Last year, I met a wonderful guy named Tyler Erickson at my annual Men of Faith retreat, where I take twenty-five faith-based leaders on a three-day excursion to a beautiful part of the country. In 2022 we celebrated the retreat’s ten-year anniversary in Washington DC, where I fell in love with Tyler’s heart. He lives in Bozeman, Montana, where he’s Vice President of Development and Marketing at the American Bank of Montana, which his grandfather founded in 1947. During the retreat, Tyler told me the heartbreaking story of how his father, Bruce, died almost seven years ago in a helicopter crash. He was the bank’s chairman and CEO, and his death shook the wider Bozeman community to its core. His obituary called him “a servant of Bozeman—a miracle of growth and dynamism.”
Tyler explained that his dad had a motto he lived by, which made him such a great leader, husband, father, and friend: “There is no dress rehearsal.” He said it so often that it’s engraved on his tombstone. What Bruce meant is that there are no dress rehearsals for the most important things in life. When it comes to loving and serving others, there are no do-overs. You get one shot, and you have to make it count. Bruce lived and breathed by that motto. Despite his busy job, he always picked his kids up from school and almost never missed a ski race, cheerleading event, or golf tournament. Since age eleven, his passion was flying and he never gave it up, logging over 30,000 hours in prop planes, jets, floatplanes, and helicopters.
Bruce Erickson was one of those rare few who truly lived life to the fullest. Truth is, most of us don’t do that. We say we ought to leave the office earlier and spend more time with our families. We say we ought to catch more of our kids’ ball games or dance recitals. We say we ought to go on more vacations and pick up more hobbies. But then life gets in the way, and we realize too late that what we thought was the dress rehearsal was really the main event.
I’m blessed to have a few Bruce Ericksons in my life that inspire me to slow down and take stock of what matters most in life. The first is my friend Andy Newland. Thing is, it’s a miracle that he is still alive. Around ten years ago, he was diagnosed with advanced melanoma. He kept it at bay for a while, but the cancer eventually spread to his lungs and then his lymph nodes. He lost fifty pounds during chemotherapy, and, finally, his doctors sent him home to spend his final days with his family. But Andy’s wife, Lori, had other plans, and she found a clinic in Mexico willing to try an experimental treatment. Somehow it worked, and Andy is now cancer-free. But he doesn’t take a single moment for granted. He never lets life get in the way of cherishing every single second with his big family.
My buddy Bobby Creighton is a guy who knows a thing or two about dress rehearsals—literally. He’s a Broadway legend, having starred in the likes of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anything Goes, Chicago, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Little Mermaid and Frozen. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Bobby moved to Buffalo with his wife and young children. He had mostly moved on from eight shows a week on Broadway, opting for a quieter life doing TV and radio work in New York State’s less-famous city, because that’s where he believed his kids would thrive! One day his agent called: The Lion King wanted him in the lead role of Timon for an extended period of time. Now, if you know anything about musicals, you’d know that the Lion King is the most popular show of all time, and Timon is the role of a lifetime. But Bobby turned it down. “Broadway will always be there,” he told me later, “but I can only watch my kids grow up once.” Not even the biggest show on earth could upstage the joy of being with his family.
Every year, my family and I go out to a nice restaurant for New Year’s. This year we went to one of our favorite places in Denver: North Italia in Cherry Creek. When our food arrived, I asked Jill and the kids: “Ok, what’s your one word?” Every New Year’s, each of us pick a word to live by for the next twelve months. A few years ago, when I was going through a tough time, I chose “perspective,” which helped me remember that no matter how bad my troubles were, there were others who had it far worse. This year, when it was my turn, I said on a whim: “You know what, why don’t you guys pick a word for me?”
Jill, Anthony, Caroline, and Tate huddled for a moment and then said: “Chill!”
“Chill?” I said, confused.
“Yes, chill,” Caroline replied. “Dad, you’ve worked so hard and changed so many lives, but you still work eighty hours per week. You’re so intense. You keep looking for the next thing to do. You need to chill and see that we’re right here!” Jill and I burst out crying as my kids listed all the things they wanted to do with me if I were home more often. “We want to play cards with you. We want to watch the same stupid movie twenty times with you. We want to play board games and do a puzzle once in a while.” And on and on and on.
Chill. It really is as simple as that. It’s what Andy Newland and Bobby Creighton learned years ago, but it somehow didn’t compute to me until this very moment. For the next week, I never changed out of my sweatpants. I watched the movie Notting Hill with my family for the millionth time. I dusted off my record player and we listened to music together as a family for the first time in years. I sat down and completed a thousand-piece puzzle. I normally don’t have the attention span for a ten-piece puzzle, but I forced myself to be present. To enjoy every moment with my family. To chill. And do you know what? Making that change was the easiest thing in the world because I was surrounded by the people I love most.
Maybe you have a different word that you will live by in 2023. You may have big plans and big ambitions this year, but never forget the quiet moments in life. Never forget the people who are by your side as you reach for the next big thing. Slow down and chill and be present with those who matter most. Like Bruce Erickson said, there are no dress rehearsals in life. Because sometimes life’s smallest moments are really its biggest moments—and you’ve only got one shot to get it right.