What does a meaningful life and career look like?

BUSINESS CLASSIC: In his book Chasing Daylight, the terminally ill boss of KPMG Eugene O'Kelly set out his views on how to lead a purposeful life. His lessons are still pertinent today.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 18 May 2016

It is sometimes said that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. This is a book by a guy who had it all: chairman and CEO of KPMG in the US, happily married with two kids and, at 53, looking forward to a marvellous future.

And then terminal brain cancer was diagnosed. In his remaining weeks, Eugene O'Kelly set out his thoughts on what a meaningful life and career should look like. And he came to realise that a hurried and unreflective pursuit of material possessions and social status were not a good use of limited time.

'Before my illness, I had considered commitment king among virtues,' O'Kelly wrote. 'After I was diagnosed, I came to consider consciousness king among virtues.'

All that misplaced energy O'Kelly saw being expended by peers and colleagues made him think that what he was really witnessing was a displacement strategy, an attempt to avoid what J Alfred Prufrock perhaps had in mind when Eliot's anti-hero referred to an 'overwhelming question': why am I doing what I'm doing?

Your time is short, O'Kelly says, so you had better make sure you use it well, and purposefully. His book came out after his death a decade ago but still poses an important challenge.

Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life by Eugene O'Kelly is published by McGraw-Hill, 2006

Stefan Stern is visiting professor at Cass Business School. Follow him on Twitter: @StefanStern

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