Brave and Crazy

I was working away yesterday when a Twitter from Andrew Sayer popped up noting that John Ilhan (aka “Crazy John”) had died. John Ilhan was the founder of Crazy John’s Mobile Phones. He was 42, married with four kids, and a self-made multi-millionaire. I was vaguely aware of him until Monday night, when Today Tonight did a story on him, where he had “allowed them into his private life”. The last question he was asked was “Where to from here?” He wanted to become Australia’s largest telco (or something along those lines).

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw that twitter was “check The Age“. The second was the parable spoken by Jesus in Luke 12:13-21. Not as a judgement of John Ilhan (I didn’t know him personally; by all accounts I’ve read he was a good & compassionate man), but as a reflection of the things that I sought to achieve for so long. John Ilhan seemed to have had all the good things most would aspire to; a wife and four kids, he reportedly had a personal fortune of $310 million dollars, a mansion in Brighton, was fit and healthy, exercised regularly. He had a heart attack while out walking in the early morning.

I’ve spent much of my life thus far reaching for more than I have. Caught up in the collective consumerist nightmare that most of us share. John Ilhan had already achieved that through determination and hard work. I wonder if he was happy? He seemed to be during his interview on Monday night. He spoke of spending nights sleeping on the floor of his shop while he was building his business; I didn’t sleep on the floor of either of my shops, but I came close. He succeeded where I chose to walk away. His hard work paid off for him, quite handsomely.

Now he’s gone, in the prime of his life (as they say). I guess that like any bereaved partner, his wife would give anything for just a few more minutes with him. If my life were suddenly over tomorrow, what would my legacy be? Could I look back and say that I lived a life worth living? Would my family be overjoyed at the time I spent with them, or regretful at the time I didn’t?

Sadly, I think that at this point in my life the answers would not be positive. Yesterday, I read an article in Newsweek that indicated that money “bought happiness” when moving some-one from “abject poverty” to “middle-class” but beyond that, there were diminishing returns on increasing wealth vs. happiness. Society is geared towards consumerism; making us unhappy with what we have and wanting something better. At this time in my life, I want for very little. I’m trying to learn to be thankful for, and satisfied with, the things I have; and to invest my time in the relationships I have with the people around me, for they are far more valuable than mere “stuff”.

The untimely death of John Ilhan reinforces this for me. At the end, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, the only things left behind for those who we love is the time and love we have given them. The stuff we had will rust and decay, but the time we invest in others can pay dividends far beyond our lifetime.

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