As you can imagine, we here at Accounting Today receive our fair share of unsolicited books, some of which we readily anticipate for their reference value (i.e. Who Audits America), while others are viewed as the equivalent of an ossified holiday fruit cake.Many of these tomes are accompanied by the requisite form letter asking us to include them in our book review section - or, in our case, the New Products page - and often include not-too-subtle hints that the authors are readily available for interviews. To be honest, my engagement with those responsible for the more complex material wouldn't stray too far from boilerplate questions. Picture Katie Couric trying to make a relevant point to Stephen Hawking and you sort of get my drift.
However, last month, we received several copies of Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, the poignant memoir penned by the late Eugene O'Kelly, the former head of Big Four firm KPMG, who, after being diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors at the age of 53, made the decision to transform the last days of his life into the best ones.
From his opening statement of "I was blessed," after being informed that he had perhaps three to four months to live, O'Kelly, like a true accountant, mapped out a strategy, which included not only ensuring a succession plan for the firm, but also a wind-down separation process for his friends and family when he finally left in September.
For the curious, the title is a reference to O'Kelly's passion for playing golf in the late afternoon, when the shadows become elongated before leading ultimately to the gloaming - a not-so-subtle metaphor for O'Kelly's last 100 or so days of life.
From a personal standpoint, O'Kelly's struggle hit particularly close to home. A quarter-century ago, I watched helplessly as a close cousin of mine, whose passion for surfing at sunrise matched that of O'Kelly's for twilight golf, succumbed to a brain tumor at the incredibly unfair age of 21, leaving a mammoth void of unfulfilled goals, future accomplishments and truncated remembrances.
But O'Kelly's saga raises the point of the work/life balance in the profession, something that O'Kelly began to adhere to early in his 30-year career, but as he rose in rank, seemed to be able to capture less of.
As he tells it, he was often working 80-hour weeks and juggling flights between continents, which speaks volumes on the importance of a work/life balance. He and his wife's plans to erect their dream house in Arizona were derailed by O'Kelly's fatal diagnosis, which by its nature put all his admirable accomplishments in stark perspective.
However, O'Kelly remained adamant about not receiving pity or optimistic "hang-in-there" encouragements from his friends and colleagues as the end drew. He had singled 1,000 of them out to deliver his good-byes personally, and that's what he insisted they were - a final goodbye. The issue was closed and there was no turning back.
Unfortunately, I can no longer speak to Gene O'Kelly, as this was one author interview I gladly would have made an exception for. But if the profession takes away nothing else from the book, the importance of maintaining a work/life balance should serve as a stark reminder of just how quickly even the best-thought-out post-career plans can change.
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