You just didn't know it at the time.
Neither did Brad.
My friend Brad Smith is a young executive with the type of résumé most late-30-somethings would love to have. He has an MBA from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California and served as the director of marketing operations for Skullcandy and the chief operating officer for golf shoe manufacturer Jack Grace.
He is also a scoutmaster and volunteer, was high school class president--and, though it is just a small part of who he is, is the receiver of some really bad news.
Brad and his family recently learned he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
Brad was my high school class president--though we didn't know each other well. Even then, he had something that took me almost 20 additional years to find: comfort in his own skin. Brad was confident, comfortable with who he was, and (like every politician) convinced he was the leader the class of 1999 was looking for.
And, even as he replies to my emails from a hospital bed, it is clear his diagnosis has not stopped him from continuing to offer something to the world. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom from Brad Smith, operations executive, father, husband, son, volunteer, scoutmaster, Park City High School class of 1999 president, and friend:
1. A wise person lives to serve others.
The roles that define Brad to the many, many people who know and love him never came with a paycheck, or sometimes even a thank-you. When I asked Brad for his wisdom, service to others was first on the list he sent me.
"Other people matter," Brad wrote.
Even in the face of enormous challenges, Brad still focuses on thanklessly serving others.
At the end of Batman Begins, the Dark Knight tells Commissioner Gordon that he'll never have to thank him. It is just as impressive when Batman says the same thing while hooked to a ventilator.
More so, in fact.
2. Find your Michael Caine Alfred.
Brad didn't exactly phrase it this way. Instead, he wrote that he learned about serving others from the "least selfish person" he ever met: his wife, Tiffany.
This will be the last Batman analogy in this article, but even Bruce Wayne needed an Alfred--and I mean the Michael Caine, former-spy version of Alfred.
Brad's Michael Caine Alfred is Tiffany.
In business and in life, everyone needs their Michael Caine Alfred.
And every Batman should strive to be someone's Michael Caine Alfred (that's what Brad means when he talks about service).
Brad was lucky enough to find the right Alfred--and it's a big reason why he remains optimistic about his future.
3. Fear is a natural human emotion. Use it.
Brad is a deeply spiritual man. He knows that when it is his time to move on, he won't be entering a black void--but he won't necessarily be able to impact his children's lives the way he could here on earth.
Being unable to provide for his family is his biggest fear. I am also certain that fear is the only reason he let me write this article. Letting that fear in allowed Brad to let other people tell his story, as well as organize a fundraiser for his family.
Fear gets a bad rap.
You can't let it rule you.
But you can let it motivate you.
4. Never abandon your goals.
"My diagnosis changed my strategy and my risk profile," Brad wrote, "but it didn't really change my goals. My biggest career goal now is to attend my kids' Little League games."
Maybe you lost your job.
Maybe your business imploded.
Maybe, like Michael Scott in The Office, you just declared bankruptcy.
Brad Smith would tell you to dust yourself off, adjust your risk profile, change your strategy, and attack your day.
It's the best advice you'll ever hear from a politician this year--even if he hasn't run for office since 1998.