Two years ago yesterday I got a call from my brother while I was at work. I was busy learning a new database, and didn't have time to talk football, which was what he typically called to talk about.

I ignored his call. He called again. I ignored it again.

He texted me.

I ignored that.

Finally my wife called and told me that I really needed to talk to my brother. The police had found our mother in her home in Salt Lake City.

She had died over the prior weekend.

She was 56 years old.

Her death impacted me in ways that I could have never expected. The death of a parent tends to do that, particularly when it is unexpected, and comes at a relatively young age.

I am a different and better person - and leader - than I was the day she died, though, like many people who are grieving, I had an especially difficult time that first year after her passing.

Here's what I've learned since that day:

Grief makes you realize that life is too short to not take a chance on doing something you love.

When I was 22 I had an opportunity to potentially publish a fiction book, and I walked away from that opportunity.

I can definitively say I was never quite content or happy after that point. It wasn't about losing some dream of becoming a fabulously rich writer (I know such a term is an oxymoron). I was unhappy because I was wasting something I believed was a unique talent.

You cannot be a good leader, or achieve your full potential if you believe you are wasting your gifts.

My mom had always been a big believer in my writing, even after I quit having aspirations of making a living by being a writer. Two months after she died I started writing on LinkedIn, and last year I was named one of their "Top Voices".

Even though it's not like having my name on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, I am a little better at everything I do because I don't feel like I'm wasting a talent I am fortunate enough to have.

Grief toughens you.

After a rough start to adulthood, most of my life as a grown-up has been fairly easy.

I met the woman I love at 22, and we got married three months later. We've raised three kids, including her daughter that I adopted after we got married. We've had bumps, but we are happy.

For the most part my career has had a pretty solid upward trajectory, and my wife and children have been lucky enough to stay healthy.

Things have been relatively easy, which in all honesty made the slightest bit of adversity seem like a much bigger deal than it actually was. For example, 5 years ago I would have had an incredibly hard time recovering from a career setback. 

I am tougher for having to deal with the loss of a parent, and to have had to mentally reconcile the complex and difficult relationship I had with my mom.

Dealing with death makes the loss of a client, even a big one, seem like a small bump in the road - and as a leader, the people who rely on you (and that includes family, not just employees) need you to be able to handle bumps without completely losing control of the vehicle.

Grief helps you focus on what really matters.

It might be a cliché to say that grief helps you focus on what really matters.

But clichés are clichés for a reason.

Grief teaches you that some things truly matter, and some things are just distractions. The ability to focus on what really matters is one of the most important skills any leader can have.

There are other, less painful ways to learn the lessons in this article. 

But, if you do lose someone you care about - or even a relationship you care about - learn what you can from the experience, and honor that person by growing from the loss.

(Note: It would have blown my Mom's mind to read me on Inc. So, here's to you, Peggy McKissen. Thanks for all the comics and Stephen King books. They are what got me here!)