7 Life Lessons from a Young Woman I Managed (Who Died a Few Weeks Ago)

She was the one doing the leading. Now she leads from heaven.

Tim Denning
Jan 19 · 7 min read
Photo by Vadim Sadovski on Unsplash

I had a mental note to message her.

I clicked her Facebook profile only to realize I was too late. She was dead. It was hard to believe. I never got to say goodbye. I never got to say thank you.

I found myself consumed in her content for the next few hours. Leading up to the final stages of her battle with stage 4 cancer, she documented the whole journey. I watched her go from a bright, glowing, 30-something-year-old woman to a sick cancer patient enduring chemotherapy.

The hardest part was when I watched the final videos uploaded to her Youtube channel. She talked about staying motivated. She mentioned trying experimental drugs when chemo wasn’t working. She announced when the cancer spread to multiple organs at once. Then, BAM! … like a bad magic trick, the next video I watched was of her Youtube funeral.

I watched my former work colleagues battle through their goodbye speeches. The hardest part was watching her recently married husband fight his way through a goodbye speech. He said all of his speeches to date were written by his wife. Writing her goodbye speech without her was the first reminder of her sudden disappearance.

It’s hard to describe this magical woman. Here are the only few words that make sense: she was a big bright light.

Imagine seeing darkness, then finding a big bright light to guide you through your day. That’s what she was. I sometimes feel she was superhuman. That she was a spirit floating through the lives of those who needed it (like me).

A Real Leader Doesn’t Have a Title

I was hired to be her manager. When it was announced I’d be joining the company she was the first to send me a direct message on LinkedIn and welcome me. I was scared shitless. Her message made me feel better.

Each day I would arrive at the office. She was the first to greet me and ask how I was doing. It wasn’t in a kiss ass kind of way either. It was genuine. How do I know? She did it to everyone she knew in the office.

Seeing how people were doing was her way of choosing who needed help that day. If someone was having a bad day then she took it upon herself to make it better. It was the unexpected coffee invitation. A food day for the sake of a food day. Or jumping on another person’s phone call to talk with a difficult customer.

I made plenty of mistakes as a new leader in the company. One of them was yelling at a man who owned a flower shop. He was her customer, and he treated her like a doormat. He would ring our office and abuse only women. Every time a man (like me) jumped on the phone he was polite and kind.

One morning he abused another female staff member. She was holding back tears. I couldn’t handle it. I went into the office, and the big bright light followed me in without being asked. We rang the customer together. The conversation quickly escalated. I started saying things I didn’t mean. I lost my temper.

She took me aside after the call and confidently let me know what I had done wrong. It took guts. Her advice was exactly what I needed.

That’s the thing; she was always the leader to the leaders who had the leadership job title.

It was one of the first times I witnessed a leader, leading, for the hell of it. She wasn’t interested in getting a leadership title. She said the financial responsibility to the company to hit sales targets wasn’t worth it. She secretly only wanted the “lead people” part of the job, not the stress.

Give a “Best…of My Life” Compliment to a Person

One morning she told me that I was the best manager she had ever worked with. Initially, I thought she was joking. Her words showed she wasn’t.

It was a sentence that changed me forever.

To be one person’s “best” anything felt incredible. She told me it was because I let her control her destiny. I told her not to tell me when she was going to be late for work. Or when she had a doctor’s appointment. Or when she needed to take one of the many puppies she cared for in her spare time to the vet.

I thought this was a tiny thing. She thought it was huge because she believed I trusted her (which I did).

In our 1–1 catch ups I was supposed to run through her KPIs and see if she needed any support. I quickly realized that wasn’t how things were going to work. She would come in full of life, ready to educate me on a topic. I would sit back and listen in awe.

It wasn’t the topic — it was how she made you feel when you listened to her words. You would leave feeling better than when the meeting first started.

Be There on Someone’s Worst Day of Their Life

We developed a close relationship. We transcended the factory worker “boss” title/relationship and became friends.

Things went downhill soon after.

I was fired from my position unexpectedly. I was embarrassed and felt stupid. It was definitely one of the worst days of my life. The first person to reach out was her. She sent me a kind message and highlighted all the things I did right. Her words soothed a broken soul … and it didn’t stop there.

She was the first person to give me a LinkedIn recommendation. As I went through the gladiator battle of finding a new job, she was the first person to check in on me. She did all of this in silence. Nobody knew she was being a secret traitor to the terrible boss man who fired me (and a long line of others) to feed his unnourished, desperate ego and camouflaged cry for attention.

Plenty of people are there when you’re winning. It’s who shows up when you’ve suffered the biggest losses of your life that counts.

Religion Does Strange Things to People

I recently found out she was part of a church. I never knew. I’m not religious myself but am fascinated by people who are. It’s not the god they believe in which fascinates me — it’s the energy that takes over a person when they believe in a higher power.

Your Final Days Don’t Have to Be When You Learn the Most Important Lessons in Human History

Watching her final days on Youtube was hard yet intriguing. She became more selfless.

She existed solely to help others who were battling cancer. It’s as though the only meaning for life she understood was adding meaning to the lives of others. I wondered if she was scared. I wondered how she felt. The medical facts became obvious clues to her imminent expiry date.

Even on the last few days you could hardly tell she knew her time was up. The physical signs were there from all the chemo. But the emotional and spiritual signs didn’t align. If death had a voice then you couldn’t hear it in her. We describe bravery as jumping out of planes or breaking up with a person we’ve loved for many years.

Those things are bullshit compared to what she faced.

She showed me the greatest bravery in a person’s life is knowing you’re about to die and not giving in to the fear.

Not letting those you love give up hope. She was a symbol for hope to many others who previously could only see darkness before coming into contact with her. The greatest lessons in human history are often learned far too late.

Don’t wait until your final days alive to understand them: Love is the answer. Be kind to every person you meet. The best feeling is knowing you’ve inspired another person. You’re not getting out of this life alive. You’re not here for very long, so what are you going to do with your limited time? Time is the only value you have (to be young is to be a billionaire).

Life Is Short, Even for 30-Year-Olds

She was only in her early 30s. Her life was short. She was newly married. She was discovering leadership, even though she had been practicing it for years without knowing it.

She was getting up in front of huge crowds for the first time and speaking about her various passions. She had become a regular content creator on social media. She was thinking about what it would be like to have a family.

All of it was taken away far too soon.

She was just getting started. But she had truly lived more than most because of her attitude in life. She could always find the good in every situation. She taught me intentional optimism.

The world is incredible as long as you’re alive.

If you’re alive then you’re doing better than dead people who can only wish for a second chance. Or are stuck on the escalator for an eternity, waiting for a shot at the afterlife.

Be the First

As you can see she was always first at something. Unlike many, not the first in terms of achievement or competition.

She was the first to help, the first to inspire, the first to be kind, the first to ask how you’re doing, the first to spot the lesson, the first to find the positive in a bad situation, the first to demonstrate humanity. She was the first to act human — to see the suffering of others as her own, even when cancer was eating away at her organs during her final days.

Why wait to be first at what matters?

To the best female who ever led me, the world will miss you. Wherever you are right now be free. The beauty of your human spirit will always live on through the lessons you taught us by your example.

RIP to Mrs. Big Bright Light.

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Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger with 100M+ views — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship — timdenning.com/wc

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier. Join a community of storytellers documenting the climb to happiness and fulfillment.

Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger with 100M+ views — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship — timdenning.com/wc

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier. Join a community of storytellers documenting the climb to happiness and fulfillment.

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