New Year’s reSOLUTIONS: Two Little Words

Steve Reese Foresight, New Year's reSOLUTIONS Leave a Comment

What CIO Steve Reese learned from a terminally ill friend, and how it will shape the years to come

NewYearsReSolutions_15_smallBy Steve Reese

Bob Schuttler was a good friend of mine who was dying of AIDS in June 1989. During his final days, I was taken aback by how transparent he was to talk about his life: his triumphs, his failures, his regrets and what he’d do if he had the opportunity to throw life in reverse and start all over.

You have to know Bob to understand that he was intent on finishing life on his terms. And these were to help others understand that at some point in life, our broken bodies cannot indefinitely weather the years that our youth longs to spend. In essence, we need to live life now, while we have time.

During one poignant conversation, I asked Bob, “If you had it all to do over again, what advice would you give yourself?” It was the simplest of questions, and somehow I didn’t feel as if it was close to measuring up to what Bob was facing. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d spend more time thinking and listening.”

Here we are nearly 25 years later, and I’m still thinking about that day and the advice of a dying friend. At the time, I noted how unassuming his advice was. Before stepping into eternity, Bob’s final advice boiled down to two little words: think and listen.

As I look back on my own life, two of the most impactful events occurred as a result of people who lived out the power of Bob’s advice much better than I have. The first happened during Christmas in 1970. I was 10 years old and I was waiting for my oldest brother, Rich, to arrive home from the Navy. Being the youngest of four brothers, I’ve always idolized my older siblings. Even though I occasionally became the object of their torment, I lived life to become as big and strong as they were and to make them proud.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d spend more time thinking and listening.”
On this particular day, as Rich approached the door, I noticed he was carrying the largest sack of styrofoam bricks that I’d ever seen. After taking off his wool Navy peacoat, which I got to wear, and hugging everyone, Rich looked at me and said, “Let’s go,” as he pointed to the basement. With that, we spent the next 30 minutes building a fort and “defending the homeland.” It was just me and my hero and a bag of styrofoam blocks—one on one, talking, laughing and listening.

Fourteen years later, I found myself in the living room of my good friend Steve Gonsoulin. As we sat there, the silence couldn’t have been heavier. This was one of those times where words of comfort would have been a felony compared to the grief that filled my heart. My brother Rich had passed away, and I had returned from the funeral the day before. As we sat there, Steve reached over and handed me a newly opened beer; we proceeded to sit in silence for what felt like an eternity.

Eventually, he broke the silence with six words that unleashed my torrent of grief. He said, “Steve, tell me about your brother.” For the next three hours (and four beers later), I poured out what was left of my shredded soul while Steve simply sat there and listened to story after story about my big brother. It was a moment that I’ll never forget. It was a moment of laughing, crying and listening.

There are some lessons that are impossible to comprehend unless we experience them ourselves. I can honestly say that I learned to listen from two of the best teachers who modeled that behavior. But lately, I feel as if that lesson has gotten away from me. And so, Bob, in a world that can’t seem to stop talking, I want to let you know that here we are, 25 years later, and I’m headed into the new year ready to live out your advice and master those two simple words you left me with years ago: think and listen.

Happy 2015, everyone!


Suns Exec Portraits 5_14_14Steve Reese is Chief Information Officer of the Phoenix Suns. He was featured in Issue No. 13 of Forefront magazine.

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