T. Boones Pickens was a wealthy man.
If you don’t know who he was, let’s just say he was one of the most successful business magnates during your lifetime. Starting as a “depression-era baby from tiny Holdenville, Oklahoma”, he became a billionaire by entering the petroleum industry after college and founding what would become Mesa Petroleum, which evolved into a powerhouse in the merger & acquisition space. (If you’re interested, you can read about him on Wikipedia.)
On September 11, 2019, he died.
Today’s post isn’t about Mr. Pickens’ successes (or failures) in his 91 years of life.
It’s about something more important. It’s about a message he left for all of us shortly before his death. It’s about deciding what we want to leave as our legacy. It’s a rare opportunity to look into the mind of a billionaire in his final days. I find it interesting to think about what people focus on at the end of their lives, and today we get some insight.
The final words of T. Boones Pickens are powerful and started with these words:
If you are reading this, I have passed on from this world…
Today, you’re getting a chance to think about what he said. It’s a message all of us should hear.
Shortly before his death in September 2019 he wrote this message. He took precious time in his final weeks of life to write these words, and I encourage you to read them. I found it a powerful perspective from a man in his last few days on earth, and it led me to write this post. Below I’ll quote some of Mr. Picken’s comments which resonated with me, along with a few of my thoughts. It’s a powerful letter, and it’s worth taking some time to think through these final words of T. Boone Pickens:
- “I took the time to convey some thoughts that reflect back on my rich and full life.”
- “I’ve long recognized the power of effective communication.”
If you want to leave a lasting difference in the world, take the time to convey your thoughts. Mr. Pickens and I seem to prefer the written word. The written word will last well beyond a human life, and you never know the impact your words may have after you’re gone. Mr. Pickens is now dead, but his words may impact you today. It’s a morbid thought, but I hope my words do the same after I’m gone.
- “One question I was asked time and again: What is it that you will leave behind?”
- “… in my later years I began to reflect on the many life lessons I learned along the way…”
These statements bring to mind the Top 5 Regrets People Have on Their Deathbeds. I wonder if Mr. Pickens had some regrets. I don’t know much about Mr. Pickens’s personal life, but given that he 5 wives (and divorces) in his lifetime, it makes me wonder if he had a lack of balance between his work and personal life. Sometimes those who seem so successful in society’s eyes are suffering in the less visible areas of their life. At the same time, he was a generous man who contributed to many worthy causes with his wealth. It seems natural to think about what your legacy will be and it’s clear in the final words of T. Boones Pickens that he was thinking about it, as well.
What is it that you will leave behind? It’s a critical question that all of us should answer.
- “She (his grandmother) always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail.
Never forget where you come from.”
- “Be humble. I always believed the higher a monkey climbs in the tree, the more people below can see his ass. You don’t have to be that monkey.”
Mr. Pickens seems genuinely humble about his success. I admire that. I’ve known a lot of narcissists in my 33 years within Corporate America and find it the most offensive personality trait I’ve encountered. Don’t be that monkey. Humility is a great attitude to strive for, and it seems he made it a priority.
- “I also long practiced what my mother preached to me throughout her life — be generous.”
- “I liked knowing that I helped a lot of people.”
Mr. Pickens was a true philanthropist, giving away an estimated $700 Million to various charities and one of the billionaires who signed The Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half his wealth. His list of donations is impressive, and I’m pleased to know he seemed genuinely interested in making a positive impact on the world via his wealth.
“I liked knowing that I helped a lot of people” is a telling statement. Many folks find in retirement that true joy comes when you begin using your freedom to benefit others. Generosity is something we should all strive for and retirement is a time to give back.
- “Stay fit. You don’t want to get old and feel bad. You’ll also get a lot more accomplished and feel better about yourself if you stay fit. I didn’t make it to 91 by neglecting my health.”
Ah, a man after my own heart. One of the areas I’m passionate about is the importance of taking care of ourselves as we age. It’s why I attend a variety of fitness classes 5 days a week. If there’s one thing you want to do to make your life better in the New Year, start getting serious about your fitness. Read Younger Next Year if you need some motivation. Thousands have demonstrated the value of a regular fitness routine. Join us, you won’t regret it.
- “Embrace change. Although older people are generally threatened by change, young people loved me because I embraced change rather than running from it. Change creates opportunity.”
I’ve found a willingness to embrace change is a major factor in a successful retirement and I’m glad I included it as the 7th commandment in my 10 Commandments of Retirement. Retirement is a time of significant change in life and it’s best to approach it with a positive attitude. It seems sometimes change is harder to accept as we age, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
- “Have faith, both in spiritual matters and in humanity, and in yourself. That faith will see you through the dark times we all navigate.”
I suspect everyone faces spiritual questions in their final days. There’s nothing more important than understanding how you’ll spend your time in eternity. Focus on your faith throughout your life and make it a priority in your daily life. Don’t put it off until your final days. Your final day may come sooner than you think.
The last few lines are, indeed, the final words of T. Boones Pickens. I think it’s best to include them in their entirety:
Over the years, my staff got used to hearing me in a meeting or on the phone asking, “Whaddya got?” That’s probably what my Maker is asking me about now.
Here’s my best answer.
I left an undying love for America, and the hope it presents for all. I left a passion for entrepreneurship, and the promise it sustains. I left the belief that future generations can and will do better than my own.
Thank you. It’s time we all move on.
And now, he’s gone.
He’s moved on.
I find it a bit surreal to read the final words of T. Boones Pickens. I suspect it was a bit of a struggle for him to write them, and I wonder what he was thinking as put these words together. Somehow, it seemed important to share his words with you today. I encourage you to think about what he had to say.
The final words of T. Boone Pickens are an interesting look into the mind of a dying man. It’s interesting to think about what we’d write if we knew we were near death. What is the most important thing you could write to another person in your final days? It seems a bit of a morbid topic, but it’s important for each of us to think about what really matters to us.
Retirement is a time to decide what we want to be known for. What our legacy will be. What we want to accomplish with our lives. Take some time to decide what matters to you.
Our lives will all be over someday.
Live yours to the fullest.
Your Turn: Which of the final words of T. Boone Pickens most resonates with you? What would you want to say to people in your final days? It’s an interesting mental exercise, and I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.