Your dash

Your dash

June 11, 2022 0 By Rick

I recently re-read one of my favorite poems about life. Despite having read it many times, I confess that I didn’t give it much deep thought. It was a lovely poem, and that was that. But with my 75th birthday just two weeks away, re-reading it prompted me to reflect on my life (so far). “The Dash” is a poem by Linda Ellis in which “the dash” represents your life. The dash that she’s referring to is the one on your tombstone between the year you were born and the year you died. That dash represents your life. Everything you achieved, accomplished and failed at in your life. It’s all your lows and highs and all your hellos and goodbyes. It’s the time you spent on earth. It’s how you treated people. It’s how you’ve crafted your story. Make sure your dash is worth every minute of it. This poem is a wonderful reminder of the Carpe Diem Philosophy – live life to its fullest. Remember, it’s not the years in your life. It’s the life in your years.

A poem
“The Dash” makes you ask the tough questions you’ve been avoiding while fighting on corporate and other battlefields of life. The more you reflect on this poem, the more you realize its core message; that it’s more important to consider how you’re living that dash than how long you’ll live it. Are you spending your life pursuing material possessions and pleasures, “likes,” and other forms of confirmation from strangers on social media? Or are you spending that time pursuing your love, passion and dreams and being with loved ones, striving to make others smile, helping those who need assistance and experiencing new things? But most importantly, the “dash” is all about the impact you’ve had on the people around you. It’s not always easy to know if you’ve had a positive impact on someone. Sometimes, you can see the results reasonably quickly. Other times, it can take many years. Here are two examples from my “dash.”

My interpreter in Iraq
While working as a diplomat embedded with the military in Iraq, I hired an intelligent young man to interpret and provide cultural advice to me. Here I was in the middle of Iraq with an ever-growing insurgency going on with only a few words of Arabic under my belt and no knowledge of the Iraqi culture and customs. Because my assistant drove to the base each day, he gave me accurate information regarding the kinetic situation outside the base. I believe that his guidance helped keep me alive during that tumultuous and dangerous period. He did an outstanding job, which I have written about in detail in Chapter 34 of “Forty Tools For Life.” As the situation became increasingly dangerous, I helped him get a visa to the US. Fast forward a few years, and he is now a US citizen with an MA from Georgetown University, a great family and a great job. Did I have an impact on his life? I certainly hope so because he had an impact on mine. As I wrote earlier, sometimes it can take many years to find out if you’ve positively impacted someone.

A former student
I recently received an email from a former student I taught 22 years ago that brought tears to my eyes (yes, this old frogman can cry) and warmed my heart. Below is the email with names and contact information removed for privacy.

“Hello Professor LaRoche,

I hope this email finds you and your family well. I’m looking for a professor I had in high school at the Army-Navy Academy in California for Study Skills. My hope is that this email is to the correct LaRoche. I attended the school summer of maybe 2002 and had some struggles with schemes and bullying from other young ladies in school. You had become my guide and mentor during that time. Your advice and kindness have always stuck with me as I have grown. Throughout the last 20 years, I have spoken of you often and thought of reaching out. At the advice of my husband, I looked you up to reach out. You made an impact on my life and I will always be grateful for your guidance. Would love to hear back from you. Thank you for everything.

Warmest wishes,


In closing
Are there others I have impacted? I can’t say for sure. I hope my work as a diplomat, schoolteacher and university lecturer has impacted others positively, but it’s difficult to know. Today, I write books, blog posts, give presentations on motivation, grit, resilience and mental toughness, run fitness training for my club’s Under-18 rugby team and contribute monthly to an international organization that ensures girls in developing countries can go to school. In today’s fast-moving and chaotic world, it’s nearly impossible to get everything done perfectly, but I keep trying. The real tragedy lies not in aiming high and failing to reach your target but in aiming low and reaching it. One thing is sure, however. It’s never too late to start doing things that matter so that when you come to the date on the right-hand side of your “dash,” you can at least say you gave your all and pushed yourself to your full potential. Remember, life is not about the “why.” It’s about the “why not?” In the poem’s final stanza, Linda Ellis poses a question that cuts right to the heart and should make you reflect on your life. That question is, “when someone stands up during your funeral and talks about your dash, would you be happy and content? Would your dash make others smile? If not, then it’s about time to start living your Dash.” It has certainly given me reason to reflect. How about you? How are you living your “dash?”