Just Learned A Friend Died–Three Nights Ago He Was Telling Me What Mattered In Life

[My apologies for the lack of artful brevity in this post. I’m just typing this one out on the fly.]

I met Rollan at Pub Night–a weekly hang-out of twenty-something Christians in the Palo Alto area.  Rollan was a gregarious Asian, forty-six years old, divorced, with three kids. Despite his age, he occasionally dropped by, and I enjoyed chatting with him about the tech industry.

Last Friday, I hung out at Matt Jeffryes‘ house along with Rollan and another friend.

My main memories from the evening:

Asking Rollan his story.

Hearing him recount growing up as one of the first Asian kids in his area, attending Harvard, working as a trader on Wall Street, adventures traveling the world, getting married, coming out west, his life falling apart after the divorce, and the lifestyle changes he made.

“God took my idols–me wanting to make tons of money, because even when I made half-a-million-a-year that wasn’t enough–I wanted to make millions–that was my idol, and God ripped it down.”

Hearing him talk about wanting to always be there for his kids–and trying not to let them see how much he was hurting after the divorce–but knowing they “occasionally found me weeping in the closet.”

Hearing him talk about God providing the job at Yahoo: “I was running out of money, praying desperately for a job–when this came along. Sometimes a real snore, but it was what I needed–paid the bills and let me spend time with my kids.” Hearing his worries after being laid off, and his new job with The Conversation Group.

I remember reflecting on my own desperate desires to live a meaningful life, and how often I aligned accomplishments, or respect of thought leaders with a successful life.

I remember asking Rollan about his kids–after complaining that I never get to hang out with kids in the Valley. “Careful Jeff, or I might be asking you to come by and hang out with them sometime.” I responded “I just might be doin’ that Rollan.”

(In Bellingham, the Miksovsky family blessed me time and again with their open door policy–I could walk in the door, bellow “who wants to play basketball?” and immediately three or four of their kids [I think they’ve got eight–I lost count] would come running out.)

I remember telling Rollan, “Thanks for sharing this stuff–it’s a blessing to hear you call out the warnings from your life.”

Walking away from the evening impressed by how much smarter and more accomplished Rollan was then he normally let on, and by how honest and humble and broken he was. I remember telling Matt at the end of the night, “I want to learn those life-lessons, without making his mistakes.”

It was a fun night–just the four of us–sitting around talking about theology, our lives, stories, software, etc.

Rollan’s lessons are particularly poignant because I’m in a time of transition.

After my TechCrunch internship ended, I feel my year-long foray into the tech industry is accomplished–plenty of open doors there–so I’m enjoying two weeks of planned reflection time. I’ve been asking folks, “During your times of transition, what questions guided your reflection?”

Five of the better answers:

  • “Always ask yourself, is this a) the right opportunity, and b) the right time?” – Eric Mack
  • Don’t ask “What challenge to go after?” instead ask “Who do I want to be?” – Andrew Nelson
  • “When you die, how do you want each group of people–friends, family, co-workers–to remember you?” – Chuck W
  • “Reflect on the past year–and all your varied experiences. What part of each one made you happy? Have the courage to pursue those types of things.” – Karl Klaesius
  • “Jeff, you’re a connector and a leader. Change your question from  ‘How do I create lasting value?’ to ‘how do I set others free to create lasting value?’ ” – Prefers Anonymity


This morning I awoke to a text message, “did you hear about rollan?”

Right afterward, I opened a friend’s e-mail with news of Rollan’s death.
(Currently, it seems we were the last to see him alive.)

Didn’t take long for the tears to start flowing.

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