Alton Maiden played Defensive Tackle for The University of Notre Dame under legendary Coach Lou Holtz. In late October 1996, the Fighting Irish arrived in Dublin, Ireland to prepare for the first-ever Shamrock Classic – a November 2 football game between Notre Dame and the United States Naval Academy. 

During their time in Ireland, the team was able to do some sightseeing. One of their stops was a 12th-century cemetery. Coach Holtz said, “All we saw were dilapidated walls and huge tombstones.” 

Holtz would soon learn that Maiden saw something very different. Maiden was so moved by the cemetery experience that he sat down in  the midst of those dilapidated walls and huge tombstones and wrote a poem called “The Dash.” The poem is as follows:

I’ve seen death staring at me with my own eyes in a way many cannot know. I’ve seen death take others, but still leave me here below. 

I’ve heard many mothers’ cries, but death has refused to hear. In my life, I have seen many faces filled with many, many tears. 

After death has come and gone, a tombstone sits for many to see. But it serves no more than as a symbol of a person’s memory. 

Under the person’s name, it reads the date of birth and the date the person passed. But the more I think about the tombstone, the more important thing is the dash. 

Yes, I see the name of the person, but that is something I might forget. 

I read the date of birth and death, but even that may not stick. But thinking about the person, I can’t help but remember the dash. It represents a person’s life, and that will always last. 

So, when you begin to charter your life, make sure you’re on a positive path. Because people may forget your birth and death, but they will never forget your dash. 

Alton has a good point. What are we doing with our “dash?” 

There is an opportunity to connect purpose and meaning to each daily activity. We have the freedom to choose our actions, our profession, our financial needs, and the path of our life. Each day is not about what we have to do. It’s about what we get to do. People may forget your birth and death, but they will never forget your “Dash.” 

What I’ve come to find is that a successful “dash” comes from creating a game plan for your life, just as if you yourself were a company. A company’s game plan is defined by the types of initiatives that it invests in. If the allocation of resources is mismanaged, the outcome will be different than intended.

No one turns 18 and plans on eventually getting divorced or having strained/estranged family relationships. Most people have a vision and hope for their future and so should you. You must also have an action plan to make your “dash” count. It’s important to strategize about how you spend your time, talents, and energy if you want to have an amazing “dash.” 

The only question is what you will do with your “dash?” 

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