Albom: Giving Is Living

Bestselling author delivers moving message about compassion and getting the most out of life

By Paul Bergeron June 13, 2023

Author Mitch Albom speaks during the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 in Las Vegas on June 13.

​Author Mitch Albom delivered an uplifting message to SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 (SHRM23) attendees: Giving is always better than taking.

Speaking June 13 at a General Session, the bestselling author of Tuesdays with Morrie (Crown, 1997) explained the value and importance of making time for people. He said those who do will "live" beyond their passing through the relationships they built during their lives.

Tuesdays with Morrie recounts how Albom renewed his relationship with his former college sociology professor in the months before the professor died from Lou Gehrig's disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

What he learned during those conversations—about compassion, asking for help and having patience—helped him lead a better life.

"You have to find time to invest time in people while you are living," Albom said, choking up at times while delivering his remarks. "If you do, your voice will remain inside them even after you are gone. In other words, you aren't really 100 percent dead.

"If you spend your life focused on making money and great personal achievements, none of that will matter when you die. If all you do is 'take' rather than 'give,' essentially, you will be 100 percent dead. None of what you accomplished will mean a thing."

The SHRM23 audience found a lot of meaning in Albom's message.

"'Living is giving' is a great message, and that's what motivates us as HR professionals," said Lakeesha Brown, vice president of human resources at University of Connecticut Health in Farmington, Conn. "Mitch Albom put it into words for us with his presentation."

Mike Williams, SHRM-SCP, director of human resources at UCP of Sacramento and Northern California in Sacramento, Calif., said, "I'm glad I brought a tissue. He gave us good reminders about 'getting out of ourselves' and instead focusing on helping others. This is what we do in HR. We need to do this in our personal lives, too."

Kelly Smithee, SHRM-SCP, human resource manager at Smith Roberts Baldischwiler in Oklahoma City, said, "We care about people–that's the epitome of HR. If we keep doing the right thing, we will be rewarded for it. We're not in this profession for the money, we're doing it because we care."

Albom said there's nothing wrong with asking others for help, but sometimes you get back what you aren't expecting. He said having patience can pay off when it comes to receiving what others deliver to you.

After Albom graduated, he lost touch with Professor Morrie Schwartz, who had mentored him through college. Focused on his career as a sportswriter in Detroit, Albom never reached out. Then one night, he saw Schwartz being interviewed on TV about having ALS, so he visited him at the hospital.

Little did Albom know that he'd return over and over again, gaining great personal insight into life from Schwartz.

"I went there to cheer him up, but he cheered me up," Albom said. "He was 78 and dying and I was 37 and living, and yet, he seemed happier than I was, just conversing with me. Learning about the value of giving and not taking was not what I went to visit Morrie about, but that's the lesson I gained."

Albom also learned that lesson from a Haitian girl, Chika, who he and his wife adopted from an orphanage he ran on the island. When Chika was diagnosed with a rare brain disease at an early age, there was no treatment available in Haiti, so Albom took her to the U.S. to find medical help.

There, he learned that her rare disease was untreatable and she had little time left to live. Ultimately, he found some trial medications for the disease that extended her life another two years. Those two years were precious to the Alboms, who learned to love their daughter even more.

One day, Chika asked Albom to carry her. He said he was working and couldn't at that moment. Chika corrected him, saying, "Your job is to carry me," and Albom obliged.

"It reminded me that our No. 1 job in life is to carry our children," he said. "You can't always get what you want [such as saving Chika's life]. Learning this message from her was not what I asked for, but it's what I received."

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer in Herndon, Va.



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