This column is inspired by my dear friend and colleague, Wendy Bay Lewis (1949-2013). Through the vehicle of this column, Wendy and I often tried to share wisdom or insights with our community. Our column started out titled, “Work Matters,” and became “Business Matters.” If we kept it going, we might have lobbied for “Life Matters” and “Death Matters.” Having the privilege of getting to know Wendy over the past seven years, I feel like I got to witness the tail end of an amazing journey; I was impressed by, and continued learning from her, up till the end.

Recently, I told Wendy that we’d be leaving Bozeman for opportunities in Maryland. I feared that I might experience guilt, or a sense that I was abandoning her and this community. I should have known better; Wendy responded by celebrating with me. She wrote, “I knew that no grass would grow under your feet! I am happy for you. Living life, being young, accepting, and creating change. That’s the bomb!”

Wendy was keenly aware of differences between age cohorts; it seems (accurately) that she saw herself as someone who could be an exception. She could be whomever she wanted to be, connect with whomever she wanted to connect with, and not be stifled by what one is “supposed to do.” On a trip to California, Wendy and her husband, Ed, went to observe rescued sea lions being released back into the ocean. They saw the truck pull up; as is commonly the case, a raft of sea lions was in the back, timidly considering their next move — except one who charged down the ramp and into the water. Wendy said, “I want to be that sea lion.” What a perfect metaphor.

How appropriate that Wendy charged after an “encore” career for herself, simultaneously encouraging her career coaching clients to also charge after their dreams. And it seemed it was not just her work that was having an encore: since her last round of cancer… she was having an encore of thought, emotion, and spirit.

Through her own introspection, Wendy learned her own quirks, like sometimes tuning into her own exciting ideas rather than listening (something I gave her a hard time for). Sometimes we don’t listen because of our own guardedness. Partly through her own growth, Wendy became better at helping others to discover their own tendencies… so that they could build upon inner-strengths, compensate for their own quirks, and through the process find work that was a good match. Wendy’s journey seemed to lead her to a place of knowing that work, while important, is only one source of fulfillment.

Reflected in her recent blogs, a note she sent to me just before passing, and likely through conversations with others, Wendy was venturing into vulnerable territory where she was more ready to let her guard down. A wonderful model for us all… She wrote this to me: “I have cycled through an emotional terrain that was like wrestling a dragon, but part of my problem (I got this from Jon Kabat-Zinn meditation and spiritual care with my Rabbi), has been to close off access to a lot of people I wanted to protect…” She acknowledged an appreciation of her family for “busting through that wall.” And in recent emails with her Rabbi, she seemed to be learning to accept, maybe even embrace, her own imperfections.

Wendy brought humor, humility, determination, and honesty to the table too. In the same note to me, she also wrote, “So here I am embracing my vulnerability (I don’t know everything about surviving cancer, but I do a great imitation and blogged on it). On November 1, I will have survived 2 years past my recurrence (total 7 years). I have been meditating on ingratitude, even though it feels like I wasn’t entitled to feel it, but I can rage on it! The point is, maybe I can feel grateful and ungrateful simultaneously.”

Wendy’s growth came with such a huge price. Cancer was a catalyst for her to grow leaps and bounds at the end of her journey. We don’t need a life-threatening struggle to benefit from Wendy’s wisdom. In work, in life, and even in facing death… Embrace what is front of you. Don’t be limited by what you are “supposed to do.” If you value something, charge after it. Allow for — even be grateful for — vulnerability and imperfection. And never stop growing.

Wendy Bay Lewis’s legacy lives in all our hearts. Tim has moved his counseling/coaching practice to Annapolis, Md.  Article first published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, November 26, 2013.