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What We Can Learn About Living From Richard Holbrooke's Death

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Richard Holbrooke's sudden death of an aortic tear this Monday came as a shock to his friends, colleagues, and the public who knew him as a robust and energetic diplomat.

Holbrooke, who died at 69 after 40 years in the foreign service, had been serving as President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time of his death. His last words were reportedly, "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan," as part of a joking exchange with doctors who told him he had to relax (he said he could not relax -- he was too worried about Afghanistan).

It's perhaps unsurprising that so famous a workaholic would be thinking of his job to the very end. NBC's Andrea Mitchell, while remembering Holbrooke, took note of his unremitting dedication to his work, often at the expense of his health. "He would perhaps be alive right now if he had not thrown himself into this job, traveling around the world," she said Dec. 13 on "The Rachel Maddow Show." "And I know of at least three instances where he did have blood clot and heart episodes unreported ... and he still did not stop."

Holbrooke's job was perhaps one of the most stressful positions anyone could hope to have. And from Mitchell's description of Holbrooke's work patterns, it's unlikely that anyone could have successfully convinced him to take a day off, or a night off, or even an hour off from the demanding pressure of navigating the thorny situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Mitchell's comments suggest that she believes that if Holbrooke had somehow managed to handle the extraordinary stress of his job with the competing requirements of his health, he could still be alive today--a major reminder for overworked and over-scheduled individuals to commit to take the time to unplug and recharge.

The connection between stress and health is well-established, with many experts positively associating poorly-managed stress with the incidence of heart disease. "While people know stress plays a role in how they feel physically, they're often unaware that it is a risk factor for heart disease," said Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., an attending cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, in a Health.com report.

If what Mitchell says is true, her evaluation is a powerful reminder of the need to consider our commitment to our jobs in the framework of our commitment to our whole lives. "Ask your soul," Hermann Hesse implored us in "My Belief." "Your soul will not blame you for having cared too little about politics, for having exerted yourself too little, hated your enemies too little, or too little fortified your frontiers. But she will perhaps blame you for so often having feared and fled from her demands, for never having had time to give her..."

Though it might seem like a luxury to try to find those extra hours of sleep, or to strive for a few meditative moments in the midst of office turmoil, success and wellness are inextricably bound together.

WATCH Andrea Mitchell discuss Richard Holbrooke below:

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