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Deirdre Cienki Headshot

What My Friend's Death Taught Me About Life and Business

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I woke up on the morning of Aug. 25, 2011 to 22 text messages, 8 missed calls, and 4 voicemails. It's not uncommon for me to find myself waking up to missed messages but this seemed excessive and my heart sank.

I didn't look at the text messages or check my voicemails but I scanned the names on my missed calls and knew something was wrong. My parents, my siblings... was someone hurt? What happened?

I froze... part of me didn't want to know. Who do I call?

Without thinking further, I clicked speed-dial and rung up my best friend. I hesitated before telling her of the handful of missed calls I had from high school friends I hadn't talked to in years.

There was silence at the other end of the phone.

"Deirdre," she calmly said. "I have something to tell you."

She proceeded to inform me that our friend Jovana was dead. I hung up the phone and went through my text messages and voicemails, most of which said "call me" or "I'm so sorry."

I couldn't believe it.

Jovana Vasic was a mutual friend of ours who would spend weeks on end with us in Tampa, as we tried to perfect our tennis games. Her long dark hair, gorgeous tanned skin and gracious, warm-hearted personality light up every room she walked in.

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The previous day, Aug. 24, 2011, Jovana was en route to Flagstaff, Ariz. with her father. While driving along Interstate 40 in Texas, a semitrailer truck plowed into her BMW, searing off the front end of the car. Jovana died on impact.

This month marks one year since the accident and I constantly wonder why. After realizing I couldn't brainwash myself that she was out of the country, that her phone was dead, or we simply lost touch, I recognized I needed to face reality. Jovana wasn't coming back.

I don't know that I'll ever understand why it happened but as time passes I try to reflect on the lessons I learned during the time we spent together... to help me in business and life.

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The Early Bird Gets the Worm

I can't count the days Jovana would rip off my sheets at the crack of dawn, looking to get the day started. I constantly asked her for "five more minutes" to sleep but before I knew it, I was out of bed and we were at the gym for our morning workout. The days we were up before the crack of dawn, we accomplished so much. It's no surprise the most successful businessmen and women make it a routine to rise before the sun.

Dress Your Best to Impress

Countless articles have been written about the importance of proper attire when interviewing for a job. Making the best impression is vital when looking to secure employment. But, how about once you secure that job? Or when you're simply running to the grocery store to grab milk?

Whether or not you care to admit it, you are constantly being judged by what you wear. When I was in college, it wasn't uncommon for me to run out of my apartment in loose sweats and a t-shirt with my hair in a messy bun. My friend Jovana consistently dressed to impress. She too would occasionally wear sweatpants but made sure her outfit was well put together.

One day, I asked her why; we were simply running to fill up my car with gas and grab a bite to eat. Her response? You never know who we are going to run into.

How often do you find yourself partially disheveled running to the supermarket, hanging your head low hoping not to run into anyone you know?

You don't have to wear a four-figure suit with Gucci shoes, but making an effort to improve your wardrobe will pay off -- in business and life.

Don't Let Life Pass You By

Not all of us are fortunate to do what we love for a living. For those of you that are, enjoy it. There will be days you won't like what your boss tells you, are frustrated by your nagging children, or simply overwhelmed with your daily responsibilities.

Personally, I'm always constantly searching for the latest or greatest. What more can I do? How can I take on more responsibilities and make a positive, significant impact on my company? I've been this way as far back as I can remember, in all aspects of life.

I remember sitting on the couch one day with Jovana, talking about our life goals and dreams. I was constantly mapping out my future... where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. Jovana talked about her goals and aspirations and wondered what tomorrow would bring as well, but she was more focused on the present. She wanted to know what we were going to spend the day doing and what that beautiful 80-degree Florida day had to offer.

I remember telling her we should map out our future... put it on paper. I thought she needed a plan and more structure. She agreed but maybe I was wrong... maybe she was right all along.

With the every ending distractions we are faced with, too often people don't stop to appreciate what the present has to offer. We rarely stop to say hello to the person we cross paths with on the street, or thank the man bagging our groceries at the supermarket.

Take time to smile and say hello to the strangers you cross path with today -- you never know, the smile you offer a stranger may be the only one he or she saw today.

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