Four years ago today I had a kidney transplant. I remember that day vividly. The drive to UCLA that morning. The sights, sounds, and smells of the hospital. The flared emotions. And the people. Oh, the people who carried me across the finish line.

As you can imagine, going into kidney failure was awful. Dialysis was unbearable. The transplant was a blessing, but not a cure. They say the average transplant has a 12-year lifespan. That ticking clock in an enormous burden to bear.

The other night I couldn’t sleep, so I typed a note into my phone identifying some of the big takeaways from that day. I hadn’t planned on it, but this morning I felt like sharing it.

First. Control is an illusion. Never forget that. Don’t take your life for granted because anything can happen at any time. Close your eyes and open them to a new reality. That’s how fast things can change. It helps to be aware of that truth and have a response plan for when it does.

Today, we think of pain as being a wholly bad thing. I’m here to tell you there is a gift in pain as well. Pain will crack you open. It will turn your heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It will give you a new spirit. Pain has given me the eyes to see a struggling single mom. Pain has given me the strength to hold a dying man’s hand. It has given me the courage to walk towards others pain rather than away from it.

Give yourself the freedom to feel. Appreciate your feelings, whatever they are. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re happy, be happy. It’s okay. Denying yourself the right to feel will only lead you down a path of self-destruction. Take it from someone who has blown up a few times.

Last. “Live like you are dying,” is a stupid cliché. When you’re dying, you aren’t living. Believe me. Walking in the valley of the shadow of death takes up a lot of space. The time to live is when your life is vibrant and full. Don’t put it off. Do what you love right now. For me, I love reading, writing and seeing the world. Now that I have a life to live, I pursue these things even if it means I make less money or miss a business opportunity now and again.