In the last five years, I have lost four close friends and two peripheral ones to heart attacks. All of them in their early to mid-forties leaving behind spouses and families forever changed by their sudden absences.

The most frightening realization I've had in recent months is what each of those lost had in common. All were driven in a way I have long admired and sought to mimic. Career men and women who tallied long work hours while also extending themselves to their communities.

These things, of course, in addition to tireless dedication to their families and respective faiths. Even without the oft rose-colored reputations that follow one to the grave, there was never an argument that any of them were hard workers.

Each had garnered for themselves a notable status in their professions. Yet, each of them was remembered at their wakes and funerals with their careers listed last or near last among their significant accomplishments. If at all.

There is something very wrong with the idea that to be considered a valuable person, a worthy spouse, parent, or community member - we must work ourselves to death.

I know three of the six who died in the last half-decade was suffering from co-morbidities such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or all three. That is not even to speak of the toll stress puts on a person physically and emotionally.

While these diseases persisted, those who died far too young had forced themselves to manage those afflictions as best they could around the hours they sacrificed for their careers. All the while those hours making it too convenient to push aside regular exercise, healthy meals, doctors visits or much-needed vacation and sick time to soothe their stresses, properly care for their diseases, or recover from illnesses.

The sad truth is there does not exist an insurance policy, health plan, nor title they left behind that could ever sufficiently fill the years ahead without their presence. However, each of them no doubt believed there was more time to be had. That if they just kept at it, relief and reward would come.

It did not, and we who loved them are all poorer for it.

So why are we Americans so enamored by being career stars? Our identities so wrapped up in being the best providers and title grabbers?

Why does a person who prays for or seeks humility then bend themselves backward to chase the opportunity to earn more and more relentlessly?

Perhaps because for all our talk of values lost or had, what we honor most as a nation is the belief that we could ever buy happiness. That if we only work hard enough, all questions will be answered and life will be good.

I can tell you first hand that no one who has suffered the untimely death of a loved one has ever wished the person they lost had spent more time earning.

It is a cruel thing we do to ourselves and others. Waking only in our times of grief to realize that what we wanted more of was not some ideal of comfort or wealth, but more hours and years with those we adore.

There are bootstraps we can pull and work that can break generational cycles of poverty. Some titles can shape how we are viewed by our communities, and there are benefits to be hoarded and distributed following our demise. There are also personal and career milestones to be won.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, at what cost?

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.