CEOs show how cheating death can change your life

Chris Kearney, CEO of Fortune 500 manufacturing company SPX spx, says he had a close call in college while riding with a friend in his new car. The friend failed to round a curve, and the car went airborne before landing upright in the mud of a cow pasture.

"We looked at each other and started laughing," Kearney says. "A farmer came down with a flashlight to see if his cows were OK."

Learning from a brush with death

"Near-death experiences give you balance. You become more worldly. Your ideas become bigger," says Jason Calacanis, co-founder of Weblogs, sold to AOL in 2005. Now 38, Calacanis says he is wealthy enough to never need to work, but he says he remained a workaholic after a ski vacation four years ago when the commercial prop plane he was in was so blown by 58 mph winds that it turned completely sideways just before it was about to land at the Telluride, Colo., airport. The pilot powered up the shaking plane just in time and diverted to Durango.

"I thought there was a pretty good chance we were not going to make it," says Calacanis, who re-evaluated his life and reached the conclusion that building Internet companies was what he loved to do. He is now CEO of Mahalo, which he describes as a site that is part search engine, part Wikipedia, part Google.

Calacanis travels 50 to 70 times a year, but where he once went back and forth from Europe without checking into a hotel, he now often takes his wife and spends several days in places like Sydney and Sundance, Utah, to engage in "epic" experiences such as climbing the Sydney bridge or screening movies at the film festival.

Sun Microsystems CEO Schwartz, who did not respond to an interview request, has often said that the 1987 train accident nearly killed him and said in a 2007 interview with the website Scobleizer that it was life changing. Life becomes "shinier," and time more precious, Schwartz said. More recently, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said he quit hoarding his wine collection and drank it over time.

"You should plan for the long haul, but there is a big difference in doing that and making perpetual sacrifices," Schwartz told Scobleizer.

Apple has frustrated shareholders with the lack of information about Jobs' health. It says Jobs, 54, will return in June.

"No one wants to die," Jobs said in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. "Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

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