Go Big or Go Home: Life Lessons from an Entrepreneur

By Jennifer Carroll, special to Overdrive

This is a story about my late husband, Phil Carroll, a long-time entrepreneur, EO Arizona member and one of the first people to join EO. Like many hard-charging entrepreneurs out there, Phil fear­lessly embraced the “Go big or go home!” motto. He always lived life in the fast lane, and the result was a beautiful journey filled with love, laughter and lessons learned.

Born to Build Businesses
If I had to describe Phil with a noun, it would be “entrepreneur.” As an adjective, it would be “positive.” In abbreviation form? That’s simple: “!” Phil was an entrepreneur from the day he was born. At age 10, he started a grass-cutting business using his father’s lawnmower. In high school, he launched a hospital flower delivery business by turning the family station wagon—he unbolted and removed the back seat—into a state-of-the-art flower delivery mini-van. In college, Phil and his best friend, Dave Steele (EO Vancou­ver), bought a broken houseboat and flipped it into a cruising boat. They went on to create Three Buoys Houseboat Vacations, the largest fleet of houseboats in the world.

After 10 years of turning the art of partying into a multi-million-dollar business, the proverbial houseboat cruised off course. Seeking a new adventure, Phil and Dave plunged into the real estate industry, where through their property management business they managed and sold a billion dollars worth of real estate. It was an entrepreneurial roller-coaster, to say the least, filled with plenty of challenges and surprises. And yet, through all of the ups and downs of business, the greatest surprise came in 2007 when Phil was diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer. In an instant, our lives changed as Phil began his most challenging enterprise of all— the business of “buying time.”

Mr. Positive
From the day Phil was diagnosed to his subsequent trips to the doctor, everything was a busy, jarring blur. I remember one hospital visit vividly. Phil was getting his first of several blood transfusions, and I was by his side, helplessly staring at my frail, pale husband with tubes sticking out of his nose. And then I was snapped out of my worried state by a holler from the nearby nurse: “BE POSITIVE!” Startled, Phil and I looked at each other and replied defensively, “We always try to be positive!” The nurse chuckled, and said, “I was just telling the other nurse his blood type. Phil’s blood is B- Positive.” What an epiphany! “Of course it’s B-Positive!” I remember saying. “I’ve always known that Phil is the most positive man alive, and here is the proof— it’s literally in his blood.”

Phil never dwelt on the negative; instead, he stayed focused on the positive and the “what’s next?” If a movie got violent, it got shut off. If a visitor started to gossip, he was shut up. Even when his doctor began leading the conversation toward, “This cancer is likely going to…” Phil would raise his hand sharply and say, “Doc, I only want to hear about what I need to do to survive.” To some, it was denial … but to Phil, it was living! Up until the end, he would invite his friends over and have everyone share stories about their adventures together, many of which revolved around the 30 or more Universities he attended since joining EO. Even in those dark days, Phil knew how to feel alive.

Live Life Out Loud!
Phil celebrated his life until his last breath. When his big world was confined to our small home and he was attached to an oxygen tank, Phil still loved squeezing the most out of his minutes. He believed that if you live with purpose and passion, love unconditionally, laugh out loud, learn from your challenges, lead by example and lend a helping hand, you will leave a legacy! Phil did exactly that. On 14 December 2012, Phil Carroll lost his life to one of the most aggressive cases of prostate cancer seen in America (leave it to Phil to have an over-achieving cancer), but his impact will never be forgotten. Although Phil’s life was marked by an exclamation point, his death is not a period; it’s an ellipsis … our grandkids will know this amazing man because his beauty will transcend through our children, through me and through all of the people who were touched by him in EO and beyond.

The Greatest Lesson of All
It has been a few months since Phil left us, and I’m still reminded of his impact. My son, Austin, recently asked, “Did dad do anything wrong?” I replied, “Of course not! Dad did everything he could; he fought for his life until his last breath.” But then I stopped, and as I looked deep into my son’s teary eyes, I added, “But dad did think he was invincible, that nothing could bring him down. That is what made him who he was, but it also could have hastened his demise. He ignored symptoms and thought he knew more than the doctors.” Through his haste, Phil unknowingly delivered the greatest lesson of all: No one—not even high-octane entrepreneurs—is invincible.

The Power of Perspective
A few weeks before he passed away, Phil and I were sitting outside watching a hummingbird. He turned to me and whispered, “I have nothing left on my bucket list.” “Wow,” I said, fighting off tears. Not many 50-year-old men can say that. He added, “I’ve built great companies with a best friend of 30 years, I’ve been married to the love of my life for 22 years, I’ve guided my beautiful children into adulthood, I’ve had the most amazing friends, I’ve travelled the world, run marathons and built homes for families in Mexico.” He paused to take another breath from his oxygen tank, and said, “Just one more thing to do … become the world’s greatest grandfather!”

At the time, I knew that, sadly, Phil was not going to realize his final “bucket list” item. But I found solace in knowing that he had done more in 50 years than most people do in their entire lives. He had lived passionately, loved hard and shared his “Phil”-osophies with everyone he knew. Through his actions, he taught us the power of positivity and that perspective is everything. I will miss Phil deeply, but I, like so many others, am grateful for the time I had with him and thankful for what he’s given me. In the end, Phil taught me the importance of living life out loud, and to always go big or go home!

To learn more about Phil and his journey, click here!

Categories: Best Practices Inspirational Other


9 Responses to “ Go Big or Go Home: Life Lessons from an Entrepreneur ”

  1. Ennio Mercuri on

    Thank you for sharing your story. I / we need to hear these stories to get perpective on what it is really all about. Family and friends and spending time with each other. If ever you’re down under you must look us up. Ennio and Mary

  2. Monchu Garcia on

    Thank you Jennifer. Your story touched me as a 52 year old entrepreneur and father of 3. Thanks for this gift of a new perspective of life.

  3. Funmi Babington-Asshaye on

    I also share in your grief. I am a widow of 18months and my husband also died of prostrate cancer. I shed tears as I read this and it reminded me of my amazing husband and the importance of leaving a legacy.

    God be with you.



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