Today is the beginning of my 55th trip around the sun and this one has a bit more meaning than some in the past. I guess special birthdays started for me at 6 – old enough to go to school on my own all day. Then we got to 10 – double digits! – and all the “what a little young man you’re turning into” talk started. 15 was a big deal – learner’s permit, high school, college talk started. 16 of course is huge – driver’s license, independence, huge jump in the level of decision making needed to survive.
After that I guess 18 was cool – in college, old enough to drink (back in 1979!) and vote. Reaching 21 was fun – right of passage, “now you’re a man”, deeper responsibilities. For me 25 was awesome – I started to get respect for having a level of knowledge that others would listen to but I was still young enough to believe I was invincible. 26 wasn’t that great – my Dad died from a massive heart attack. At 28 I married the woman God gave me (just celebrated 25 years together earlier this year) and life really changed in depth, meaning and importance. 30 is a big deal for most guys and it was for me too – I bought a car to celebrate – typical male reaction to getting older!
At 35, we had our first child, my daughter Savannah and that was one of three epiphany moments in my life. My son came around when I was almost 39 and completed our family – also made me take a hard look at the values I wanted to pass on to both of the kids as they grew. 40 was good to me – I enjoyed still feeling very young and energetic but now having some “sage wisdom” to share with co-workers, friends and family.
I turned 50 and realized that it was time to start another business and that “I wasn’t getting any younger” but my dreams weren’t going to get any closer. I decided to focus my efforts on my spiritual gifts of writing, speaking and empowering those around me to be the best they can be and used those pillars as the foundation of my company. I also realized at 50 that men in my family don’t live that long – my Dad died at 60, my brother at 57. I am much healthier than either of them but just giving myself the internal goal of making it to 61 was a wake-up call.
This summer I had another kind of wake-up call, this one with a lot more impact. After feeling run down and not recovering as fast from sports and tough yard work, my wife pretty much made me go to the doctor for a check-up. I found that I was anemic (iron deficiency anemia) but the lingering question was why. After weeks of tests and analysis, a colonoscopy revealed a small mass in my colon – it turned out to be cancerous and surgery later removed the tumor from my body. My prognosis is very good although I will still have to do some preventative chemo and lots of follow up tests, exams, scans, and more pretty much for the rest of my life. By the way, all of this could have been prevented with a colonoscopy at 50 – if you haven’t had yours, get it done immediately!
The real eye opener in this process were the numbers that started to appear in my life in a brand new way. “8” now meant my red blood count – when it should have been 13-17. “5” was now the gold standard for another group of words I had never associated with me before number of years of survival after a cancer event. “80-90” represented the percentage of folks who survive my type of cancer for at least 5 years. “40-50” now means the percentage of people who have some kind of recurrence of my cancer after 5 years. “12” is now the number of chemo treatments I’m facing to try and improve those recurrence odds.
We have numbers in our lives every day. If you drive to work, there’s a percentage chance that you will be injured or killed in a car accident – it’s pretty small, but it’s a real number. The same type of number applies when you board a commercial airline flight or hop onto a commuter train. My daughter is on a college campus every day now and unfortunately there’s a tiny number associated with her campus dealing with a shooting or lock down. If you smoke (and please STOP if you do!), you have a whole set of odds on a chart that are not positive the older you get. There’s a percentage associated with the number of shark attacks, lightning strikes, random violence, accidents in your home and even meteors falling from the sky that could affect any of us at any time.
The purpose of this blog is not to depress you or scare you into never leaving the house. The reason I’m sharing my story is help you understand that to really flourish in your personal and professional life, you must live urgently but not frantically. Focus on your goals, hopes, dreams and aspirations – give them real life, not just some wishful quotes on a page. Surround yourself with positive people and BE one of those positive people to others around you. Stand for something you believe in and encourage others to do the same without discounting or demeaning others that believe something different.
Live for this day – Each Day is a Gift – and plan for tomorrow and other days to come…but don’t spend time worrying about possible outcomes or pitfalls. Live with the passion you’ve been gifted and be a light of inspiration to those around you – your spouse, children, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and even strangers. Live with the urgency that we all have a clock ticking somewhere on our lives – don’t panic and ruin the day you have with fear and trepidation about future unknowns. Hear the clock – but let it motivate you, not paralyze you.
I told my wife last night that my plan for the next 5 years has changed and that I’m focusing on doing the most I can, the fastest way I can, and the best I can, given the days I have left. I may live 40 more years (my Mom is 87 and members of my family have lived well into their late 90’s) or I could get hit by a bus this afternoon. However, hearing a phrase like “5 Year Life Expectancy Rate” and now associating it with my life has given me a new level of purpose, dedication and I’ve even raised my lofty goals to new heights – because within that 5 year window I am going to work harder and love what I do more than I ever thought possible before discovering my health challenge this summer.
My birthday wish is for you to do the same thing. Run your life through the passion prism that you already own. Focus on the positives, live loudly, love proudly, and help others along the way. My Dad always told me to do three things every day – something for yourself, something for someone else and something needs doing. I have written blogs on this philosophy which I dubbed The Daily Three. Well, my Daily Three just got a lot more urgent…but I’m not getting frantic…I’m getting focused and ready for the fight. I hope you’ll do the same!