by Doug Young, MBA
I really like mylife! It’s not perfect, and of course, there are a few things that I want to change, and a few more that I need to change. But the past three months have shown me that, overall, things are good. Borrowing from the title of the Montgomery Gentry country hit, I am a “Lucky Man.” Why this recent revelation? Would I have said this last year, or 10 years ago? Maybe so, but not with the same conviction.
After years of repeated injury, the pain in my ankle became too great. The best solution was to have my ankle fused by having two bones screwed together. It sounds worse than the procedure was, and the challenge wasn’t the surgery, but the recovery. The surgeon said I could not travel for three months. Ouch! For a guy who frequently travels on airplanes to make a living, this was challenge enough ... but there was more to come.
For the first six weeks, I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. My preferred modes of transport were a walker, crutches, and creatively climbing up, then sliding down stairs on my rear end. Maybe you could get around without using your left leg, but not me. Things started to get better when I was fitted with a walking cast for a month, followed by an orthopedic boot for six weeks. The next “step” has yet to be taken, but my hope is to walk pain-free with a slight limp. The benefits of this experience, however, go well beyond physical healing, and the perspective I have gained on my life has been a valuable gift. I am a lucky man, and here’s a quartet of things that I have learned.
1. Don’t be surprised that you are surprised
Have you noticed that when you undertake a new venture, the reality is often different than you imagined? Months ahead of time, I carefully thought through the implications of this surgery on my life. I was satisfied that I had planned well, and that everything would proceed as I had predicted. Most things did, but there were surprises. It never occurred to me that my arthritic right knee would rebel against the stress of the walker and crutches. I found myself significantly less mobile for six weeks than I had anticipated. My surgeon and his team responded quickly and positively with empathy, X-rays, information, and a knee brace to give me additional support. But I had to deal with my state of mind. In emotional intelligence terms, flexibility is the ability to adjust one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior to changing situations and conditions. I had to turn my flexibility meter to high.
This has taught me how important it is to be mentally prepared for surprises when traveling through new territory. The emotional side of change is much more challenging than the structural side. If we accept that the unusual and unpredictable may occur, then we are more likely to adapt and discover the best responses. This insight will help me do better the next time I’m on the edge of that precipice called change. How do you measure up when it comes to surprises?
2. It’s all a mystery
Because surprises are a given, isn’t it wonderful that the future is a mystery? If you knew everything - good and bad - that was going to happen as you embarked on opening a business, building a house, or changing jobs, would you have the courage to proceed? If you really knew how much work a project would be, would you ever get started? I’ll let you answer these questions for yourself. For me, I’m sure that many of the good things I enjoy today would never have happened if I’d known all the pitfalls and challenges beforehand. They would have stopped me cold!
3. Freedom to choose
My next revelation about how good I have it came from my unexpected lack of mobility, and the fact that for several weeks, I couldn’t even bend over to pick up something and then carry it. I knew that if I tripped or fell and put weight on my left foot, the results could be disastrous. So, for the first time in my adult life, I experienced what it was like to lose my independence. I had expected to be frustrated because I couldn’t do the big things in my life, and I was. But what really got to me was my inability to do so many of the simple things that I had taken for granted, like retrieving the morning paper and making a cup of tea.
At first, I thought it was about the newspaper and tea, but then I felt rather foolish. If I couldn’t get along without a cup of tea when I wanted it, there was something wrong. Then I got it! What was troubling me was that I couldn’t come and go as I pleased. I could no longer choose what I would do and when I would do it. Suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation for how good my life really is. I have the privilege of living independently and the freedom to choose. Even if I sometimes make a wrong choice, or things don’t work out as I’d hoped, just knowing that I have control of my choices is empowering. I began to reflect on the many people who do not enjoy this freedom because of health, economic circumstances, or a political system. This freedom is not without responsibility and obligation, but it is priceless!
4. I didn’t even have to ask
Here’s my final insight. People who want to help are all around us. I knew this, and I would have bet on it. But to have it affirmed - and to actually see my expectations exceeded - produced feelings of gratitude that will never disappear. But the amazing thing was this. As the help appeared in so many different forms, I realized that I hadn’t even asked for it. It just showed up. My belief in the human spirit has never been stronger. Yes, I really like my life!
A better life
What are you thinking right now? Are you considering how you would respond if your independence were suddenly taken away? Are you imagining what it would be like if you could no longer do the things that give you your identity? What would you miss that you never realized was that important to you? Have you promised yourself that you’ll never again complain when you have to dash from work to pick up your kids and get them to three different places at the same time? I’ll bet you’re saying to yourself, “I’ve got to get that Montgomery Gentry song!”Angel Kyodo Williams said, “The answer to having a better life is not about getting a better life; it’s about changing how we see the one we have right now.” I’m changing. Are you with me?
Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. Contact them at [email protected], at 877-DMYOUNG, or visit their Web site at www.dmyoung.com.