2016 didn’t kill me. It didn’t kill my dad either, though we both came pretty close to the edge. I did lose my grandmother though. So life and death were the highlights of the year. A lot else happened as well: We bought our first house. My wife started working again after taking a break for six years to raise our two kids. I changed assignments, started a side gig to help others, changed my diet, gave up sugar, rediscovered books vs. internet browsing. I also quit Facebook!! But all these were off shoots of the larger life changing experiences.
Though I have always thought that life’s randomness cannot be confined into time slots the world does work in ‘years’. So as 2016 ended my learning from this time slot is that what doesn’t manage to kill you, does make you stronger. Here is what I learnt on becoming strong.
When fearful, don’t choke, be it brain tumour! Earlier in the year I was diagnosed with a rare condition caused by a tumour on the base of the brain. Finding out you have brain tumour does knock you off your game. My immediate reaction was a combination of panic, stress, fear and anger! I thought of my kids, my wife, my parents and all the worst that could happen. But then as I sat in my car outside the doctors office somehow I made a decision. I was going to put fear in line. I wasn’t going to let it consume me. I guess it was a mixture of faith, mental blocking and optimism that helped me. But that decision there and then was a game changer. So I immersed myself in finding out about what was needed to get better. It was this decision that has carried me through pre and post surgery. Luckily in my case the tumour was benign and the surgery was minimally invasive. I cannot in any way compare my condition to other far more serious ones. People go through much worse. However each situation is unique. Mine has taught me a valuable lesson in managing fear, identifying what level of priority to give to it. How to weed out irrational fear and the futility of fearing the future.
You can’t dodge some bullets, literally. This year my dad got mugged and shot as he walked out of a bank. Miraculously he survived with a flesh wound to the leg. He lost his money and passport which he was to travel with the next day. Even worse I was across the world from him. When I heard the news I felt complete helplessness. One imagines tough situations with regards to ones parents, but getting shot isn’t one of them. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened. I couldn’t catch his attackers and punish them. I couldn’t stop the pain he was in. His wound couldn’t just be healed so that he could travel nor could I bypass all procedures in recovering his passport. It was here I realised that this ordeal will have to take its time. We would just have to wait. Once I realised this, I made peace with it. Instead, I spent time along with the rest of my family in trying to get him through this trauma and keeping his spirits alive. I learnt that sometimes things can happen that you can’t change. All you can do is wait. Be thankful that it isn’t worse than it is and accept that it will take time to be ok. Spending 2016 new years eve with my dad with me was the closure to that helplessness.
Get busy living healthy or get busy dying. It’s that simple. You can’t take health for granted. You only realise this once you aren’t healthy. For some that can be too late. Given my brush with mortality, I learnt about diet, benefits of intermittent fasting, ketones and hormone levels. What role nutrition plays in impacting physiology and how it can be used to control disease. I also realised that I could eat much less and be healthier. It’s unbelievable how much food we think we need to eat! I learnt salads can be delicious, fat isn’t bad and grilling dinner is a lot of fun. I drastically cut sugar and survived! Yes, everything tastes disgusting for a while but then it starts tasting so much better. Backed by a good clean diet, working out is far more effective. 30 minutes a day is all you need. Before it was either I make it to the gym or nothing for me. Now if I can’t make it to the gym, a few dumbbells and a kettle bell in the basement are enough to leave me sweating.
Be in the NOW. One of my favourite quotes from the year was ‘the journey is the destination‘. When you come close to the edge you are baffled about how fast time has gone. I regretted spending so much time worrying about the future. Years spent just chasing, worrying, planning, stressing! And not really sure for what. Do we really have a clear idea about what we are chasing, while life really happens during that chase. I’ve decided to actively battle against worry. Mindfulness, meditation and spirituality. Its amazing how focusing on the few important things in life and work can be so powerful. Cutting out negativity and making an effort to be close to people who matter is a core value for me now.
Get in the habit. As Stephen Covey said ‘we become what we repeatedly do’. I’ve learnt the power of starting the day strong – making my bed (first accomplishment of the day done), meditation and prayer and super cold showers! The last one wakes you up like no coffee can, trust me! Journaling. I’m amazed at the power of writing things down. Especially positive affirmations. Cutting down on internet browsing and reading books. I don’t remember when I replaced reading books with 140 characters on twitter and Facebook news feeds. Time to recover from that byte size dopamine fix and go back to books. And substituting music in the car with podcasts. What a step change to learning that has been!
I’ve also learnt that its easy to forget all of the above and succumb to mindsets developed over decades. But there in lies the beauty of the struggle. The constant endeavour to become stronger. So while 2016 didn’t kill me, it did make me stronger.