Pop quiz: What’s the great equalizer in life? The one thing that puts all of us on a level playing field?
I’ll give you a hint. It doesn’t make a fashion statement. That’s because it’s that blue checkered hospital gown.
In an instant, a Fortune 100 CEO can be sitting right next to the mailroom clerk, waiting to get a CT scan or an MRI. Three things came across my radar in this vein last week, and they’ve caused me to sit up and take notice.
A TED talk by an emergency room nurse relayed that no invitation is needed for the ER. “Come as you are.” Life can change in an instant, and excuses become very small.
“We’re great at gathering stuff — to fill our lives with what’s missing,” she explained. “You take away from life what you make of it, so do more of what you enjoy.”
I’ll never forget a comment from one of my friends when she was diagnosed with cancer. She began to make wide sweeping changes in her life — with her job and the way she spent her time.
“I’m playing the ‘C’ card,” she said. It’s as if the diagnosis gave her permission.
And that’s the thing. As humans, we’re generally resistant to change, and it often takes an external event to prod us into action.
Why does it take a life-threatening illness or accident for us to appreciate life as we go along? That’s the inquiry that kept going through my mind as I was developing this column over a decade ago.
Another friend I deeply admire shared this past week how she copes with an autoimmune disease. She engages in a variety of healthy practices and treatments to keep her body strong and healthy. It’s the way she deals with the mental, emotional and spiritual sides of her health that always amazes me, though.
“So this has been the plan for my life,” she explained. “I’ve got a card that says ‘disease/handicapped.’ I decide not to play it.
“It’s that card that motivates me to play other cards that give my life great purpose, though. I eat healthy foods. I involve myself in playful activities and choose my friends wisely. When pain arises, I work it out, getting rid of the inflammation. I flush it out by drinking water.
“I hardly give the pain attention because I don’t want it to grow. It’s a part of me — so I do love it — but I tell it that it needs to remember it’s part of the whole. And it gets voted down when it comes to decisions like sitting at home and nursing my hurt — or going out and enjoying the day.
“There has always been some greater purpose than my pain or frustration. Whenever I have done my soul wrong by concentrating on my weaknesses, those weaknesses have become monsters in my life. It’s better to keep them as shadows that, overall, give my life depth.
“We all have a web of thoughts. If I go down certain pathways, I’ll turn on good experiences or hurtful experiences — like the cards I play in my hand. Why would I want to play the hurtful card?
“I’ve come to realize this is one of my thoughts that can be redirected. It’s a ‘whole’ thought where I see my life from a distance, like an observer. I see the ‘parts’ and can decide to love the whole mess — and own it as part of me.
“See that area over there? That’s me. I just don’t turn it on and try to fix it. If I do, it will become a monster. I just bring it along in life. In some ways, it’s my motivation to stay active and alive, having a better quality of life.
“Having it there reminds me I can live with a life that’s not perfect and still enjoy it. Someday I’ll shed it ... that may not be until I pass from this life, so there’s no use in giving it center stage.”
The most important choice you can make
And then there’s this gut-wrenching post that came across my radar from author and financial adviser James Altucher. It’s about a text he received from an old friend. They hadn’t spoken in 18 years.
“You around later?”
Altucher mentioned he hadn’t spoken with his friend in 18 years because he was holding a grudge. “Eighteen years ago I got upset at him about something that now seems really unimportant. So, I stopped talking to him. We used to hang out five days a week.”
Then the rest of the text popped up.
“Oh, I forgot. You don’t even know. I have terminal stage IV cancer.”
“Yeah, I got diagnosed seven years ago. Thyroid cancer. They removed it. But then three years ago it had spread everywhere else in my body, and they gave me basically no time at all to live.”
“You seem good, though ...”
“I’m on this clinical trial. And so far, so good. But 100 percent of people develop resistance to this drug at some point — usually at 18 months. And then it’s a death sentence. I’m at 24 months now.”
Like many of us, Altucher didn’t know what to say. “I knew nothing about his life now. Was he going to die? Now, I felt really bad for holding a grudge all those years.”
So, he replied, “What’s up?”
“I’m happier now than ever. I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. One thing I realized ... relationships are the only important thing in the world.”
He went on. “Be with the people you like. Don’t be around people you don’t like. At any moment in the day I’m exactly where I want to be — and with who I want to be. Because of this, I’m always happy. I know that every day I will be doing the things I want to do.”
Whew. At this point, I needed to take a breather. Then I returned to the text message.
“What else is there for me to worry about? I don’t care about potential accomplishments or anything artificial.
“Relationships are important. Time is important. And my happiness is 100 percent a choice.”
It’s your choice, too.