Today is my 55th birthday. Yes, I said it. It’s part of my new policy of radical transparency. There was a time in my life when 55 sounded really old. Now that I’m there, I realize how relative that is. Old compared to what or who?
It seems especially relative when I consider all that has happened in the five years since I turned 50. I was looking back yesterday on a blog post I wrote then. I pretty much still agree with everything I wrote five years ago but am struck by how much my life has changed since then. Five years ago, I lived in Herndon, Virginia. Now, I live in Santa Monica, California. When I turned 50, I was just beginning to figure out to manage the multiple sclerosis I had been diagnosed with two years earlier. Today, for now, I know much more about how to take care of myself. Speaking of the MS, five years ago that was a secret that Diane and I shared with only a few very close friends and family members. We were scared that if we told everyone, people would think I couldn’t be depended upon to show up for my work. A couple of years ago, I announced my MS to anyone who cared to read about it in a blog post. That was right before the publication of my second book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. That book was inspired, in part, by what I’d learned about the importance of stress management when you have a chronic illness (or are living your life in a way that’s likely to lead to one).
Overworked and Overwhelmed wasn’t even on my radar screen back in 2011 when I turned 50. Today, I regularly give speeches and lead workshops on mindful leadership and self-management based on the content of that book. We’ve just certified and licensed 30 great coaches to lead workshops on using the Life GPS®, the self-management tool I unpack in Overworked and Overwhelmed, and are getting ready to train more coaches this summer. And I’ve learned how to do some fun yoga party tricks over the past five years.
I couldn’t have predicted any of that five years ago when I turned 50. There is no doubt in my mind or heart how fortunate I am. The gratitude I have for the amazing people and experiences I have in my life overflows. There’s a lot to be said for luck and, at the same time, there is a lot to be said for conscious choices and decisions. From the perspective of age 55, I can identify decisions I’ve made that have changed my life for the better. I believe they helped create the conditions for everything that’s happened over the past five years. While your mileage may vary, I thought I’d share those decisions here with the hope that they may be helpful to you.
Be honest and direct. Diane and I often talk about how much easier life has become since we quit trying to keep my MS a secret. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t open every conversation with it, but when there’s a reason to mention it I do. It’s been so liberating to do that and a huge stress remover. The other thing that’s been awesome about talking about it is the connection I’ve established with so many other people who have a chronic illness themselves or have a loved one who does. Once that happens, we get to help each other. Maybe there’s something going on in your life that you’ve been keeping secret for whatever reason. Unless it’s something illegal, I encourage you to consider letting go of the burden of the secret (and you probably should consider doing so even if the secret is about illegal activity).
Move every day. If you’ve read my blog over the past six years, you know how important yoga has been to my health and well-being. I truly believe that it’s the primary reason that I can still function at a high level both physically and mentally. The impact it’s had on my strength, balance, mobility, mental acuity and self-confidence has been remarkable. I feel the difference on all those fronts if I have to miss a good session of yoga for more than a day or two. If yoga’s not your thing, find some other routine of sustained movement every day. Your brain, body, nervous system and spirit will thank you.
Meditate every day. Recently, I was a guest on a podcast called Slow Your Home and talked about how I had been a dabbler in meditation since the early 1990’s. I was intrigued but not serious about it. Then, in 2013, I went to a Wisdom 2.0 Conference where scientists from the University of California at San Francisco talked about the research they had been doing with Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn on how meditation improves the body’s genetic expression by raising the levels of a helpful enzyme called telomerase. When I heard that, I knew, that as someone with MS, I needed to meditate every day. I’ve done that pretty much every day for the past three years and believe it’s been another key factor in maintaining my health. While, based on the research, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, I’ve also been struck by how much daily meditation has improved my mood, outlook and ability to deal with disappointments. In short, I’m happier than I was five years ago.
Eat smart. One of the many reasons I’m fortunate to be married to Diane is that she is a gluten-free food expert. We’ve been eating that way in our house for years now and it’s definitely helped me manage my autoimmune condition of MS. Within the last year, I’ve gotten more intentional about what I do and don’t put in my mouth. Since added sugars and dairy have been off my list, I’ve felt a lot better and have more energy and focus. Again, your mileage may vary, but if we are what we eat, it makes sense to eat smart.
Take small steps. Before we moved to California, we did an experiment by renting a vacation apartment here for a month to see if we could run our business from here and if we really liked it as much as we thought we did. When both checked out positive, we moved. Before that, we had spent several summer vacation weeks over the years in various Southern California locations sort of doing recon on what we liked and didn’t like—small steps that eventually led to a big result of moving from the East Coast to the West Coast. That principle of small steps leading to big results has played out in so many other aspects of my life. One thing I know for sure from the last five years is that progress comes incrementally then suddenly. Sometimes you can’t see any progress but by taking repeated small steps, you suddenly see a big shift. Of all the lessons I’ve learned and choices I’ve made in the last five years, I’m most convinced that that’s the one that will help you too.