The headline in the trendy business magazine was a grabber: “Change or Die.” Then came a provocative book of the same name and change (or lack of) became something to fear.
The one-liner that grabbed my attention happened in a meeting with my doctor: “You have a tumor and it’s definitely cancer.” He didn’t mince words. He laid out the plan for surgery, biopsy, treatment and regular procedures. We had a plan. It was my choice how to respond to the spectrum of emotions that surged through me as soon as the dreaded “c” word had come out of his mouth.
It took summoning up every ounce of courage I could muster, but I knew a positive approach was the only choice. I told my doctor, “One thing’s for sure: I’ll have a story to tell.” He told me that was a good attitude to have, and I replied, “I have two choices: fear a deadly outcome or do everything I can to achieve the best possible one.”
My choice worked. Now six years cancer free, I am at a level of health and fitness I have not enjoyed in about 30 years. A few things needed to change for me to get there.
1. Keep Creating Yourself Continuously
“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” – Henri Bergson
During my health journey I wondered if “creating myself endlessly” could be the key to life. The cynic in me said it sounded hopelessly exhausting and ultimately unrewarding. Luckily the optimist won out.
I have discovered in my nature a frequent desire to coast, to lie fallow, to soak in the beauty of what is, instead of swimming frantically in the cauldron of creation. Why change when it feels so good just to lie there? Inertia is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. The … Power… Of … Doing … Nothing.
The crazy honest truth is that I rarely believe that change should be avoided — in fact most people who know me are aware of the profound career and life changes I’ve undertaken at several points in my life. Nevertheless, my programming, passed down from countless generations and reinforced by civilization today, warns me to resist change till it’s absolutely necessary, to not get too caught up in all this “creativity stuff.” After all, be practical! Enjoy life, sure, but kick back often and don’t risk too much.
One small problem — resisting change doesn’t work. But there may be good news. What if the act of creating oneself endlessly is exactly what we’re all designed to do — children of a universe that is constantly creating and spinning off new stars and planets — and we just haven’t accepted our mission yet?
2. Be Yourself. Everyone Else Is Already Taken.
Apparently I have a flair for the dramatic, as my health “journey” did not end with successful surgery for the cancerous tumor. Treatments to ensure the cancer wouldn’t regrow led to a series of ultimately life-threatening staph infections. Eventually I was cured of staph, but a rapid deterioration in two of my joints meant that I now required double hip replacement. As if that prospect wasn’t daunting enough, my mother’s passing in the middle of my surgeries hit me like a head-on collision. I was reeling. My roots were being torn from under me. My heart ached. The need to change wasn’t finished. As I spent many hours and many nights reflecting, meditating, fighting back fear and worry, my heart finally showed me that both my work life and married life needed to change in order to truly be myself, to find a whole, healthy, fulfilled life again.
3. Carpe Diem, Seriously
During my two year journey, life presented me with a visceral sense of “carpe diem.” With mortality so certain and yet the moment of our passing unknown, it does make you want to go out and live! Throw caution to the wind! Breathe, enjoy, sing, dance, love! That has been my MO for the past five years, once my recovery was assured.
4. Don’t Fear Change; Fear The Poison Of Being Stuck
Yes I realized change was necessary. I stepped down from the position of CEO of a wonderful mission-driven organization I had helped to found. I stepped away from a 25-year marriage. I realized that my gifts to sing, to dance, to write, and to inspire had been in hibernation too long, and now it was time. I knew I had to change myself profoundly in order to find the deep fulfillment and soul nourishment I knew I deserved. I had changed just about every facet of my life and the process was frightening, lonely, exhilarating, and ultimately, incredibly liberating.
5. Get Your Creative Groove On
Soon after my second hip surgery, I started a project with a former college roommate, breathing new life into my singing skills. Four years on, we’re performing regularly at festivals and conferences around the theme What Makes Your Heart Sing. I hired a voice coach to polish up the old instrument so I could really enjoy the gift again. I started going to dance sessions to rebuild my leg and hip strength and get my mojo back. I started traveling amongst amazing cultures found in Tunisia, South Africa, Italy, and Morocco. I became addicted to using my iphone to capture every imaginable scene from nature and life… purely for the fun and inspiration of enjoying beauty and sharing it with others. I started to embrace what I call being a renaissance human, expressing the artistic, playful, inspirational, and business sides of myself in one integrated package called me. Humanity needs more people recreating themselves as they go, living fully, singing their hearts out, just because. Perhaps peace will come that way; new solutions for intractable problems, too. Creativity as the elixir for a new world.
Change, create yourself again and again…. and live fully. That’s my mantra now.
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