There is a story that stands out in my mind, it was told to me several years ago by a client during a workout. The story was told offhand, a sad story about a tragic situation, something that we all hear countless times a week but usually let fade away after hearing. It was the story of ultra-successful gentlemen – at least in our traditional Western framework – who had worked hard and become the CEO of a large company, unfortunately, like all things in life, success in one area often comes at a cost to others. He had missed kids sporting events, family dinners, vacations, and moments with his wife and now he was dying.
Cancer, diagnosed in the late stages was attacking his body, and the prognosis was rough. 12 months maybe less. This gentleman decided that if that were his fate he would enjoy the time he had left, he wouldn’t miss a game, a family dinner, a vacation. He would spend the time he had left with his family, put work second and them first, and he did. He changed his entire life, diet, exercise, mental well-being and a seemingly miraculous thing happened, remission. The doctors couldn’t understand how or why but the cancer was gone, and he had a second lease on life.
He gradually went back to work, took more calls, scheduled more meetings, missed more family meals and eventually in a year he returned to the exact same man he was before…and so did the cancer. This time it was too late, and my client was speaking with him on his death bed when he heard the sentence that would later stick in my brain for years, “What I regret most is that I forgot the lessons I learned.”
Here was a man, given a second chance at life who clawed his way out of death’s clutches only to slide back in. The lessons were forgotten despite the genuine example of what could happen.
I’m not pretending to be an expert on cancer remission and say that it was his lifestyle alone that caused the return. Perhaps, he could have maintained a balance, continued to spend time with his family while still mitigating the stress of his career and cancer would have returned anyway. But in his mind, the return of his terminal illness was his own inability to remember the lessons he learned, and I believe that that is more valuable than any diagnosis. What we think shapes how we act, what we feel, and what happens to us.
How could this happen? How could a person have a lesson so painfully taught to them forgotten after a short 12 months?
A lack of self-awareness.
Any of us could have been the man in the story if you think different you are mistaken. We are so often unaware of who we actually are, what are actions actually mean and how they affect both us and others. We are in perpetual motion and never take the time to reflect and take honest stock. Even when our reality is revealed to us, we often dismiss it as inaccurate or assume that the laws of nature apply to other people but not us.
And it’s understandable.
Being self-aware is cripplingly hard, it requires you to rip off your own skin raw and acknowledge your faults for everyone to see. It’s not someone’s else’s opinion that you can choose to ignore or shrug off as jealousy or unknowing. It’s your own acknowledgment of what actually is, and that is why it is so important.
Imagine yourself and your life as a boat in the ocean, without a map and compass you will forever sail aimlessly. Sometimes, by chance, you may discover the land, and it will prove bountiful and provide you with happiness, but eventually, you will sail into a storm and likely capsize. Even if you manage to stay afloat, it is only a matter of time before you encounter another storm on your captain less journey.
Having a clear picture of who you are, and how you act allows you to begin making changes and decisions for the better. It helps to create a True North that you can use to reference your choices.
Is this helping me become the person I want to be and lead the life I want to live?
You will fail, you will stumble and make mistakes and embarrass yourself and get off track. But, you can only return to the proper course and re-orient yourself towards your goal if you admit that the error occurred, that you were not – at that moment – the person you are trying to be, and that is painful. That requires strength. Admitting your faults is not for the meek and why so few are willing to do it, but if you can find the courage, the result is liberation and progress at a rate that those unwilling can never match.