It started as an ordinary day in an ordinary life, my alarm clock trying to tell me that it’s way past time to get out of bed. When I finally got up, it was already so late that a shower was replaced by a few splashes of water on my face, and breakfast by a couple of slurps from the milk carton. Then I headed out to the optometrist, already irritated and driving way too fast, swearing at people that stuck to the speed limit.
I was about the receive the results of my eye exam. I was calm. I had already been told once that something was wrong with my eyes, but I was still convinced it was a simple infection, or something else that could be easily fixed.
Six months earlier I went through my first test, and the results were devastating. I was suffering from a rare disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which would gradually make my sight and hearing worse over the coming years, ending in total blindness and deafness. There was no cure. I hastily convinced myself that this had to be a mistake. After debating with my doctor for months, he asked me to take another test. I hoped he had finally discovered this was all a misunderstanding, but later I realized this second exam was his way of breaking through my hard shell of denial.
I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of what was happening when I first got my diagnosis. Because really, it’s human nature to deny the unpleasant realities and limitations of our lives. Don’t we all live with some form of denial, and act as if we have unlimited time to act on our dreams? We spend our lives in the future instead of the present, thinking that there’s always tomorrow, and today we should stay in the comfort and safety of our routines. When I thought my dreams had no expiration date, I put them off. As a business teacher, I spent my weekdays giving others the tools to become entrepreneurs rather than living my dream of becoming an entrepreneur myself. My goals were pushed far onto the back burner and traded for a steady income at an unfulfilling job. I spent my weekends out drinking with friends to forget about the drudgery of the week and the dread of the approaching Monday, before having to start it all over again.
But when I sat behind the desk at the clinic, and received the verdict for the second time, reality finally hit me like a carpet bomb. With every minute that passed, every little click of the arm on my watch, I was moving closer to blindness. When you experience something that life shattering, you have to go through three phases: denial, recognition and acceptance. I was slowly entering the recognition phase.
I wasted more than half a year in denial. I was sentenced to blindness and deafness but I didn’t tell anyone, and I convinced myself it wasn’t true. In the end it took a second test for me to actually start realizing I was going blind. But there is a big difference between recognizing and accepting. Some people recognize their destiny, but stay stuck in a swamp of anger and self-pity that stops them from ever moving forward.
When you recognize but don’t accept your situation, you can’t take any action to change it. I’m doing a lot of public speaking and consulting with people in the same situation as me, and time after time I encounter people that are stuck in the recognition phase — and I’m reminded to constantly stay active and in charge of my own life.
I recently met a middle-aged woman who explained to me that her life revolved around her flower garden, and now that she had gone almost blind, this had been robbed from her, and she felt her life had lost its meaning. She was recognizing her situation but not accepting it. If acceptance had been present, she would have been able to look at other areas of life where she could find new inspiration and happiness.
When I reached the point where I could accept my destiny, the catastrophe suddenly morphed into a gift. My illness forced me to answer a simple question: What is my personal “why”? I had to dive deep and consider how I was living my life. There was no more room for fear of taking risks, fear of losing the steady 9-5 job, or fear of failure. There was only fear that there wouldn’t be enough time to experience everything life has to offer. I had a lot to get done while I could still use my eyes and ears.
Unfortunately, a lot of people never take the time to ask themselves this question. Our intentions get buried in the fallacy that we have all the time in the world. So we don’t bother to ask why it is we’re doing the things we do, and what we truly want to get out of our lives. The best way to overcome this is to make your dreams into something concrete. They don’t have to be lofty aspirations that are always just out of reach. If you write them down and make a bucket list, you now have small, manageable steps you can take to make it happen.
I decided on three major goals: I wanted to raise a family, I wanted to start a business, and I wanted to just generally have a lot of great experiences. Since then I’ve refined these goals to a more detailed bucket list. But the fact that I had become aware of what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it meant that I can make new kinds of choices. The road to success suddenly becomes illuminated and logical when you know your basic “why.” When you are living the way you believe is right, you are in charge of your life in a new way. You switch from making decisions based on the opinions of others, to basing it on what you think is right for your life.
One of the smaller dreams on my bucket list was driving a Ferrari. This, I thought, was a doable goal, with concrete steps I could take to make it a reality. I researched a list of all the Ferrari owners in the area and started calling them one by one. Most of those calls ended in rejection: shockingly, not many people wanted their $100,000 luxury car in the hands of a stranger. But one of those calls finally ended in success, and a collector of several exotic cars let me take one of his older models for a spin.
With this first success, this first little dream brought to fruition, I realized how easy it truly was to turn lofty dreams into action, as long as you remove the fear of failure by breaking big dreams down into small, doable steps. “Live life to the fullest” is a lot more intimidating than “drive a Ferrari,” which is a lot more intimidating than “make a list of Ferrari owners” and “call the first one on the list.” If you find the first small step, you can launch yourself from a place of complacency to a place of action. This became the sentiment behind my company GO DREAM.
The curious thing was that with my new mindset of taking action, the things I was dreaming of magically started to come true, almost as if I was being pulled by some magic force in a certain direction. I found my one and only, I had three kids, I started a successful business, and I started really experiencing all life has to offer.
In the near future, I’ll tell you loads more about my many amazing experiences here on my blog, but until then, ask yourself: what is your big “why”?