This week my father had a heart attack.
Yeah. That’s some real ‘ish, I know.
But get this: it was evidently his second one. We found out he had had a smaller one prior because the doctors discovered some additional veins that had grown to try to compensate for the loss of an artery that had died at some point in the past .
And that dizzy spell he had 2 weeks ago? A small stroke.
Not news you like to receive about your loved-one.
The reality is that at 78 none of these events are uncommon or even surprising. My dad is a little on the heavy side, has high blood pressure, and doesn’t engage in any routine aerobic activity – prime risk factors for coronary health issues. So based on the statistics (here are some alarming ones for you), he’s extremely fortunate to be alive.
But what has bothered me most of all about this scenario is not that he could have died, but that maybe he hadn’t fully lived.
Hear me out…
THE COST OF DREAMS DEFERRED
See, even at 78 (he’ll be 79 in July) my dad still has a full-time job and pays rent on a house that isn’t his, not because he wants to, because he has to.
He’s got brothers and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and cousins and friends that he’d love to spend time with, but he can’t afford the cost to visit (and it’s not like they live in other countries, just in other states).
Even I hope to get married some day, but I know for a fact that as far as help goes for the expenses I’m on my own – and while I am totally fine with that, what daughter wouldn’t want to know that she could call on her parents for some financial support if she needed to?
THE SAD TRUTH
I think it’s fair to say that being his age and still having to work was not my dad’s plan. He thought he would have become rich and live off of his retirement like the story books said he would. He thought he would have traveled the world and left a big fat inheritance for his children and his grand children. He was sure that his ship would have come in by now.
Let’s face it, my dad’s situation is, unfortunately, not unique. In fact it could be nearly anybody’s story in America today. Check almost any crowd funding platform around and you’re sure to find headlines like this: Family of Man Who Suffered Heart Attack Requesting Donations for Mounting Medical Costs.
The sad truth is that my dad’s proverbial ‘ship’ has yet to come in – at least in the way that would allow him to eliminate money as a concern. And while, of course, his health is the most important thing right now, not having to worry about money could sure help to speed up the recovery process.
THE PROBLEM WITH SHIPS
See, there’s a problem with ships; sometimes they sink, and at the end of the day the opportunity, lucky break, or winning streak you were waiting for may never show up.
And besides that the bigger truth is this:
Look, here’s the bottom line: someday we’re all gonna die.
I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, and my dad – bless his heart – is gonna die. That’s the realest ‘ish there is. Once you can grasp that then the next question is, ‘if that death came today, could you honestly say that you’d lived your life on purpose’?
For each one of us the answer to that question hinges on the opportunities that we’ve taken or the choices that we’ve made to create those opportunities for ourselves. As my man Tony Robbins says, your destiny is determined by 3 things: what you choose to focus on, the meaning you give to it, and what you do based on that meaning.
So with this ultimate end in mind, if you haven’t already determined to experience your life fully, YOU’RE the guy sitting on the doc waiting for a ship that’s never coming in because it’s never really been launched.
...but the good news is, you don’t have to be.
As social workers we’re good for giving this sort of advice to our clients and even to our friends, but truth be told, we’re horrible at taking it ourselves. And while I would never discourage any social worker from giving of themselves (in fact, that’s our entire job), I did write a whole book on the crucial importance of caring for one’s self first – and in my book (pun intended) that includes, not negates, your personal dreams and deepest passions.
So what do you need to do to make sure that your ship arrives safely at port and with all its bells and whistles?
- Do a self assessment: Ask yourself those important life questions like, What would I change or improve if resources were no concern? If I knew I was dying soon, what would I regret not completing? What is my soul’s deepest desire and am I being true to it?’ Questions like these should ignite a sense of urgency that you’ll need if you’re ever going to leave the port.
- Write it down: Brainstorm your loftiest dreams and desires and write them down! Don’t erase anything, just let your creative juices flow. Writing things down has a way of lodging them into your consciousness and bringing them closer to your reality. It will also help you to get clear on what you’ll create in your life from this point on.
- Vision it: If you can dream it, you can do it. It almost doesn’t matter what it is. Use the power of your imagination to see your ideas come to fruition. You’ll know you’ve done it right when you start to feel as excited just thinking about it as you will when it arrives.
- Make a plan: It doesn’t even matter if you have 1 cent or a million bucks, write down the steps that it would take to turn your dream into reality. Make these steps so simple that a 5 year old could follow them – that means with details. And don’t forget to add emotion to it. How will you feel at each step of the way? Now feel your feelings deeper. You’ve got it!
- Start working on your plan. This is where we put your plan into action and enlist the help of others to move forward. A coach or mentor who has successfully walked the path before you is usually a good starting point. They’ll help you with your strategy and techniques that will save you time and energy to reach your dreams that much faster.
- Feel deep gratitude in advance for the thing(s) you’ve imagined. This works on two levels: first on an emotional level because it feels good, and then on a universal level because it brings more gifts to you. The more grateful you are, the more you will receive to be grateful for. So if you want more to be grateful for, don’t skip this part!
- Act as if you’ve already achieved your goals and pretty soon you will. Just think “Form Follows Fashion” and you win!
I’ve talked to enough social workers to know that we have big dreams and desires just like our clients do, but that often money (or the lack thereof) plays a major role in whether or not we achieve them. Personally I believe that our loftiest desires come from God (or whatever you choose to call that Higher Power) and that if you’ve got a desire within you then it must mean that you also have Divine ability to achieve it, so you owe it to your Divine self to build that ship and set sail!
Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. I know this, you know this, and now my dad definitely knows this. It’s so easy to get swallowed up in the day-to-day responsibilities and realities of life that before you know it you’re watching the sun set on the docks wondering where the time went. But there’s something about being faced with your own mortality or that of a loved one that has a way of reminding us of how fleeting time really is and of what life is truly about.
Thankfully my dad is still here in the land of the living, and I’m headed home this weekend to check in on the old man. Of course I also plan to get in some serious time on my business goals, catch up with dear friends, and eat some of my god-mother’s great cooking. Who knows? We may even go to the docks and see what comes ashore…
And what about you? You’ve got this life right now. What will you plan to do with the opportunities you have in front of you? Let me know in the comments. And remember, the only ships that come back are the ones that get sent out in the first place.
…and let me know if you need any company. I’m always up for a good sail.