Three years ago, at the age of 30, three words sent my former life tumbling off the edge of a cliff and into a dark, wide abyss below. A little over a year later, after three months of chemotherapy and three surgeries, three new words changed everything.
If you read, Risk Taking 101, you might remember my control-seeking, validation-junkie, perfectionistic pre-cancer tendencies. I didn’t see anything wrong with the way I was living and planned to keep controlling, predicting, and perfecting for years to come.
But, like a seasoned sniper, cancer found me. Once it had me in its crosshairs, it tracked my every move. For days at a time, it held me hostage in my apartment. It robbed me of the energy I needed to walk to the corner store. It emotionally abused me until I sank to my knees; until I lay, face pressed against my area rug, sobbing myself hollow.
I wouldn’t wish this brand of darkness on anyone and yet, I know I am not alone in facing tragedy, pain or loss. Regardless of whether cancer was the source, many of you have experienced your own brand of seemingly bottomless pain.
Today, three years after the worst day of my life, I want to share with you three lessons I never expected to learn about coming back from the brink of depression, disillusionment, and what felt an awful lot like death.
1. Live the Hell Out of Your Life
We think we have lots of time. We tell ourselves we can follow our passions later. Take that trip to the Eiffel Tower when we retire. Learn to rock climb when we have more money or find a job we love after we have paid off a little more of the mortgage. But, what if there is no next year? What if you find yourself couch-bound or sealed in a hospital isolation room?
Here’s the dirty truth about cancer. No one can ever promise me or the millions of other cancer survivors in the world that we are cured. There is always a risk it will come back and if/when it does, it will be incurable. We walk with this fear every day and unfortunately, in spite of all of the awareness campaigns and dollars donated to research, far too many of my friends or yours get a second call from a doctor that upends their lives and shortens their time with us here on earth.
My defence tactic against this heavy brand of fear is to live the hell out of my life. To say “why not” to new experiences and meaningful connections. There are no guarantees for any of us. The best we can hope for is to live the hell out of today.
2. Discover Your Purpose
We live in an era of people telling us to find our true purpose and discover who we “really are”. For a long time, this all sounded like a pile of new-agey hullaballoo to me. When people asked me what my purpose was, I thought, Sh!t, I have no idea and now I feel like a less than perfect human being because I don’t have a purpose.
Why not start by leaning into an activity that bring you joy? Is there something you do that comes easily to you and when you’re doing it, you lose track of space and time?
I’m not suggesting you opt out of picking your kids up from daycare or miss a client meeting because you want to frolic through mud puddles or create elaborate chalk murals on your driveway. But, why not carve out a few minutes every day to lean into something that brings you joy? Why not start by asking yourself, if three words changed my life tomorrow, what would I wish I had done more of today? Then, go do it. I bet paying attention to what brings you joy will lead you a little closer to finding the thread of purpose in your life.
3. It’s Not Just About You
Some of my greatest moments of joy have come from showing up for other people in a real way. From asking myself, what can I do to leave the world a better place, simply because I have lived?
We all have a platform. A voice. The ability to make a difference. So, why not ask yourself, what do I want my legacy to be? It doesn’t have to big. You can start exactly where you are.
Just last Sunday, I walked past a young man, sitting on a dirty sidewalk outside a downtown Toronto McDonalds. The words, “no family” on his cardboard sign made me turn around. As I crouched down and asked him what he wanted to eat, he looked at me in shock. The gratitude in his eyes when I handed him a paper bag filled with a Filet-O-Fish and some french fries still makes me want to weep.
What Have YOU learned?
Do bad things come in threes? Maybe. I have experienced plenty of pain over the last three years, but without the pain, I wouldn’t be living the life I have now.
What about you? Has one of the worst days of your life taught you an unexpected lesson?Pin It