Confronting Mortality

If you are prepared,
You will be confident
-Tom Landry, American football player and coach

Life can turn on a dime and you had better be prepared for it. Preparation is how you deal with uncertainty, and that is something over which you do have control.
For those of you who did not read my previous article, I had written about one of my all-time, most fun, creative and totally engrossing events of my life: acting in a movie, “The Wicker Tree,” which was filmed this past July.
My wife, Susan, and I returned to the U.S. after ten marvelous days on the set, outside of Edinburgh, Scotland. She was covering the movie as a journalist while I was rehearsing and shooting. We were both on an incredible high.
Three days later, my cardiologist, Dr. Steven Kunkes, told me I had an aortic aneurism and referred me to Dr. John Elefteriades at Yale who determined that I needed open heart surgery to both replace the aortic valve as well as part of the aorta. I had exhibited no symptoms whatsoever, just a “feeling” that something was wrong. Needless to say, we went from a very high peak to a very low valley.
After absorbing the news and realizing what I faced, I made a decision. I was going to use this event as a learning experience and pass on my insights to others. That was my mindset, and on the third day of my ten-day hospital stay following surgery, lying in ICU, my mind began to crank away.
These are six insights which I would like to share with you. I firmly believe everyone can apply them to every aspect of their lives whether it is to nurture a relationship or run a business.
PAY ATTENTION: While this may seem fairly straightforward, many, many individuals living in our fast-paced, over-connected society fail to pay attention to themselves and others because their minds are often too scattered to notice what is most important to their well-being and fulfillment and the happiness and joy of others. Paying attention means focusing fully on close relationships and noticing the needs of others, and doing everything you can to help them. It means paying attention to your health, your children, your co-workers or your employees. If I hadn’t paid attention to the signs my body was giving me, I wouldn’t be here writing this article.
FACE REALITY: We, as humans, can easily fall in the trap of denial, sticking our heads in the sand, justifying our actions and rationalizing our behavior. In order to live an exceptional life, one must commit to pulling off their blinders and face reality head on. By facing the reality of my physical issue and of the looming life-or-death operation, I was able to prepare myself both mentally and physically. Facing reality gives you time to steel yourself for inevitable setbacks because it’s not usually the setback that will do you in; it’s your response to the setback.
ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE: It’s often been said that attitude is everything and I believe that is true. Winston Churchill put it most succinctly when he wrote, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” It makes a big difference because it affects everyone around you – either positively or negatively. As a twenty-five year veteran ICU nurse told me, “I’ve seen first-hand how people with a positive attitude have fewer problems and heal faster than those with a negative attitude.” Attitude works the same way in every aspect of life.
CREATE A SOLID SUPPORT SYSTEM: This is not something you should do at the last possible moment. Build up a support system so the support is there the moment you need it. You do it in advance by surrounding yourself with the right people, those who are willing to tell you the truth, are honorable and know what they are talking about. To build a solid support system you must do everything you can to support others in their time of need. I cannot tell you what an incredible support system I had nor can I full express what a difference it made to my recovery. It was the power of love in action.
ASK FOR HELP AND EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE: Other people need to know you need them. When you are facing a true crisis, it would serve you well to put aside your ego and pride and ask for help. You will be amazed how others will respond. Of course, you then have to make the choice to allow others to take care of you. It may not be emotionally comfortable but the reality in being vulnerable shows personal humanity.
Say “thank you” to your caregivers – often. Appreciation goes a long way and makes a huge difference. I tried to be exceptionally kind to my caregivers and show them my gratitude. I was told later how “easy” I was to take care of. You have no idea how difficult the job of caregiver is unless you have been one.
CREATE A VISION THAT WILL CARRY YOU THROUGH A CRISIS: I have been helping people prepare for various medical issues for years, either in person or by making an audio recording that they listen to before their procedure or operation. They learn to relax. Being physically and mentally at ease gives you an edge. I also help them create a visualization (mental movie) in which they “see” themselves coming out of surgery successfully. In addition, I coach them to visualize doing something in the future that brings them joy.
I did this for myself and it made a tremendous difference in my mental state. I projected in to the future and created a full sensory mental movie of me sitting at a book-signing of my new book (which hasn’t been published as yet), as well as my wife and I attending the premiere of “The Wicker Tree.”
Many years ago, Charles Garfield, the author of “Peak Performance” said, “I’ve discovered that numerous peak performers use the skill of mental rehearsal of visualization. They mentally run through important events before they happen.” I cannot express the power of visualization. It’s a major factor in shaping your life.
Sometimes a confrontation with reality can be a gift. If you apply these six insights to every area of your life – your life can be exceptional.