Thursday, November 17, 2011

Learn to Understand

Cancer gave me tumors in my body, lesions on my bones, and scars on my skin. It filled my blood with chemicals, my stomach with pills, and my eyes with tears.

And that was the easy part...

Understanding what my cancer journey was teaching me was another story.

Growing up I looked at the learning process as more of a chore than something to take seriously. I was more interested in playing sports than cracking books, but did what it took to keep my parents, coaches, and teachers happy. My parents told me the minimum grades I could get were B's and turned it into a nifty jingle worthy of an auto insurance commercial:

"No B's, no keys"

I was a good enough student to earn student athlete awards, but not good enough for honors classes. It wasn't until second semester my freshman year at the University of Michigan during a bout with mononucleosis (a precursor to Hodgkin's Lymphoma) I realized I was smart and, more importantly, actually enjoyed the process of learning.

Doctor's orders for mono were to get loads of rest, minimize activity, and eat what you can get down your sore, sore throat until healthy. With this in mind I structured my days around going to class, doing my homework, and ordering an insane amount of Frosties from the Wendy's at the Student Union.

Sorry Mom...

The key to me finding my capacity as a student was really understanding the material and not just cramming it into my head the days before an exam. I did all the assigned readings, asked questions in class, and went to office hours if I needed to clarify something in my brain.

In effect, I took apart the concepts, saw how they worked, and then reassembled the information in my head so I understood them and it became intuitive. When it came time for quizzes, tests, or essays the material was second nature to me and naturally the grades followed. And to be honest, I began to care less about the grade on the paper and more about the challenge of understanding things that peaked my interest.

I found that the two critical components of the learning process are to Ask effective questions and Listen intently. The intersection of these two activities is where the proverbial "magic happens" and you Understand (see visual above).

People ask me if I thought "Why me?" when I got my cancer diagnosis and the answer is yes.

I asked it a lot...

But I listened even more because I wanted to grow as a person from my cancer experience.

Effective self-reflection is the process of asking yourself a lot of hard questions and listening to the answers that are out there in books, conversations, reflection, songs, therapy sessions, etc.

Only when you take yourself apart, figure out how you work, and put yourself back together in a manner that is intuitive to you will you truly understand your potential.

As for what my cancer journey taught me?

It taught me that each moment holds an opportunity to Lift your life towards maximum fulfillment.

Are you ready to start Lifting yours?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All You Can Do

Present meets future at Mite Nite
This past Saturday was "Mite Nite" where two of the Mite teams (ages 6-8) from the organization where I coach hockey went down to a Chicago area rink to watch a heated high school rivalry coached by their own coach, Coach Scott (pics HERE).

Scott and I played high school hockey together back in the day and this season he asked me to help out with his Mite teams, which frankly has been a highlight of my year. Prior to the game I asked Scott what his message to his high school varsity team was going to be heading into the game and he said:

"One shift at a time"

If you are a golfer like me, this phrase is very familiar. In addition to ice hockey, I spent a large portion of my youth on various golf courses around the Midwest. I originally was drawn to the game when I wondered why my Dad didn't go to church some summer Sundays when I was required to go...

I was quite an observant 7 year old...

Shortly after taking up the game I was hooked. Not sure if it was the hot dogs in the clubhouse or the occasional good shot, but there was something about the sport that demanded my attention. As I honed my physical swing my coaches and mentors began enlightening me about the mental aspects of golf. Funny stuff happens to your golf swing when you start thinking about the score you will shoot or how you are about to beat your Dad for the first time.

In short, you get ahead of yourself and out of the moment that requires your immediate attention resulting in poor shots and the dashing your hopes of a personal best or bragging rights at the dinner table. Thus, one of the greatest pieces of advice for any golfer is to take your round:

"One shot at a time"

The concept of one shift/shot at a time was something I leaned on heavily in my cancer journey. I had one chemo treatment every two weeks for 8 months and certain days with upwards of 5 different scans and tests. From the day of diagnosis through my last treatment I was looking at about 9 months of "the fight" which was a familiar number to my wife and me seeing that she just carried our son in her pregnancy for the same time a year and a half prior.

That's a long time... And a lot of McDonald's strawberry milkshake runs...

Standing on the first tee of my cancer treatment, I committed to taking my journey one task at a time until my oncologist told me to stop. If I was in a scan I would lay as still as possible so the pathologist could get the most accurate picture to make their diagnosis. If it was a treatment day I would give my body the rest and nourishment it needed to handle the stress of the chemicals.

The key to this lesson is to maximize your effort in the current moment understanding that it is all you can control. If you start getting ahead of yourself thinking about future outcomes you are only taking away from your potential by robbing the current task of your attention.

This life lesson is not restricted to an ice rink, golf course, or Chemo Den. It is one we can practice every day in our pursuit of fulfilment. By staying true to yourself and executing each task to your utmost ability when it is time to reflect on your path you will see that you lifted your life to a higher level.

It's all you can do...