Rebuilding my life
On the drive to the office today I listened to one of my favourite podcasts, The TED Radio Hour on the topic of Overcoming and it really struck a chord with me as it discussed two of the major challenges I’ve faced that forced me to rebuild my life. I thought it would be good therapy to describe these briefly.
The first major challenge I faced was moving to high school, not a big challenge on the face of it as all kids go through it, but for me it was a real shock to the system. At middle school I was an average kid, school was fun, I was average academically, I had a few good friends, I felt normal and knew everyone. When I got to high school I was in for a shock, out of 200 people I knew only 2 people (neither of them friends), everyone else seemed to know dozens of people so I was suddenly shy, spotty, weak, bullied, distinctly below average academically and pretty much completely lost in a massive impersonal school.
It took years for me to rebuild my life and it started with the library, initially a place of refuge but shortly after a place of work which meant both safety and money, from there I discovered reading, my academic performance improved, the daily cycle rides to school in all weathers and the bullying made me tougher and fitter. I was swimming and running for the school teams which provided me with friends again. From there things continued to improve and have never really stopped improving until the second challenge.
The second challenge came when I developed a rare auto-immune disorder about 15 years ago, but which really became debilitating 12 years ago. At the time I was physically fit, successful at work, travelling the world and felt indestructible. All of a sudden I was hardly able to move, lost most of my memory, simple tasks took 5 times as long as usual, and I could hardly concentrate. As a result I lost my career, lost my health, lost my memory and to some extent lost my identity. Slowly over a 10 year period I rebuilt all of these things with the support of my family, a superb string of hand picked (by me) bosses and a huge amount of self discipline, money and time. Helped very little by a medical system that diagnosed me, drugged me and discarded me, leaving me to struggle back to health on my own.
I spent nearly a decade fighting not just the illness, but also the mental trauma and the side effects of the drugs that in hindsight were probably as big of a challenge as the original illness. I’m now at peace will my illness, mostly in control of it and my life and have innovated my way back to adding value at work without compromising my health.
The way we approach the challenges life throws at us defines us, I’ve learnt that in all challenges the mindset we have is key. You can have a mindset that is closed, that responds to challenge by setting limits that keep you safe, or an open mindset that continues to seek out opportunities to grow and reinvent yourself. I was fortunate enough to have an open mindset.