I never thought much about how long I intended to live until my Dad died in April 2003 at age 60. Later that same year, in October, my friend, mentor and business partner, Butch, died as well. He was only 54. Years earlier, during the mid to late 90’s when I was hosting (in my mind – you’d never have known it) an extended pity party for myself, I remember thinking, from time to time, that it would be Ok (maybe even better) for me to be gone. That I’d given what I had to give. That I’d failed to live up to my own expectations, let alone other people’s. That living a long life wasn’t important to me, and maybe wasn’t something I deserved either. They didn’t know it, and I’d never told them, but my Dad and Butch helped me through that time with their kindness, wisdom and belief in me.
Now, they were both gone. I couldn’t change that, no matter how desperately I wished I could.
I started thinking about what I could do, differently and without them, with the rest of my life, to best use the strength, and the lessons, they’d left with me. I’d always been a goal setter, and goal achiever, but their early deaths made me realize that I’d never set a goal for how long I wanted to live, or when I would die. That I hadn’t didn’t strike me as being strange. After all, who wants to think about when they’re going to die? It’s kind of morbid and, really, what’s the point? I can’t control when I’m going to die, none of us can. “It’s in God’s (or nature’s) hands,” is an easy way to avoid thinking about it. After all, who wants to go on the record with a goal like “I’m planning to die when I’m 74 (for example)?”
I believe that setting a goal creates a trailhead in my brain, from which a path can eventually be built by me moving forward, one step at a time, moving the rocks and cutting back the brush that are in my way. Often, I can’t make progress on the goal on my own. Maybe I’m not strong enough to move the rocks, or maybe my knife is too dull to cut away the brush. When that happens, the goal sits in my brain, dormant and hibernating, waiting for the help I need to incubate or wake it up.
The help I needed with this goal came to me in the form of a challenge. The challenge was presented to me on the third floor of a nothing-that-special-looking office building in Rosemont, IL across Manheim Road from O’Hare International Airport. I was in my first workshop of an entrepreneurial coaching program known as The Strategic Coach (www.strategiccoach.com). I hadn’t joined this program because of my Dad or Butch. I’d joined because a friend of mine had told me that the program ‘promised’ that its participants would in 3 years earn 3x’s the income and have significantly more ‘off’ time they call Free Days than was the case the day they joined. Who wouldn’t want that, I’d thought. But like I said, sometimes a goal I’ve set, but don’t know how to achieve, intersects with a new thought, at the right time, that moves it forward in a way I’d never expect or anticipate.
This workshop turned out to be one of those times. My “coach,” Teresa Easler, guided us through an exercise called “The Lifetime Extender.” TLE, like almost everything in the Strategic Coach program, was created by Dan Sullivan, a genius of a man as I would come to learn. As best I can remember, the exercise had two purposes. The first purpose was for me and the other participants to think about when we were going to die. Hmmm, that’s coincidental. She wanted us to put a date or an age to it. That was easy, I thought, still oblivious to the fact that this was exactly the thinking my goal needed to help me accelerate the building of my path. I was 40 at the time and took what I considered to be a literal and practical approach to my thought process, concluding that if my Dad lived to 60, I’d probably make it to 65, an 8% increase. Who wouldn’t be happy with that kind of increase?
I soon learned that its second purpose was to turn its first purpose on its head. It basically went like this. If I could extend my life past where I now think I might die, what goals would I have to establish to make that happen. Would I need to change my diet, improve my conditioning, go to the doctor more often, pay attention to my vitals, meditate? As importantly, if I was able to extend my life in a big way, say 20 or 30 years or more, what would I be able to accomplish with the extra time. What additional value could I help create in the world?
Maybe I hadn’t given the world everything I had to give.
I won’t get into the rest of the exercise specifics (you can hear Dan talk about that in this link (https://soundcloud.com/user-436765092/the-lifetime-extender-with-dan-sullivan), but let’s just say my mind was really opened that day to new possibilities and, most importantly, new ways of thinking about myself and my possibilities. At the end of the day, and not without taking a while to get over my initial “this is BS” reaction – which is what I thought during the ‘literal’ argument I had with my brain about this – my new age to die was 90 (by the way, Dan’s is like 156) and my workbook was filled with the things I would do to make living to that age happen and with the many new things that would happen to me, and the folks around me, because of the “extra” time.
Yes, TLE was a mind game as much as it is a health game. It encouraged me to suspend the realism that I could fall off a cliff, get run over by a bus or succumb to a serious disease because it’s really about maximizing our living, and our impact, and not about avoiding uncontrollable, death scenarios (the kind that God and Nature might control). Going through it, at a time when I was open to and searching for help, sharpened my focus on the things I could control, which almost always out-number the things I can’t. It allowed me to get out of the uncertainty of my present and get myself into my future (where of course I could control everything…right). It gave me the strength and the equipment I needed to intentionally think about how long I will live (90 and rising) and what I would need to do to keep the path to that goal under construction.
It made me responsible for extending my life, at a time when not taking that responsibility might have seemed easier. I appreciate the gift that having that responsibility brings to me each and every day. Right time, right message, right result. That works.
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