I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. What were some of the key events or decisions in my life that got me to where I am at today, that made me the person I am? It’s a bit different than thinking about, and thanking, all of the people who have helped me along the way, which I wrote about in a previous post.
Just like my gratitude post, I think the easiest way for me to do this will be to go through these events and decisions, the turning points of my life, in chronological order.
1. Choosing to be a swimmer. I joined my first swim team at the age of 9, and swam competitively for the next 13 years. Swimming gave me confidence, instilled in me the importance of hard work and commitment, kindled in me a passion for fitness that I still have 48 years later, and enabled me to develop some life-long friendships. In college, swimming was something that defined me, it was a big part of who I was. I haven’t raced in a swim meet for over 35 years, but I still enjoy going to swim meets. The smell of the chlorine, the excitement of the race, the camaraderie among the swimmers, they all bring back such good memories.
2. Getting married – easily the most important and best decision I have ever made. I think this a fairly obvious life-changing event. It represents a serious, adult-level commitment, perhaps the first one I had ever made. While swimming required a commitment, that was mainly to myself, and such a commitment was made at a fairly young age. With marriage, I was also committing to another person. Prior to being married, most decisions were made thinking of how it would affect me; I could no longer think that way once I was married. Like Lou Gehrig, I consider myself the luckiest man alive, thanks to my wife.
3. Having our first child – again, one of the greatest days in my life, and another obvious life-changing event. We were a family now, and had serious responsibility for the life of someone else. I realized even more that my decisions affected not only me, or my wife, but my child as well. The decision to have children continues to bring joy into my life.
4. Quitting my job and going back to school. I am not sure what my parents must have thought. I was married, my wife had quit her job to stay at home with our first child , and I decided to quit my job after just one year so that I could go back to school. By all appearances it was a good job. I was in a management rotational program with a large insurance company, about as safe and secure a job as you could have. However, it had no appeal to me. I could not envision myself spending the next 40 years coming into work and doing the same thing every day. I’ve come to realize that such a job would have likely provided a good deal of variety and challenge, but I guess that’s how a 24 year-old thinks. And I was not doing this just for me; I did a good deal of research before making such a decision, and it seemed as if the odds of having a successful and rewarding carer and family life were quite high if I went into academia. And it has certainly turned out to be true. (see number 7 below).
5. Buying our first house. This was an event that signaled that we were ready to settle down, to become a part of a community. We got lucky; our neighborhood has proved to be a great place to raise a family and to make friends. We’ve been in the same house for 28 years, and have never regretted the decision.
6. Having a child with special needs – our youngest child, Patrick, was born with a condition known as Williams Syndrome. This event has likely had the most profound effect on how I think about a lot of issues. I think, or at least I hope, I became 1000% more compassionate. I think long and often about the luck of birth. Some babies are born into extreme wealth, others into extreme poverty; some babies are born into a loving family, others into a dysfunctional one; some babies are born with perfect genes, others are born with physical or mental challenges. And while we have probably all read stories about people who have successfully overcome being born into difficult circumstances, I think such stories are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve heard that being malnourished as a very young child actually thwarts appropriate brain development; how is that fair, how is that overcome? While I am all for personal responsibility, I have come to realize that we are also responsible for others. I’ve done a 180 on my political beliefs because of this event (becoming socialistic in many of my views), and I’ve done a 180 on what sort of accomplishments most impress me, things that most people would likely take for granted. For all that he has accomplished, and will accomplish in the future, Patrick continues to be one of the most inspirational people I know.
7. Getting tenure. This event provided a great sense of stability and security to my family. It also provided a sense of accomplishment for having achieved a goal I had set for myself. I started teaching at my college in 1986, and 29 years later, I am still there (or should I say, they are still stuck with me!)
8. Becoming vegan. Eight years ago one of my sons recommended that I read “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins. To say it was life-changing is an understatement. When I started reading the book I ate a standard American diet; the day after I finished it I became a vegan, not just because of the book, but also because of the positive role model my son was as a vegan. Eight years later I look back on it as one of the best decisions of my life. Being a vegan has changed me. I think I became more mature (not really sure why), more contemplative, more introverted (although I was never the life of the party), perhaps more judgmental, and began to strongly prefer more intimate social events such as dinner with another couple or game night with the family as compared to large social events like company parties and neighborhood block parties. (It was also around this time that I gave up alcohol, I am sure that had something to do with my new social habits.) I also changed my views on many issues, including the obvious ones like caring for the environment and the rights of animals, but also on issues related to compassion and the importance of finding my purpose in life. While I will be the first to admit that not all of the changes have necessarily been for the better, they have certainly played a role in who I am today.
9. Starting my own business. A few years ago I thought I would try to combine two of my passions in life, business and fitness, and open up a personal training studio. Unlike all of the other events/decisions listed here, this one did not have a happy ending. I ran the business for 4 years, had great managers and trainers, great customers, and met many other dedicated small business owners. However, I learned that running a business is a lot harder than teaching about business. While the personal training studio was not a profitable venture, it was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had, and I think it has made me a better teacher.
10. Participating in the #writeandrun31 challenge. While it is certainly too early to say what the long-term impact of being a part of this group will be, writing every day is something I have always thought about doing, and it was this challenge that made it a reality. It is a great feeling to be part of such a like-minded, supportive community. It has given me a chance to express my creative side, and to share my thoughts and emotions with my family, my friends, my neighbors, and the members of the #writeandrun31 community, and I know that such a chance has the potential to be life-changing.