This week I read an article about TV producer Jonathan Koch, a 49-year old former competitive wrestler who ate a balanced, health-focused diet, exercised religiously, and prioritized a good night’s sleep. At a recent health evaluation, his cardiovascular strength was compared to that of a professional athlete, earning him the nickname “Superman” amongst friends and colleagues. He was at the top of his health game. And then he got sick—deathly sick.
I was hooked by the article from the promise of an amazing story about a groundbreaking hand transplant. But as I read, I found myself more interested in this man’s strength—not just his obvious physical strength prior to his ordeal, but the mental and emotional strength guiding him through his health crisis. I got to thinking. Can we build that kind of strength? Or do we already have it within us? And if we can build it or we have it within us, does it take tragedy or sickness to bring it to the forefront? Let’s explore.
So first, I’ve read the article at least a half-dozen times and there is one excerpt that makes me pause every time. When feeling particularly vulnerable, Jonathan asked his doctor, “why me?” And his doctor explained, “Jonathan, the reason you took such great care of yourself was not to avoid this. It was to survive this.”
I read the doctor’s response over and over again. Time spent in the gym and healthy food and lifestyle choices make you look and feel good. That’s the immediate payoff. But there is another payoff too, perhaps even a better one, because it’s a long-term payoff. Building strength opens the door to options, maybe even a little leverage when things get dicey.
Strangely, that doctor’s response reminded me of when I was packing my suitcase for my recent trip to Iceland. I’ve never been to Iceland and, in truth, I didn’t even know much about it. I read some guide books (which typically make me fall asleep) and I did some online research, but I could only imagine what it would feel like to stand atop a glacier or ice climb in exceptionally cold weather. At the same time, my ability to stay in the moment, enjoy my family, and appreciate the foreign landscape was dependent on being comfortable. Personally, when I am cold I am miserable. So I packed all the stuff everyone suggested—base layers, light and heavy sweaters, wool socks, waterproof boots, mittens, and a warm hat. I anticipated all possible conditions and packed accordingly. I brought rain gear, snow gear, and wind gear. I joked before I left that it would probably be the mildest April Iceland has experienced in years. But I was wrong. Iceland was cold one day, windy two days, and rainy on our last day. And for each scenario I was prepared. I wasn’t cold or wet or uncomfortable. My strength in this scenario was my well-thought-out suitcase. It provided me with the options I needed to withstand the harsh weather and enjoy my adventure.
So likewise, Jonathan packed his suitcase day after day, week after week and year after year. He had been preparing, unbeknownst to him, for this trip to the precarious unknown. And when he arrived, his strength was his body and mind. His body had been prepared by years of health-supportive choices and his mind by what a friend called “…. a strong relationship with himself.” That friend explained, “He had the will to notice when he wasn’t OK and to find very ingenious solutions.” His strength gave him one very important option that he might not have otherwise—to live.
Now strength, physical or mental, is not going to prevent every sickness or hurdle in life. But it will enhance your options. It allows you more control over the good and bad that come your way. Just like with my well-packed suitcase; I still faced difficult weather conditions in Iceland, but my suitcase—my strength in this analogy—allowed me take on every opportunity without hesitation or discomfort.
After taking some time to contemplate my initial questions about strength, I realize we do already have strength within us, and we also have the opportunity to build on that strength throughout our lives. And no, it does not take tragedy or illness to bring our strength to the forefront. We can build on and call on our strength at any time, even for the everyday stuff. But it’s important to consider that building strength doesn’t mean doing everything right—Jonathan is an extreme example of a health and wellness superhero. Instead, think of building upon the inborn strength you already have. Then add one thing to your preparedness suitcase every week or every month. Let’s assume you already have some physical activity in your life, whether that means going to the gym or yoga studio or walking outside every morning. If you have that part covered, the next best thing is working on your mental strength. To do that, begin with, as Jonathan’s friend explained, building a strong relationship with yourself. There are innumerable ways to do this. Start with our challenge of the week and take on any one of the suggestions. Use these suggestions as a springboard for cultivating a deeper relationship with yourself. That strength, from wherever you’ve drawn it—will likely come in handy one day.
Make A Change Today,