Five years ago this month, I was on top of the world. My obsessive quest for career success was in overdrive. After more than a decade as an executive in corporate America, I was serving my second year as chief of staff to an elected official who represented 300,000 residents, president of the high school board of trustees, and co-founder of a leadership academy created in collaboration with Stanford.
In addition to my six-figure salary and high-profile community leadership roles, my wife was a successful elementary school principal and our daughters attended private Catholic schools. I lived in a nice house and drove a late model European sedan. For a kid who grew up in a working-class neighborhood, who could ask for more, right?
Well, I did. Striving for “more,” I worked around the clock pushing myself harder and harder.
Six months later, a massive heart attack brought it all crashing down. A month after that, I was in the ICU clinging to life in a coma and on breathing machines. By the end of that summer, I was a living testament to the miracle of God’s will. I survived a heart attack, cardiac arrest, and a rare lung syndrome.
That’s when the hard part started. I had to completely change my way of life.
Although my mind still works at hyper-speed, 106 days in the hospital and three major health issues have wreaked havoc on my body. I’ve struggled to reconcile my desire to live at the hectic pace I love with the reality that I can only do as much as my heart and energy will allow.
Working hard and the struggles of leadership excite me, but the stress that comes along for the ride is life-threatening. I love Kentucky Fried Chicken, Roundtable Maui Zaui pizza, ravioli and meatball sandwiches, all of which are off limits on my low-sodium, low-fat cardiac diet. I miss working up a sweat in the gym and knocking back a few ice-cold Coors Lights on tap afterwards.
Everything I do now is measured in calculated moderation, a concept that is completely foreign to me. Bland food, light exercise, and no-stress work are orders of the day.
In the years that followed that horrific summer, I’ve been in a daily struggle with myself trying to come to terms with my new life. Faith, family, and friends formed the foundation of my miraculous recovery, so I turned to that same formula to guide me through my dramatic life change. Making that change has been an emotional a tug-of-war.
On one side of the rope is a maturing relationship with God and an evolving understanding of my place in life. On the other side is the adrenalin rush and ecstasy that come with working and playing hard. Swaying in the middle of that taut rope are the elusive concepts of happiness and living life to the fullest.
I spent 2011 slowly recovering, rebuilding strength, and refocusing on my relationships with God, family, and friends. The next year marked my return to the chaos of full-time work. When my professional career came to an abrupt and exhausting conclusion in 2013, I was lost and confused. I believed that the last exciting thing that brought joy to my life had been taken away.
But, I was wrong.
By the end of 2014, the spiritual side of the rope began gaining ground. It was another year without the thrill of professional challenges, meatball sandwiches, energetic games of hoop, or multiple mugs of ice-cold beer. I earned less income than in any other time in my adult life. Nevertheless, 2014 was a glorious year.
All of those things that gave me short-term exhiliration finally began giving way to the bliss of living life for no other reason than to celebrate God’s gift. Faith is no longer just an otherworldly concept. It forms the foundation of how I manage my day. My relationships with Sandra and our daughters, extended family, and good friends are becoming more fulfilling and meaningful.
Although 2014 was a turning point in my understanding of life’s mysteries, I still have much work to do. I need to keep trusting in God and putting my life in His hands. There are more family and friends that deserve my love and attention.
As my journey moves on, I know the long road ahead will meander with twists and turns. I’ll follow the path that God created for me and I’ll continue to celebrate life with those I love.
I’ve been writing about my life journey and posting excerpts every Wednesday in Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. Check it out at: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room.