“How brain cancer made me prioritize my life goals” (step 4 of my 8-step plan to get you back on track towards pursuing the life you envision despite a cancer diagnosis or other major life-altering event).
Declare your goal(s) and take your first action step! Mark them down on your calendar to reserve those dates. Only tackle one goal at a time if that is what is realistic for you.
One sleepless night, as I was recovering in our brand-new house just days after major brain surgery (which, for the record, was only my first time being hospitalized in my life since the day I was born), Ashley and I had yet another one of our long, deep, emotional, “how did we get here?” conversations that usually ended with us crying ourselves to sleep in self-pity. During this particular chat we agreed that we weren’t the kind of people who needed some sort of “wake-up call” like a major illness to force us to start appreciating and enjoying our life together; we LOVED our life just the way it was! We both had jobs and careers that were personally satisfying; we were already taking regular fun vacations; we had JUST checked a big adventure trip to Machu Picchu off of our bucket list one month prior; and we had JUST closed on and moved into our “forever” home, which brought us so much anticipation and excitement as the construction neared completion.
Ashley and I thought that we were already creating and experiencing the life we envisioned together before brain cancer struck, so what the hell was the purpose of THAT?! Was it really necessary for one of us to get diagnosed with the deadliest form of brain cancer at age 34? We didn’t think so, but after more careful consideration we concluded that what this whole experience did for us was that it reinforced the fact that nobody is guaranteed tomorrow, not even relatively young, fit, and healthy people like ourselves.
In another sleepless-night conversation, Ashley expressed to me her newfound frustration with her profession as a financial advisor: “I’m so conflicted now because my job is to help people make smart financial decisions and to help them save money and prepare for a retirement that, quite frankly, they’re not guaranteed to have in the first place. If they want to spend a bunch of money on something big today (like a big expensive beach house, or an expensive exotic car) that makes them happy in the moment but might put their future financial security at risk, what do I tell them? Go ahead and spend your money and enjoy yourself NOW, or keep saving for the future? What if that person died in a car wreck tomorrow? What would WE do?” These questions only led to even more questions: If we can’t take our money with us when we die (and we don’t currently have any children to inherit anything from us), then what are we doing all this saving for? Why should we wait and keep putting off our goals and dreams because we think they’re too expensive? What is more important to us, having cool things or having cool experiences? What will we regret doing/having and what will we regret NOT doing/having?
Our good friend Jeff whom we met on our 2015 adventure trip to Peru where we hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, put our feet to the fire in early spring of 2016 when he told us in a text message that he had just put his deposit down on our next adventure trip. It was the one that we had been talking about with his brother Scott and several other friends we made on that trip ever since we boarded the airplane to return to the United States from Cusco, Peru. Ashley and I read that text message on our phones, looked at each other and declared almost simultaneously, “It’s on! We’re going to Africa!” On June 25th, 2016, almost exactly one year to the day from the date that I was diagnosed with a brain tumor (“That Fateful Day in June” http://becomepowerful.com/2017/12/15/fateful-day-june/), we turned on our computers, pulled up the REI Adventures website and booked our trip to Tanzania, Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and take an African Safari. Coincidentally, we were also in the middle of closing the sale our rental property, a townhouse that we lived in before we started building our new home, and the proceeds from that sale would be just what we needed to comfortably pay for our upcoming African adventure trip. It seemed like a no-brainer for this brain-cancer-fighting team! With our first action step taken and our next bucket-list trip officially on the calendar, from that moment onward the anticipation and excitement grew steadily for over a year.