When I decided to walk across America for heart disease, I knew it was the right thing to do. When we decided to start a nonprofit to help others, it sure felt right, although the red tape, regulations, and legalities made me wonder a bit. Since that time, there have been moments when I thought, geez, it would have been much easier to retire and play golf.
Retirement dreams come in all sorts of sizes and packages, but I’m really not ready for that. Yep, I ditched the corporate America job, and as I said in my book, I pretty sure I am heading down the right path. It is a calling, it is what I am “supposed to do”, and in turn, it is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. It requires reinventing yourself, and at age 54, I wondered if I was up for the task.
My first thought was to improve my value to the newly formed organization, relating to heart health, of course. I figured it was probably too late to go to med school, so the idea was to learn about fitness, an integral part of heart health. I studied for, and passed, the National Academy of Sports Medicine exam to become a Certified Personal Trainer, which, is no easy task. It took about 6 months and was as hard as any college class I have taken. Either that, or studying when you are older is harder (probably a combination of both). At least this time I was sober when taking the exam lol, just kidding, we did drink a bit in college, but I never took an exam drunk, at least as far as I can remember.
Anyways, with my CPT in hand, I decided to get another accreditation, this time another three-letter acronym starting with the letter “C” CPR. That was easy. So, move on to the next step, get certified to teach CPR. Done. The last piece is to become nutrition certified. I have that in the plans for the next few months.
All of this knowledge will help our organization, and help me help others learn how to live more heart healthy, but it is a long tough road. Who would blame me for either semi-retiring, now at age 55, or going back into the familiar world of telecommunications? Believe me, I have thought about it often. Fold up shop, give our money to another worthy charity, and take the path of least resistance.
Then came the Jefferson Awards, which is a pretty big deal, after all, Joe Torre was being honored for his good work, and was the keynote speaker. Other national honorees over the years include John Glenn and Condeleezza Rice, holy cow, this is a big deal.
My friend, and one of Walk For The Beat’s board members, whose heart is in the right place, happens to work for Vodafone. They are a large telecom company with a presence here in the United States, and they happen to be a sponsor for the Jefferson Awards. Therefore, they participate, and internally select “exceptional employees” to represent their company at the ceremony.
To be considered an exceptional employee, you must demonstrate that you did something good for your community. Mark told our story to Vodafone, he was nominated by a peer, and we were selected for an award, and a grant from the company. How cool is that? In doing so, we were invited to attend the Jefferson Awards, which was being held in Washington D.C. Excellent, this would provide us some visibility, a couple of days in the nation’s capital, and a few bucks to put towards our cause, or at least that’s what I thought would be most beneficial.
Not so fast mister. Sure those are nice things, but what we walked away with was more valuable in our humble opinions, and I use the “humble” word, purposefully. Let me start by telling you about the Jefferson Awards. They honor people and organizations that have dedicated their lives to helping others. We were able to listen to 60+, one minute speeches from these good folks, about what they are doing, and of course why. it was awe-inspiring.
For about two hours, it was an endless stream of tears, not so much in listening to the challenges they faced in their lives, but for the impact they are having on others. One that really has stuck with me, was a young girl, now probably in her mid 20’s, who was bullied in Jr. High School. It was so bad, that she wrote a note to her parents telling them how much she loved them, but she decided that she couldn’t take living like that anymore. It was a suicide note. The bullies convinced her that she was worthless. She attempted suicide, and fortunately, she failed.
Many therapy sessions later, she is a sophomore in college, and one of her counsellors asked her to talk about her story to a group of kids who were identified as having a similar experience. Low self-esteem, etc. That catapulted her into a new passion. She found that she is really good at these types of speeches, and figured out that she can help many others, who share the same feelings she once felt. From there she started a nonprofit organization, and has dedicated her life to this mission. Truly extraordinary!
These stories came fast and furious, with each one being as impactful as the one before. Mark and I were touched. We later talked about what is important in life. I had been through this “epiphany moment” after my coronary artery disease diagnosis, and now it was cool to share that feeling with my friend, although on a bit different level. He asked if working the old 9-5 job was really what mattered. Where should priorities lie? What is truly important in life? We just touched on those things a bit while walking around D.C., but I sense that Mark was doing a bit of introspection, which is good now and then, in my opinion.
I am a bit older than Mark, and my kids are grown and out forging their own paths in life, but Mark has a 4 year-old. My advise, since I am such an experienced sage now, was that yes, your job is important. You have to provide for your family and there is tremendous value in that, both for your family, and your own personal satisfaction, knowing that when you look back, you provided a good life for your loved ones. The questions then remain, what more can we do to “make a difference” in the bigger scheme of things? What should we do? How do we prioritize it? And of course the big one, what fulfills us? Those are some pretty deep questions, and I know this, my story has not yet been fully written.
I have a two-year head start on Mark, and I know where I am going. The Jefferson Awards only further cemented the notion that we are doing the right thing with our time, money, and effort to help people avoid, fight, and deal with all the issues surrounding heart disease. It’s my thing since it affected me, so now my advice is find your thing and follow your heart. I guess when it is put that way, there really isn’t any question about it.