Life is strange serendipity. Its easy to miss your life’s tipping point. Here is the story of how I almost missed mine.
“Martin,” the doctor said, “you have cancer and its very serious”. My internal voice the second time, this was my “2nd opinion”, was snarky. “Glad I don’t have the ‘non-serious’ cancer” I thought.
Snarky wasn’t my first reaction. Several months earlier I’d pulled off a busy intersection the Friday I returned UNC Lineberger oncologist Dr. Hank van Deventer’s call. I pulled into a church parkling lot.
I was nervous. “You probably don’t have leukemia,” Dr. van Deventer said after I mentioned my father’s Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) in our appointment a week before. Hank’s Friday call was to confirm once and for all my outlier status. I had my father’s CLL.
Resume vs. Eulogy Life
When I pulled into the church parking I didn’t see the elephant now sitting on my chest. I looked at the church door for a long time. My eyes weren’t focused OUT. My mind was focused IN.
Here is an organized list of my first thoughts after hearing “cancer” and my name (organization is only possible in hindsight):
- I’m a failure.
- My life has no meaning.
- Thought I had more TIME.
- I’m going to die.
- I bet the wrong horse.
- I won’t be able to do my ride.
Sitting in that church parking lot I saw the problem of living a “Resume Life”. Here is a short but moving TED Talk by David Brooks about Resume vs. Eulogy lives:
This David Brooks quote really hit home:
“The problem with living a resume life is it turns you into a shrewd animal who treats life as a game. You become a cold calculating creature who slips into a sort of mediocrity. You realize there is a difference between your actual and desired self. You don’t have depth of conviction, you don have emotional sonorousness. You don’t have commitment to tasks that will take more than a lifetime to commit”.
David Brooks TED Talk (emphasis mine)
BANG. Sitting in that church parking lot I looked across forty years and realized things I thought were important WERE NOT. Things I treated with indifference and calculation such as family, friends and service to others were the pillars of my life’s now missed opportunity.
Wish everything changed the next day. Wish I could say I stopped calculating and started living a eulogy life in the church parking lot. For a year I played Kübler-Ross pinball banging from denial to depression and back again.
Planning, that old P&G mantra, is what saved me.
When I sold “bar soap and household cleaning products” for P&G a lifetime ago they drilled, “Plan your work, work your plan”. Planning Martin’s Ride To Cure Cancer, the bicycle ride across America I never took, is what saved me.
Here are a few of the lessons learned peddling 3,300 miles across America:
- Life is short, do what you love with those you love.
- America is HUGE and mountainous.
- Square up into the wind and risk all regularly to feel alive.
- My family & friends are amazing.
- Bet on the kindness of strangers and you will rarely be disappointed.
Quitting My Resume Life
I quit being a well paid Director of Ecommerce to ride a bicycle across America. Every calculating bone in my body, and they were still there, screamed YOU ARE CRAZY. My “Eulogy Life” was calling.
When you feel like there is nothing to lose you risk more.
Coming down mountains such as Mt. Monarch (13,300 feet) in Colorado I would regularly hit 50 miles per hour or more. I remember the smell of brakes burning as the speedometer went over 50 mph.
Riding mountains was a fluke.
My first plan was a southerly route. I wanted to avoid as many mountains as possible. Hitting the Blue Ridge Parkway two ideas struck hard:
- I didn’t train nearly enough for this crazy idea.
- I want to go home.
My team saved me. I hired Jeremy Sadler and Brian Russo to be the Martin’s Ride team. We worked with the Duke Cancer Institute (DCI) to raise money and awareness for cancer research (picture below is leaving DCI on first day of Martin’s Ride):
Experiencing the Blue Ridge Parkway ‘s pain I wanted to quit. I didn’t just riding for myself anymore my team reminded. We carried a bleeper sending a real time signal to the web so friends and family could follow and know where we were.
Quitting Martin’s Ride would say say, “Cancer patients CAN’T…”
We pushed on until one rainy dangerous day in Tennessee. The team wanted to quit. Panic set in. I called my dad. He shared great advice (as he always does). “Ask them what they want,” he told me.
The team wanted several things including:
- To stop planning our routes at night using Google earth (wasn’t working).
- To buy $150 worth of maps from Adventure Cycling.
- To see National Parks & that meant changing our route.
- To be valued and loved.
I told Jeremy and Brian, the Martin’s Ride team people I hardly knew before our adventure, we were becoming a great team. I owe that team more than I can repay. By forcing a route change they created some of the most magical moments in my life. They helped me embrace a Eulogy Life. Picture below is me, the one in pain in yellow and Jeremy in Colorado.
The Burning Bush Epiphany
Sometimes I am so stupid it makes me laugh. One goal for Martin’s Ride was discover what to do with the rest of my life. Surely, I thought in my pre-Martin’s Ride naivete, there will be an epiphany.
When we got home I was DEPRESSED. Where was my burning bush epiphany? I was sure an epiphany would happened, probably in Utah I remember thinking. Didn’t help that I knew I was sick again halfway through in Colorado.
I felt a lump under my right arm the day after climbing Mt. Monarch (highest point of Martin’s Ride 13,300 feet). I asked Dr. Hank van Deventer my UNC Lineberger oncologist to time treatments to accomplish Martin’s Ride. He timed treatments almost to the day. Within a week of return I was in the most rigorous chemo I’ve experienced (rigorous meaning it sucked).
I rode my bicycle to chemo for the fist month (picture above is me in chemo at Duke). After 3 rounds I could hardly get out of bed. After six rounds I thought dying wouldn’t be so horrible (lol). Stupid me continued to search for the missing epiphany.
The epiphany was behind me.
Leaving what seemed safe, secure and calculated for the unknown was the burning bush, my life’s tipping point. Nothing is ever as controlled or safe as we think. Nothing is ever as dangerous as it first appears.
Chemo almost knocked discovery of Hero Marketing out of me.
In our minds we are heroes. As children we played heroes. As adults we believe in putting aside “childish notions”. We embrace “resume values”. We avoid the “signature sin” Brooks discusses. We follow the herd.
Herds eventually get slaughtered. Follow the herd and you may end up in a church parking lot staring at a door thinking your life has no meaning or value. The best advice I can give anyone willing to listen is RESCUE your life from such a fate NOW this minute, today.
I risked my life in many ways on Martin’s Ride:
- I didn’t know if I would ever work again.
- I didn’t know if I would have health insurance.
- I didn’t know if I would survive the ride (and there were at least 3 times when the ride tried to kill me outright).
Time was suddenly more valuable than money. LOVE, friends and family mattered more than money too, much more. Service and sacrifice connected me to life’s lasting virtues.
Desperate to find REDEMPTION I saw my mom, dad, sister and brother. I saw great friends and doctors, nurses, researchers and administrators working hard to save my life. Despite being a stupid sinner people loved me.
My favorite part of Brooks’ TED talk is when he quotes Reinhold Niebuhr
* Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime
therefore we must be saved by hope.
* Nothing which is true, virtuous and beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history
therefore we must be saved by faith.
* Nothing we do, no matter how virtuous, can be accomplished alone
therefore we must be saved by love.
* No virtuous act is quite as virtuous be it friend or foe as to ourselves therefore we must be saved by that final form of love which is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is where Hero Marketing begins. Once you forgive you are open to HOPE, FAITH and LOVE, the foundation of “Hero Marketing”.
Forgive and you can serve others. Forgive to create magic and meaning despite our human tendency to doubt the existence of both. Forgive and your life and marketing is heroic.
Who is Your Hero?
Please don’t leaving me hanging out here alone (lol). Please share your stories about the heroes in your life in comments, on email (martin(at)Curagami.com) or on GPlus. We are always more heroic together than apart. Here is my friend and Curagami co-founder Phil Buckley’s share about his hero – his dad (promise to add a picture of Phil’s dad soon):
Phil Buckley’s Hero – His Dad
I have one hero, my Dad. He grew up during the depression, watched his older brothers go off to war, was the first person in his family to get a college degree (nights). Quit his “good job” at GE where he was a dial reader of some sort to take a job as a salesman for Burroughs.
Then left that “good job” to sign on with a venture backed startup in the early 1970’s doing mainframe time sharing a la Ross Perot. When that collapsed he spent the next 15 years selling bank security equipment at a record setting pace during the go-go 1980’s… all while working from home, being a Boy Scout leader, baseball coach and all-around great Dad.
He is my hero, and I pray I am 1/2 as good as him.