It was 36 clear, crisp degrees when I started the early morning three-mile hike around my neighborhood. As the sun began to splash the sky with pink purple, I could feel the edges of my 32-pound weighted vest press into my traps as I marched down my first hill. It looks like a bomb vest. In fact, to my never-ending hilarity (and the lady cop who pulled me over), five years ago when I was in training to climb Kilimanjaro, one of my neighbors called me in as a terrorist.
Weighted vests don’t come in pink. But neighbors do come in foolish. This is a nice, sleepy, bucolic neighborhood, it was broad daylight, I was wearing neon leopard tights, bright red shoes, a blue hat and was waving at everyone. No decent high value-targets for several miles around. Yep. Terrorist. I was sixty at the time.
The only damage I can do is to my knees, or (and let’s call it what is) my dignity.
Hiking with a weighted vest before sunup begins my day. Or yoga, or kickboxing, or I hit the gym for an hour of badass bodybuilding. Or I jog. Or I run sixty laps at my local pool. Typically a mix of all of these. This is what it takes for me to live a badass life.
You are SO lucky
When people tell me that I am “lucky,” it always takes me aback. Here’s my partial list of being “lucky:”
Sexually abused by my big brother as an adolescent
Raped in the military repeatedly by a senior officer
Ten to twenty migraines a month
Four decades of eating disorders
Lost all my teeth
Was a five pack a day smoker
Was almost a hundred pounds overweight
More than forty surgeries, seventeen on my breasts alone due to complications of hemophilia (yes women can be bleeders)
A medical bankruptcy
A diagnosis of bipolar disorder
Married briefly to a violent alcoholic
Had nineteen concussions
Oh I could go on. This is what “lucky” looks like.
And it is.
What Does Lucky Look Like?
I woke up this morning. So did you. That’s lucky. Why? Because every single hour, 6,316 people die. You’re still around to see the sights.
Did you wake up in a safe, warm place? That’s lucky. Why? The last time a global survey was attempted — by the United Nations in 2005 — an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. As many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing (Habitat, 2015). And that is getting far, far worse by the day with climate change and wars with at least 140 million in Southern Africa at food risk.
Did you walk into your kitchen and peruse a refrigerator full of food? That’s lucky. Why? Because 805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat.
Did you down a glass of water? That’s lucky. Why? More than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean drinking water. Diarrhea caused by inadequate drinking water, sanitation, and hand hygiene kills an estimated 842,000 people every year globally, or approximately 2,300 people per day.
Do you have a job or income source that pays (at least most of) the bills? That’s lucky. Why? Because easily 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.
Look, you get my point. Why should you care? You can’t solve the world’s problems, and neither can I. However, when I am “lucky” enough to travel around the world, say, to Tanzania, where I see a young boy drink the from the same water his animals have just shat and pissed in. He’s likely to die from that. I am vividly reminded of what we take for granted that much of the rest of world cannot comprehend. So just what is that we think we’re owed, really?
Nobody “Owes” Me Anything
Despite its flaws, the movie GI Jane had one theme that I respected: the heroine played by Demi Moore refused to sink into self-pity. She chose her circumstances, she chose to duke it out, she chose to push herself. We all choose. When you own the fact that you choose your life circumstances-and forgive me, but that includes all the shit that happens to you- you have complete and utter control over how you choose to feel about those circumstances. That is your ultimate power, the one thing that no one can take from you without your full permission. When we wail that it’s God’s will or that we just can’t help it, we’re victims. It’s wonderful being a victim because it’s never your fault, you’re not responsible, and there’s always someone else to blame. No wonder we are a country full of eager lawyers because there are so many eager victims.
To be reminded of just how powerful and indomitable the human will is, read Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. It might cause you to rethink what you can and can’t control.
I once dated a man who at the time was the head of the DC Red Cross. He said something to me that has stuck with me for years. He was telling me about a senior manager who could never get things done. “He was an excuse man,” said my friend. I was in my twenties at the time and I’ve never forgotten that comment. I see it all the time. People can become extraordinarily adept at coming up with reasons why they can’t get things done. Can’t start eating right. Can’t exercise. Can’t travel alone. Can’t (fill in the blank). Can’t change jobs. Professional excuse makers. There is great comfort in having an excuse- believe me, I have made up plenty myself. At enormous cost.
In 2013, an ex-NFL player buddy of mine challenged me to climb Kilimanjaro. I made a weak-ass excuse about how I’d had knee surgery. To his credit, he called crap on me. By mid-November of that same year I was standing on the top of that mountain, having turned myself into an athletic machine. That trip changed the entire trajectory of my life. No excuses. None. I love it when the people who love me most will not tolerate a limp-wristed excuse from me. They know better.
Living an Adventurous Life
People ask me about my adventures and they say “I couldn’t do that.” Well, they’re right. Because they can come up with a far longer list of reasons and excuses than the motivation for finding a way to have a vivid life. They aren’t willing to get up at oh-dark-thirty and march the neighborhood or run or exercise. They aren’t willing to stop spending money on stupid shit that ends up in next year’s garage sale and instead save for experiences that blast them out of the water. It’s work. It’s commitment. It’s discipline.
It’s earned. Of course it’s hard. But I don’t, as some folks love to say, “get” to travel all over the world. That makes it sound as though someone gave me my lifestyle. I work my ever loving ass off to live this life. I didn’t “get” this strong, powerful body. I work my ever loving ass off to survive extreme accidents, walk away from a broken back, laugh off a busted pelvis and more head bumps than an NFL athlete. I save and scrimp and sell my shit so that I can afford to do the trips I do. I don’t “get” to do extreme adventures, I bust my ever loving ass to get the money together to afford it and train my aging butt off to survive it. My life was a gift. What I do with what happens during my time on earth is up to me, just as it is up to every single one of us.
While a piece of me would love to have back the forty years I spent tethered to a toilet so that I could get rid of whatever meal I’d just eaten, having lost that time has made me immensely grateful for the time I have left. Not just that, even more determined than ever to fill my hours and days with the kind of experiences that leave me breathless. To leave a legacy and write books and make myself valuable to others. I wasted a shitload of time feeling sorry for myself. That’s an expensive pity party. I am by God making up for lost time. With any luck I will die at the age of 123 in the middle of a skydive, attached to some young handsome sonofabitch skydive instructor, screaming COWABUNGA at the top of my ancient lungs. I have no family to gather sadly around my hospital bed to watch me head to my so-called reward as I am attached to a hundred tubes and machines. This life IS my reward.
My favorite YouTube video speaks to this heartfelt message (see below). I wouldn’t wish on anyone the things I’ve experienced. Those were meant for me alone, to exhort me to get my ass in gear. However I don’t wish you an easy life. I wish you an extraordinary life, like the Chinese exhortation, May you live in interesting times. My life is extraordinary because of the ugly, unhappy, sad, awful things that I’ve drawn to myself. They have sculpted me into someone who has no time for reasons and excuses. In the forty-some odd years I have left I plan to jam that time with as much risk, adventure, exploration, boundary-pushing and mind-blowing life as I possibly can. Because I’m alive. I’m immensely lucky. And so are you.
If you could use a bit of motivation today, watch this. Don’t be the guy or gal who had a shot and didn’t take it. Be the one with the stories. Be the one who gave the world the gift you were destined to give. It doesn’t matter when you start. It only matters that you do start. And yes, there’s time. No excuses, no reasons are worth not living the life you were born to live.