Motivational & Inspirational

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Be the Awesome Man

A Handbook for Young Men in Pursuing Happiness
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The Book of WHY (and HOW)

The Book of WHY (and HOW)

Discover the Timeless Secrets to Meaning, Success and Abundance
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Living Lightly

Bring Happiness and Calm to Your Everyday
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Perseverance

Perseverance

The Seven Skills You Need to Survive, Thrive, and Accomplish More Than You Ever Imagined
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We all have an idea of what perseverance means, but it was only relatively late in life that I really came to understand it.

Our North American culture often tells us that we should look, feel, and be successful. Yet any success I’ve had has come only after significant ordeals, and rarely did I ever feel successful along the way. But I’ve learned to persevere. This is an important point to hold on to: perseverance can be learned. We can grow in our ability to withstand difficult times. We can learn to push forward in the face of failure. We can develop the determination to keep slogging ahead until we reach that remarkable day when someone in our life points out how “lucky” we’ve been.

It’s funny how so many of those who work hard and simply stay in the game get “lucky.” Without a doubt, many successful people will tell you that they’ve experienced lots of luck in their journey. That’s because they stayed on the journey. They never quit. They learned to persevere.

I’ve been forced, specifically by Parkinson’s disease, to learn simplicity within perseverance. I’ve come to see that I can’t do it all, that at times I do need a hand, and that I certainly can’t control every outcome in life. Although that sounds like a lot of things I can’t do, I’ve learned that I can pay better attention, focus carefully, and end up accomplishing more. And as I find that there are things I can control, my character is deepened and I discover contentment.

Perseverance—a great big long word that’s often attached to difficulties. Yet if we learn its lessons our lives will be deeper, richer, and more vibrant than we ever imagined.

***

Jenna was ten when her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of fifty. Unlike most ten-year-olds, she understood the gravity of the diagnosis—and set herself to doing something about this thing that had attacked her dad. When she learned that funds were needed to help people live well with the disease and to spur on research for a cure, she decided to help those who could help her dad. Five years later, “Jenna’s Toonies for Tulips” campaign is going strong; she’s raised more than $50,000 for Parkinson’s. (In Canada, a toonie is the two-dollar coin.)

Jenna is the daughter of a good friend of mine. I’m continually amazed and inspired by her work for Parkinson’s; she’s a constant reminder of the simplicity of what it is I want to do with my life. Like Jenna, I want to help. Whether it’s her dad or others like him, I want to see people lifted above the misery of their circumstances and inspired to live their best.

Hence this book. My greatest desire in writing it is to shine a light deep into people’s souls and convince them that there is a better way. Throughout the book I’ll provide practical steps, but my first goal is to help us see the bright reality of what can be. Then we can set ourselves on the course to that reality.

Later I’ll discuss how this journey is best traveled with others. I’ve learned that I can’t make it on my own; instead, I’ve experienced the best of life in community. The most important members of mine are my family. At the age of fifty-two I’m a husband of thirty-two years to my lovely wife, Sheryl. We have four incredible children (two boys, two girls), a beautiful daughter-in-law, and one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind, a granddaughter.

By profession, I am a nurse. I reside in that unique minority of males who make up roughly five percent of the profession. This is my chosen career, or at least the one I backed into. By passion, I am a writer, speaker, founder of a charity, entrepreneur, runner, and follower of Christ. These are the many important adjectives that describe who I am. Not listed in any particular order.

Then there’s that pesky little friend named Parkinson’s, which came into my life at a comparatively early age and which allows me to call myself patient, client, advocate, and fighter. I have a complex relationship with this “friend.” I love much of what Parkinson’s has brought me, while hating it and specifically its symptoms. It’s a disease that typically afflicts individuals over the age of sixty. Seldom is it a bother to those under fifty, with only about ten percent of the Parkinson’s population diagnosed before the mid-century mark. I was forty-six.

Parkinson’s is a progressive nerve disease of the brain that in time leads to a debilitation of a person’s motor functions. In other words, you can no longer control the movements of your body. The individual with Parkinson’s loses the important ability to produce a chemical called dopamine, leading to the classic symptoms of tremor, stiffness, slowness, and loss of balance. Along with myriad lesser-known evils referred to as “non-motor symptoms.”

Not all lottery wins are good things, and I’m not particularly happy about having won this one. But although my new best friend—whom I hate—has brought a certain level of grief into my life, it also played a direct role in my next lottery win.

At Sheryl’s urging, my son Tim Jr. and I applied to appear on The Amazing Race Canada. We had little expectation of hearing back. But Sheryl was certain we’d get an interview; they’ll be intrigued, she said, by my Parkinson’s diagnosis. Naturally, she was right.

Running that race has changed everything. It’s not only taught me valuable lessons in how to persevere but also allowed me the opportunity to pursue my passions.

Winning was incredible, of course. The trips, the prizes, the cash—it was all more exciting than words can describe. Yet my passions have never had much to do with things. As a nurse, it was always my desire to care for individuals. Early on, as a youth pastor, I wanted to help students find their way in life. Since then Sheryl and I have been involved with a number of charities and community organizations, and the race has given us the chance to pursue these activities with renewed vigor. It, and Parkinson’s, have led to many exciting adventures that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought possible, from the founding of our charity, U-Turn Parkinson’s, to the development of a speaking career that has taken me around the globe.

So in writing this book, I want to inspire you to view life through a new lens—to see the potentially negative as an opportunity to grow. Running the race was an adventure, but what I want to share are the challenges of running it with Parkinson’s and the lessons that taught me. To help you discover the joy that comes in persevering through hard times. I hope to encourage those who face this disease, to give them and their families the courage and strength to walk this very difficult path. But I also want to encourage those living with other hardships, whatever they may be. After all, the lessons on perseverance are universal, and can help the cancer patient and the corporate CEO alike.

Running the race with my eldest son was a wonderful experience. Many have asked about this aspect of the journey, and my answer is always the same: Tim Jr. made the perfect partner. He was fun and lighthearted, but also attentive to the needs of a father with Parkinson’s. He was patient with my weaknesses and carried us when needed with the strength that comes only from a strapping young man. I’m so proud to have had the chance to create these memories with my son. I can’t imagine having won this race without him.

It is my hope that you’ll be inspired by our story—and that, like my friend Jenna, you’ll grow in your ability to persevere. I hope it will give you what you need to run your race and win.

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Design Your Next Chapter

Design Your Next Chapter

How to realize your dreams and reinvent your life
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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Excerpt

 
The GPS was not making any sense and the over­sized map was now a crumpled ball of frustration on the back seat of the rental car. We were lost. My hus­band was grumpy and I was frazzled. Hans made another turn and we bumped our way down another white gravel Tuscan lane that glared back at us in the midday sun. We were trying to find our way to a small, rural bed and breakfast where we would spend a few rare days alone together.

Around the next corner, a stooped old man was ambling along minding his own business. We stopped, I jumped out, unravelled the map and showed him the place we were desperate to find. His face lit up and to our astonishment he climbed right into the back of the car. “Avanti,” he shouted, thrusting his walking stick between the seats, and we set off, following his emphatic instructions.

Ten minutes later, we found ourselves in a rustic farm kitchen surrounded by the old man and his family. The table was piled with steaming dishes of delicious food and jugs of red wine, and children were everywhere. Amongst the Italian chatter, of which we understood little, a young woman introduced herself in English. “I am Marissa and this is my family and our farm,” she said. “I am sorry but my grandfather loves to pick up strangers, especially at lunchtime. Please stay for pranzo. He would like that.”

And so we stayed for pranzo (Italian for lunch). Before the meal ended, a gaggle of neighbours dropped by. Some of them joined us for coffee, and some made a feast of the leftovers. I wondered aloud to my husband if we had fallen upon a celebration of some sort. Marissa overheard me and told me that no, this was normal, it was always like this—Italians were a sociable people. That I did not doubt. I also thought that their sociability must be really good for them: the crowd looked happy, healthy and madly alive—including the five animated octogenarians among us.

Three hours later we were back in the car with clear instructions on how to find our B & B. As we drove away, we could not stop grinning. What had just hap­pened? That gathering had all the noise and energy of the parties I used to go to in my twenties. No wonder the Italians needed an afternoon siesta.

Two weeks later, I was back at work. The board­room at the television network always smelled of stale coffee. As the discussions droned on, my mind wan­dered back to that farmhouse kitchen. Everything about the experience had excited me. The family’s kindness and generosity had been overwhelming. They had wel­comed us, fed us and sent us on our way with arms full of their homemade goodies. They hadn’t been rushing anywhere. They hadn’t said, No, I can’t, I’m too busy. On the plane back from Thailand, I’d realized that I really did need to change my life. No more driving myself into the ground. I needed time to reconnect with my hus­band, my family and friends in a serious and sustained way. Now this simple Italian experience lit up in my head like a beacon.

Was Italy where I’d find my next chapter?

The spooky thing was that as soon as I’d admitted to my daily turmoil of discontent, I saw similar signs of dis­tress and longing everywhere. It’s like after you buy a new car—suddenly you notice the same model all over the place. “Look, he’s got one just like me, only in red. Hmnn, I like it in red.”

I was like a moth to the flame of change, drawn to stories of how others had transformed their lives after hitting adversity or burn-out or just plain boredom. Each was like a spur, prodding me on.
 
At my retreats I have now met hundreds of people of a variety of ages and from all walks of life whose heads are in a similar place as mine used to be when they arrive for a week at my villa.

Some are about to become empty nesters; their sadness is palpable. I remember the way one single mother put it: “I have a year left before my last one leaves home and the loneliness is already too much. I know it’s dramatic, but it’s like I have a black hole growing in my heart. My daughters have been my entire life for eighteen years. I am intensely happy for their futures but I cry for myself.”

Many have reached the point where they are just bone-tired with the daily commute and the same old routine. They are fed up with a work culture where being overloaded is the norm and being way too busy is the measure of success. Committing to a week in which they are able to step out of those roles lets one little question come to the surface: “What about me?”

Then there are those who have climbed the employ­ment ladder successfully, but now that they are perched at the top, they have begun to sway. “I was happy during the climb but the summit has left me wanting some­thing different. What do I do now?” Or “I’m at the top of my profession but each day has begun to feel like a car­bon copy of the day before.” There is nothing more deadening to the spirit than feeling like you have noth­ing left to learn.

Men are not immune to these same regrets and questions about whether what they’re doing has any meaning, either. My brother is only forty-seven, hand­some, lively and always young to me. He was the CEO of a major ad agency in New York but, around his office, he was known as the “old man.” He found it disconcerting when his young colleagues assumed they needed to explain a business concept to him. “It’s as if experience today means nothing,” he told me. “It just got tiring.” (He quit: more about that later.)

Life can be a series of blind curves, but there can be even wilder turns as we get older. I have heard the stories of women, unexpectedly and prematurely widowed, whose melancholy wraps them in a blanket of fear for their future. I also can’t count the number of women at the retreats who are dealing with the end of their marriage. One of them told me, “After the anger and tears I feel dead inside, dull and old.” This past summer I heard the cruellest story from one of our guests. “I woke up one morning next to my husband of twenty-eight years and he was staring at me,” she said. “Then he announced that I was past my expiry date and walked out for good.” I will never forget the way all the women in the group gasped in horrified sympathy when she said this.

So many women are troubled by less dramatic issues: lives that are full of obligation but lack joy. As one announced, after several glasses of Prosecco, “I feel like the passion for life I once had has gradually dripped away, like water from a leaky faucet. I try to tell myself that I don’t care, but I do care.”
 
Sometimes what troubles them is as simple as this: “I’m bored—bored with my life.” With so many wonders in the world, I think we are almost obliged to live every day as if it’s our last. But many people feel so trapped they’ve forgotten how to be amazed by life.

Our guests come to the Tuscan retreat to have a glorious adventure. But many, under the influence of the time they spend together, have felt comfortable enough and bold enough to admit that their life feels like it has come to a screeching halt. Where did all the excitement go? They spent decades with one main purpose in their lives—raising their children. This role has defined them. Now that those children have moved on, they’re left alone to face oversized question marks. Who am I when I don’t have to be a mother every moment of every day? What do I do now? Often these questions spark fear and despair. Not to mention guilt, a mother’s default setting. Trying to shake off that reaction was the subject of my last book, Not Guilty, a memoir on the (often really funny) chaos of being a working mother.

When I was on a publicity tour for that book several years ago, I had begun a speech on a small platform in a bookstore in front of about two hundred people. In the front row, I noticed a mother with twins who were fast asleep in a double stroller next to her.

No more than five minutes into a talk about mater­nal guilt that I thought was quite light and humorous, I heard crying. I glanced at the twins, but it was neither one of them—it was their mom. I tried to carry on, but her wails only became louder and finally I had to stop and ask her what was wrong. She managed to pull herself together enough to say that she, the mother of ten-month-old twins, had a terrible secret.

Oh no, I thought, what is coming next?
“Sometimes,” and here she started to cry even harder, “sometimes I like one better than the other!”

Before I could react, a smartly dressed elderly lady stood up at the back of the crowd and announced with a wide grin that she had seven children and most of the time she didn’t like any of them. The audience roared with laughter, including the young mom, who must have felt her guilt dissipate in an instant. I carried on with my talk, but I thought about this mother afterwards—and I’ve thought of her often in the years since.

Sometimes all it takes to get over that next hurdle is to understand that it’s normal to have these feelings, that everyone has such moments. We are not alone. This is something all the women who come to my retreats realize as they sit around a fire, wrapped in wool blan­kets under a starlit Tuscan sky, while the strangers around them spill out their hearts. Soon they find themselves sharing their own hearts too.

Instead of a Tuscan night around a fire, I hope in this book to offer you something almost as good! Also, over the years I have devised a list of questions for my guests to help them find the answers they seek. They don’t do this in public, and there’s no obligation on them to share their answers. But many of them have told me that facing these questions later, alone in their room, is a crucial first step to waking themselves up and remembering that life only runs one way.

So here are my questions. Grab a coffee or a glass of wine and find a quiet place away from other peo­ple . . . and away from your phone. I know it’s hard, but try to be in the moment. Remember what happened to me in that Thai sauna and be prepared for anything. Intense, personal scrutiny can inspire a sense of rev­erence and possibility, but it can also spark fear and sadness. Being honest with yourself almost always produces startling results.

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