Find the ‘why’ to get to the ‘how’

A few weeks ago during church, the priest made a statement in his homily that should resonate with a lot of people. “If something is not to your liking, don’t make excuses or blame others. Look in the mirror and ask, ‘What can *I* do about it?'”

Most of us think that’s sound advice. Some might even be motivated to make a change. However, it’s inevitable that for most people, blame and especially excuses win out.

But not everyone will fail. Some people stay the course, determined and focused on a positive outcome. How do they do it? It all sounds so easy in the beginning, but actually sticking with the change you want to make is quite tough.

The answer is quite simple, and you only need to ask yourself one question – WHY? If you can figure out why you want to change a situation, the “how” comes a bit more effortlessly.

Of course it’s going to take work. Nothing that’s worth having comes easy – you always have to put forth an effort. Maybe you’re tired of those extra pounds, or maybe you’ve lost interest in your job. Whatever the situation, first you must determine WHY you’re tired of those pounds or WHY you’ve lost interest in your job. Now ask yourself WHY you want to change it. You want to keep up with your kids or your grandkids. You want a promotion at work. These WHYS provide a nice background when you finally step up to the mirror and ask, “What can I do to change this situation I don’t like?”

My husband, for instance, debated for a long time about whether or not to open his own office. Admittedly, neither of us are great at saving money, so the decision to practice law on his own was going to take a leap of faith. He plugged along at his office job at a plantiff’s firm even though his real passion was criminal defense. I noticed he seemed genuinely unhappy, as he tended to sleep a lot and faced weekly panic attacks. Justin reached his breaking point, realizing that he had to give his own office a shot, because his WHY was his happiness and his enjoyment of work. Fate interceded as well, and Justin officially opened his very own law office this fall. Sure, going out on your own is definitely scary, but his happiness — his WHY – trumped the uncertain part.

Sometimes, though, you might face a situation that you really can’t change, like a cancer diagnosis. There’s nothing you can do to change a situation like that – you can’t stand the thought of chemo, but you don’t have much of a choice if you want to survive. You might not be able to change the situation, but a shift in your focus can help you get through a tough situation in a healthy, positive way.

I was terrified about getting a stem cell transplant. The chemo sounded like enough of a nightmare, but the extended hospital stay and time away from home was the icing on this bitter cake. I didn’t want to take a leave from my job. I didn’t want to leave home for two months. I just wanted to be normal, spend time with my family and friends and enjoy the freedoms that every other “normal” 33-year-old woman sometimes takes for granted. So in this case, my focus shifted from changing the hard facts of the situation (impossible) to adjusting my attitude so I could live as normal a life as possible during this time (doable).

During the spring of 2007, I developed an interest in competing in 5K walks. As a competitive person, the thought of performing against others was motivation enough, but when I actually started placing third or higher in my age group, I realized I liked it even more (I mean, who doesn’t like to win a trophy?). As summer turned to fall, I relapsed in October and faced the dreaded transplant. Months of transplant prep followed, which consisted of lung and heart function tests, chemo, blood work, blood work, and did I mention blood work?

One of the few times I studied a calendar before I was admitted to the hospital, I counted ahead and figured (well, hoped really) that I’d get out of the hospital in March. That would give me less than three months to prepare for the Ogden Classic on Memorial Day weekend. My sister and I had done the 5K walk together for two years in a row, and we wanted to keep the tradition. Competing in 2008, however, looked a little bleak. But I wanted to compete, and an extended stay in the hospital certainly wasn’t enough to hold me back.

As you might imagine, aside from the whole “no immune system” thing, being in a hospital for a long period of time is incredibly boring. I could only surf the internet and play computer games for so long. Sleep was downright impossible, and there was not much of interest on TV. In order to make it through each day, I broke it up into segments. The first segment of the day consisted of exercising. Walking was encouraged, but of course I had to take it above and beyond that. For the first week or two, I rode the stationary bike in the hallway about 5 miles a day. After my platelets started dropping, my nurse suggested I find another activity because pedaling the bike could cause problems with the change in my blood.

By this time, I’d befriended all of the nurses, and they agreed to unhook me from my IV pole long enough each morning for me to take a walk and then shower. By take a walk, I certainly don’t mean strolling up and down the halls of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. Every day, I headed out to the staff elevators on the 9th floor (we were allowed to leave the BMTU but not the floor), mask on my face and bandanna on my bald head, and did 20 laps around the elevators one direction, then I’d turn and do 20 laps the other direction. It definitely wasn’t as scenic as the bike trail. My scenery consisted of white walls, gray elevator doors, the occasional rack of cafeteria trays and huge bins of dirty towels and bed clothes.

Sometimes I’d bump into Dr. Craig on my way to the elevators. Once he asked me as I whizzed by him with a very quick gait, “Where are you going?” With an ornery grin, I replied, “I’m escaping!” My mind immediately churned over how in the world I’d be able to fit an IV pole into my vehicle so I could take a joy ride.

I was officially sent home on March 3, 2008, and even though I was exhausted, I still stuck with my training when I could. After I checked with Dr. Craig to make sure it was OK, I registered for the Ogden walk.

When my sister and I showed up for the walk that morning, I felt pretty good, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hit it at my usual pace. I just wanted to DO the walk. Finishing a 3-mile walk three months after a stem cell transplant sounded like a pretty good accomplishment to me!

My sister blitzed past me from the start, but I was fine with that. I just relished the fact that I was home, doing something that I enjoyed, something that made me feel normal – like myself, not like a cancer patient. And guess what? I actually finished third in my age group! Not only was I able to complete the race, but I also won a trophy! I think that’s pretty awesome.

It’s that awesome feeling that carried me through more relapses, because I knew if I could do that, I could certainly get through some piddly little radiation and some more boring chemo. I am a warrior, and I embraced that mentality to make me feel normal – and this was how I controlled a situation I couldn’t change.

And you can do that too. Just ask yourself WHY. The HOW will come naturally.