Talking about “stuff”….

When I started talking to people about whether I should blog about some of the “stuff” going on in my life — the weight, the diabetes, the apnea, and now the arthritis — I had a lot of people strongly suggest I keep that private. A few were seriously freaked I’d even consider talking about the breakdown, which simply shows that we have a long way to go about understanding and dealing with these kinds of issues as a society. Which is, in fact, a strong reason FOR talking about it, to help teach and help people understand. A common worry was that potential employers reading my blog might shy away; honestly, the fact that I’m 50 hinders this as much or more than any potential worry, and to put it bluntly, any employer that won’t hire me because five plus years ago I needed some help getting my head straight over a few weeks is an idiot, and I don’t want to work for them anyway. It’s their loss. (the whole “aging geek” thing is it’s own discussion for some time in the future, maybe).

There’s a lot of self fear — people worry themselves into inaction. I’ve been there, done that. it took me a long time to go from thinking about talking about this stuff to actually talking about it. Part of that was because I wanted to be sure I knew what I was talking about — that I wasn’t going to screw it up and that I could talk about it intelligently and not but proclaim my expertise in something — but there was also the fear factor.

What I’ve found since deciding to start on this is that it’s making a difference. Every time I talk about the apnea, I get one or two emails from people telling me I’ve convinced them to go get checked, and in a couple of cases, I’ve heard back about the diagnosis and how the CPAP has improved their life. That pretty much everything I’ve heard back has been supportive and positive, and that there’s concrete responses that it’s making a difference — that’s huge. And it makes any potential worries about doing this trivial to me. I don’t know what your goals in life are, but among mine are to leave the world around me a better place, even if only in little ways, and to make a difference instead of just existing; and this seems to be working for both of these goals. When the apnea kicked in, and then the diabetes, it drained a lot out of me and I found myself crawling in a hole just to keep the essentials moving, and now, it’s rather nice to be able to see my ability to fill that hole with concrete and build a launching pad on top of it to get back into the place I’d rather be, which is in the middle of stuff and stirring it up….

Three things helped me get over this hump — and be strong enough to start this discussion. And given the news that Steve Jobs is taking another leave to deal with his issues, I thought it was an appropriate time to talk about them and pass them forward to you as items for you to consider as well.

First one is, not surprisingly, Steve and his commencement speech.

I was still working at Apple at the time, but I knew my time was heading towards the end there. One of these days, I need to write about Steve, having been able to watch him and Apple from a close vantage point for so many years (and Laurie worked at NeXT, way back when as well). What I will say right now is that he could be a tough person to work for, but I never saw him demand more of anyone around him than he demanded of himself. Tough, brutally honest, and yes, I saw him obsess over a comma on a couple of occasions, but that’s because he knew those commas mattered. My last project — Chatterbox — was sometimes the object of his affection and sometimes the object of his attention, and it wasn’t always easy, but Steve isn’t about easy. he’s about getting it right and doing it right, and I’ve said more than once for the right situation, I’d happily go back and see how close I could fly to that particular sun, because if it didn’t kill me, it’d make me a lot better at what I do.

Whatever’s going on now, Steve, good luck at it.

The second thing that got me over this hump was Randy Pausch’s Final Lecture:

I didn’t catch onto it when it first came out, but came back to it more recently. I strongly recommend his book The Last Lecture. Here is someone who found out he was going to die, and his response was to look for ways to make a difference, to leave something. You look at what Randy did, and how can you not be inspired to join him and try as well? I was, and I recommend him to you, also, if you haven’t.

Finally, a third person who showed how you can make a difference if you get over the fear and worry of what people will think. Laurie and I have become fans of Craig Ferguson’s Late Late show, and so I read his book, American on Purpose. It’s a fascinating look at how he got to where he is today (and why), but more important, he made a choice not to be afraid to talk about how he screwed up his life and what it did to him — and use it as a way to try to help people avoid going to the places he went to.

If these people can do it, why can’t I? It turns out the person we most fear in stepping out on these issues is ourselves. And when we grow beyond that fear, good things can happen.

Every time I’ve talked about the apnea, I’ve heard from at least one person who’s written to tell me it’s caused them to realize they need to talk to their doctor. This last time, I heard from two, and one of them has since gone on a CPAP and wrote me to tell me how much better he feels already. When I started talking about the diabetes, similar things happened.

And nothing bad has happened. Nobody’s made me wear a scarlet letter, I haven’t been shunned, I haven’t been ridiculed. I’ve been thanked. And I’ve impacted people’s lives in positive ways — perhaps getting someone into a doctor before the apnea causes a stroke, or before that diabetic coma hits or the kidneys fail from trying to clear out all that sugar. These maybe aren’t huge victories — but they’re victories. And that’s awesome.

I expect at some point the trolls will arrive, because that’s what they do. But what’s more important — avoiding trolls that have no power you don’t hand to them in your reaction? Or helping someone change their life for the better.

That first time you do it, it’s tough to get over that hump. Once you do it once, you’ll find it’s pretty good, and pretty easy. So here, for you, are three things that might help you, too, get over that hump.

You can change the world, one person at a time — if only you decide to try.