How I Overcame Anxiety, Found the Purpose of Life, and Lived a Year of Personal Bests
The Breakfast That Started it All
It’s December 2018. I’m at breakfast with my friend, Michael.
He asks the inevitable question. “How are you?”
It’s a common question. I must ask and answer the “How are you” question a dozen times a day. But today it feels different. Today it feels urgent. So, I take a deep breath, and I decide to tell him the truth.
As soon as I say the words, I am filled with guilt.
What have I got to feel depressed about? I have a fantastic relationship with a wife who adores me. I have enough money, so I don’t have to go to a job if I don’t want to. I have everything that everyone else is praying for. And yet, here I am. I’m depressed.
Michael doesn’t blink. He doesn’t run away. Instead, he gets curious. “What does that look like?” he asks.
“I don’t want to be alive.”
Now he looks concerned. So, I add, “I don’t want to harm myself. I don’t even want to die. I just don’t think I want to be alive anymore.”
Michael relaxes a little, and I continue.
“My wife and I are socially isolated. If we die, our bills will autopay until a credit card expires. Then a payment will bounce. Some poor police officer will come to our house for a welfare check and find our bloated bodies. Our dog will be fine because he’s got our dead carcasses to feast on.”
Michael offers, “Obviously, it would be a closed casket funeral.” We both laugh, dark laughter.
I realize that I’m catastrophizing, but Michael asked me what it felt like, so I’m going to tell him. I have to tell someone.
“Look, I’ve been building my business for the last three years. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do. I wrote a book. I host a podcast. I blog. I speak. I host webinars. I hone the SEO on my website. I share on social media often. Then, I get three likes on my posts.
“I have been vulnerable and transparent. I feel like I’ve opened my chest and laid my heart bare on the sidewalk, and the world is stepping over it. I put myself into the world, and the world has responded with a giant yawn.
“At some point, it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s not them. It’s me.
“I just don’t get it. I don’t get what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. What’s the point of it all?”
I run out of steam. I don’t know what else to say.
Michael asks me, “Why do you think you’re depressed?”
I tell him what my doctors have told me. “It’s just brain chemistry. My brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin. I get depressed now and then.”
Michael asks, “Do you mind if I send you something?”
“No, of course.”
Then he asks the only question left to ask. “Have you ordered yet? I’m starving.”
A Book That Changed My Life
Michael sent a book: Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope by Johann Hari.
Hari argues that the story we have been told about anxiety and depression is wrong. Doctors will almost always explain to patients, as mine had to me, that our brains are broken. We are told that we need chemical help to boost our serotonin levels.
Hari interviewed the world’s leading experts on anxiety and depression. He uncovered nine causes of depression. Only two of those causes have anything to do with our genes or brain chemistry.
- Disconnection from meaningful work.
- Disconnection from people.
- Disconnection from meaningful values.
- Disconnection caused by childhood trauma.
- Disconnection from status and respect.
- Disconnection from the natural world.
- Disconnection from hope for a better future.
- Changes in the brain.
I don’t say this lightly. The book Lost Connections changed my life. It helped me to understand that I have agency in my life. If I am suffering because I am disconnected from others, from nature, from dealing with my trauma, I can do something about that. I can choose differently.
My Year of Personal Bests
In January 2019, I made a decision that I was going to live a “Year of Personal Bests.” I was going to see what it could look like if I live my best life in every area. But that left me with some questions:
- What would life look like if I was thriving?
- How would I know if I was thriving?
- What would I measure?
- How would I measure it?
- What actions would I take?
I spent all of 2019 finding the answers to those questions. I’m ready to share what I learned.
How I Measured My Personal Best
Some metrics are easier to measure than others. For example, in my physical health, I can measure my cholesterol, weight, and body mass index. But how do you quantify your emotions or your spirituality?
I used a Self-Assessment: https://cultureshift.com/are-you-thriving
I assessed myself in ten domains across three focus areas: Thrive, Connect, and Contribute. For each domain, I scored myself on a scale of one through ten.
The ten domains are:
- [Thrive] Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, and Spiritual well-being.
- [Connect] Social, Marital, and Familial relationships.
- [Contribute] Vocational, Financial, Avocation (including hobbies and causes) achievements.
When I completed the assessment, I looked at the trends, and then I set goals with steps. So now, I knew what my personal best would look like, and I had a plan.
The Results of My Year of Personal Bests
My health, relationships, and business all improved. My score in each focus area increased by an average of seven percentage points. We won’t have time to go over every area, but as an example, my physical health improved tremendously.
In 2019, I significantly improved my sleep. I bought the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus. It measures everything from sleep quality to VO2 max. According to my Garmin watch, I slept an average of seven hours and twenty minutes per night. And I achieved more deep sleep as the year went on.
In 2019, I started a plant-based diet. The results can be seen in my health metrics. My LDL cholesterol went down 29%. Triglycerides decreased by 38%. My total cholesterol decreased by 40%. And, I lost 16.4 lbs. of weight.
Personal Records (PR)
When it comes to running, in 2019, I set 13 new Personal Records (PRs) in every distance from the mile to the marathon.
I ran 1,790 miles last year, which is like running from Minneapolis to Miami.
That’s like running from Minneapolis to Miami.
That’s equivalent to seven 40-hour
It’s like climbing Mt. Everest 1.7 times.
Improvements in Every Domain
From January 2019 to December 2019, I made tremendous strides in the physical, avocation, social, spiritual and emotional domains. I maintained a high score in marital, financial, and vocational scores.
What I Learned from My Year of Personal Bests
Remember that I had told Michael that I didn’t understand the point of it all. I didn’t know why I was alive. That’s the big question, isn’t it? Here’s what I came up with.
What is the Purpose of Life?
You are here on earth to connect with others and contribute to the world. But before you can connect and contribute, you must first practice self-care. In other words, you must thrive. Thrive. Connect. Contribute. In that order.
You connect with family, friends, and your community. You also connect with nature, with yourself, and with your higher power. We are wired to connect.
What you contribute or how you contribute is up to you. I love this line from Walt Whitman. “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
But to connect to others and to make a contribution, you must first practice self-care. You can’t pour from an empty vessel.
Your Assignment: What I Did During the Pandemic
So, now what? Well, 2020 isn’t 2019, is it? We’re in the early stages of a global pandemic. We don’t yet know the extent of the impact. But we know this much. We still have control over some things in our lives.
In the midst of this global pandemic, we can still find ways to thrive, connect, and contribute. We can find ways to take back control of our lives. So, here’s your assignment:
- Assess yourself. Where are you in your life and where do you want to go?
- Make a list of ways you can thrive, connect, and contribute on a daily basis. Your actions don’t have to be heroic. Just take small, habitual steps in the direction of your dreams.
- As you find ways to thrive, connect, and contribute, share your story with others. We all need bright spots of hope. Most of all, tell me! I want to hear your story.
I’ll go first.
Here’s what I’m doing. I’m starting a podcast. The name of the podcast is Thrive. Connect. Contribute. I’m gathering stories of people who thrive in life, connect deeply with others, and contribute to the world in the face of adversity.