Editor’s note: This is a guest post from author Michael Michalko. Michael is one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best sellers Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition), Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius.
You may not know Richard Cohen. He is the author of Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir. He lives a life defined by illness. He has M.S., is legally blind, has almost no voice, and suffers chronic pain which makes sleeping difficult leaving him constantly exhausted. Two bouts of colon cancer in the past five years have left his intestines in disarray. And though he is currently cancer-free, he still lives with constant discomfort.
Cohen worked as a producer for CBS until he was physically unable. Being precluded from many activities because of his chronic illness and physical disability initially left him feeling worthless. Friends and relatives encouraged him to seek professional help from psychologists, but he refused. He felt psychologists always focus on what’s wrong with you and explain why you feel worthless.
Cohen realized the inevitable consequences of his illness, but he also realized that he and he alone controlled his destiny. Cohen says, “The one thing that’s always in my control is what is going on in my head. The first thing I did was to think about who I am and how I could prevail.” By choosing my feelings on a conscious level, I am able to control my mood swings and feel good about myself most of the time. He cultivated a positive attitude toward life by interpreting all of his experiences in a positive way.
He said his life is like standing on a rolling ship. You’re going to slip. You’re going to grab onto things. You’re going to fall. And it’s a constant challenge to get up and push and push yourself to keep going. But in the end, he said, the most exhilarating feeling in the world is getting up and moving forward with a smile.
When you meet people like Richard Cohen you get this vague feeling inside you that you “ought to be” something more. You already know this feeling. We get this feeling when we recognize the thing in others that we long to be. This feeling seems so trivial, so fundamental that we ought to be like that, that we dare not admit it to others. We long to become more alive and creative in our personal and business lives. The feeling for it is the most primitive feeling which a person can have. The feeling for it is as primitive as the feeling for your own well being. The most important lesson that I have learned about life is that we can choose how we live our lives.
We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: with purpose or adrift, with joy or with joylessness, with hope or with despair, with humor or with sadness, with a positive outlook or a negative outlook, with pride or with shame, with inspiration or with defeat and with honor or with dishonor. We decide that what makes us significant or insignificant. We decide to be creative or to be indifferent. No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. In the end, the meaning of our life is decided by what we choose to do or what we refuse to do. And as we decide and choose, so are our destinies formed
- Michael Michalko