No retreat, no surrender
Reinventing yourself after a setback
How do you reinvent yourself after a major setback? After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007 at the age of 54, I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. Fixated on the notion that my skiing days were over along with other activities I could no longer enjoy, I entered into a dark depression.
I could go downhill physically and mentally, or I could overcome the challenges of living with Parkinson’s by reinventing my life.
Then a slogan borrowed from my Vietnam veteran cousin and former business partner crept into my psyche: No retreat, no surrender. I could go downhill physically and mentally, or I could overcome the challenges of living with Parkinson’s by reinventing my life.
My first reinvention
The onset of my disease triggered memories of my first reinvention. I always assumed I would work for our family retail-appliance business after college. But a summer internship catapulted me in a new direction and led to a major shift in my future. My experience at Ingersoll Rand, a major industrial manufacturing company, convinced me to enter big business after college, starting with Big Four public accounting. So I gave up my assumptions about entering the family business. After earning my CPA, I quickly became the director of a Fortune 500 company at 28. My family respected my decision. But I had to prove to myself that I could make it outside the comfort and assurances of going to work with my dad. That reinvention was a success.
Looking for opportunity
When it’s been time to reinvent, an opportunity has always presented itself for me. But you often don’t really see opportunity until you’re looking for it. For example, when you’re shopping for a car, you notice all the different kinds of cars on the road because you’re tuned in. After Parkinson’s, it was time for me to tune in — to learn to accept and let go of what was — in order to get on with my life.
It’s true I can no longer do a lot of things. But there are plenty of other worthwhile activities I can accomplish. I refocused on endeavors that are gratifying such as volunteer work and outdoor sports that don’t require running and jumping. I even rediscovered a passion that had lain dormant for years — trapshooting. In my teens and twenties, I was very competitive and recently returned to the sport as a certified instructor.
“It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get back up.”
Vince Lombardi, Coach of the Green Bay Packers
Vince Lombardi, former head coach of the Green Bay Packers, famously said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get back up.” When you get knocked down, you have a choice to stay down or not. Parkinson’s led me into depression at first, but I was able to get up and reinvent my identity. When confronting a challenge, you can let it defeat you or turn it into a victory.
Reinvention never stops for any of us, really. Sometimes a personal tragedy prompts us to reexamine our priorities, but reinvention can also be a daily process. It’s about debunking assumptions, expanding on what you’ve already built, letting go or driving a newfound passion. Check in on who you are and what you care about to find fulfillment regardless of your situation.