Note: In the five or so years I’ve been faithfully posting to Jenion each Thursday, I have rarely written a post to or about a specific individual. When I have, it has generally been with good reason. Today, I want to share about someone who holds a special place in my life. If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you’ve read lots of references to my friend, Mike, but I’ve never devoted an entire piece to him outright. That changes today: on the occasion of his fifty-fifth birthday and in celebration of the two year anniversary of the transformational journey he has been committed to in his life. Please join me in wishing Mike a happy birthday and congratulations!
A person’s life story belongs to them. How that story is told, the ways it builds and is resolved, the character revelations, the plot twists and turns – these are all elements of a very personal narrative that each of us should be allowed to share in our own way and with whom we choose. That said, where people’s lives intersect, when they connect, there is a new story written. I’d like to share the story of such a connection in my own life, and what it has taught me about friendship, motivation, discipline, and inspiration.
When we met as college students, Mike and I were both emerging from childhood, a little enraptured with life, a little discombobulated by the exigencies of adulthood. Between us there was an immediate recognition – we moved speedily from introductions to inseparable. Not only were the two of us close, Mike quickly became part of my family. He played piano in my sister’s wedding and, two years later, was best man in my brother’s. But as sometimes happens, time and distance separated us. After Mike moved to California the fall of my junior year of college, we tried to stay in touch. When he, eventually, brought his fiancé to Iowa, I invited them to a homemade dinner at my first apartment (I still remember the menu from that meal!). The last time I saw Mike for decades was at the Iowa reception following their San Francisco wedding.
Often over the years I wondered about Mike. He had been a significant enough person in my earlier life that friends I met years after we lost touch knew him by name from my stories. I was the last person I knew to purchase my own computer – with my tax refund in 2009. Sometime, months later, I joined Facebook. It was only a matter of weeks once that happened before I began reconnecting with college friends. One day, I saw a post Mike had made on a friend’s timeline. I was so excited to reach out to Mike, to touch base again, that my fingers shook as I typed a brief hello.
As with our college selves, both Mike and I were emerging from other phases of our lives. As it happened, we were both finally moving forward, if incrementally, from years-long rough patches. We had each scraped our own personal rock-bottoms, and the road leading from these low points was littered with boulders to be climbed over, black ice to avoid, and quicksand that threatened occasionally to pull us under. Our friendship grew and was strengthened by a sincere desire to be one another’s cheering section and helping hand. “Need help moving into a new apartment or even a new city? I’m there.” That’s how we roll.
Two years ago this week, Mike called me (I was still living in Iowa then) to say he had hired a personal trainer. Mike had previously lost a chunk of weight working on his own, but wished to push himself further in reaching his health and fitness goals. Over the following two years, Mike has made incredible strides – he lost 75 pounds and dropped his body fat percentage to single digits. When he first met his trainer, Joe Cross (Cross Fitness), Mike told him, “I don’t run.” Ha! I was cheering at the finish line when Mike ran his first-ever 5K (and at several since). At each turn of the calendar, Mike has set new goals for himself and blown past them. It hasn’t always been easy, but he has remained both diligent and committed.
But that is Mike’s story, and I don’t want to presume to say I have all of the details or the “skinny” on what was happening in Mike’s heart, mind and soul. What I can, and will, share is what I’ve felt and learned as Mike has faced each obstacle or stepping stone in pursuing his own definition of personal excellence.
First, there are few things more beautiful than seeing someone you love bloom into full flower (sorry, I know that doesn’t sound like a very masculine metaphor but it fits!). The truth about discovering your own inner strength and drive to achieve personal goals, as Mike has, is that it suffuses every part of your life with life-giving nourishment. Not only has Mike’s physical self changed for the good, his whole life has opened up – with new friends, new interests, and a new youthfulness that starts at the cellular level. It brings me real joy to behold this new life of Mike’s – and it never ceases to remind me that this is possible for each of us, if we’re willing to put in the work.
Second, I have rarely known anyone who approached a personal vision with the level of self-discipline Mike has shown on his two-year odyssey working with Cross Fitness. Mike embodies the phrase, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” The number of times Mike’s choices have brought that phrase to my mind have been instrumental in helping me make better choices myself. I am grateful each time that his example inspires me to choose well.
Third, it has been humbling to be close enough to Mike’s life to witness the inspirational impact he has had on others. Mike has always been an extrovert – he collects friends in virtually every situation he enters in his life. His joyful exuberance, his obvious good health, his visible physical transformation have truly inspired many of these friends who aren’t quite where they wish to be. They have reached out to Mike with questions and received both support and great advice on beginning their own transformations. Additionally, Mike always remembers to praise his trainers, never taking their roles in his achievements for granted. I wish I were half as creative in finding ways to give back to those who have offered me their support and expertise.
Finally, and most important, I’ve had the great gift of being present for moments when Mike has had to dig deep to find the courage to face deeply personal challenges. This work of self-transformation is never a smoothly-paved path. And while I won’t share specifics (those are Mike’s to tell or not), I will say I’ve watched him fight his fears and insecurities and rise to the challenge when the path has gotten difficult. In spite of white knuckles, shaking limbs, and heart in his throat, Mike has repeatedly chosen to move forward when he could easily have retreated. Most others wouldn’t have known, and among the small circle who did, none would have judged him harshly if he had stopped or given up. There are few things more spirit-moving than watching a friend or family member fight their demons and win. There is almost nothing more inspirational than seeing another human being reach for, and grasp, their own great potential.
The point of this post isn’t to set Mike on a pedestal – though there is much to admire. Rather, my point here is to share the story of an “everyday hero” – not a perfect superhuman, but an ordinary person reaching for their best. Each of us carries the seed of that everyday hero within – that best person we have the potential to be. Becoming that best self is hard work. It requires commitment and diligence and vision. It asks us to find a path to our own transformation. And while that sounds like a tough road, Mike’s journey also shows that it is a path toward joyful and energetic engagement in life. Today, on his 55th birthday, Mike is planning to celebrate. But his eyes are focused forward, already taking the first steps on the next phase of his journey to become the best Mike he can be. At 55, he is proof that it is never too late to become the person you hope to be. It is never too late to change. And it is never too late to offer inspiration to those around us.