When I counseled people as a financial planner, many didn’t have crystallized goals or a pink phone. The first one really bothered me. Do you have a plan you’re working toward?
…the second one, well, is another story.
At the Financial Blogger Conference this weekend in St. Louis (which I thoroughly loved), I had to explain two things. Why was I:
1) …carrying a pink phone cover (I won’t explain, but don’t be a hater)
2) …dressed in running clothes when everyone else was headed to the bar
To most, I explained that I’m running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. this weekend. It’s one of the biggest races of its kind. 30,000 runners will lace up their shoes and trek 26.2 miles around our nation’s capital.
I’m sure I came across as this uber-motivated dude. In fact, some commented on that fact. While that’s flattering, it’s not really true. I’m still a doughnut loving sloth.
To a few people I explained more….that I’m pacing my sister through her first marathon.
That’s still not the full story. Let’s come clean: this weekend isn’t about my goal. It’s my sister’s much, much bigger goal.
My sister is a bunch of years younger than me. (To protect my image, that means that she must be about six years old right now, since I’m sure you think I’m 23….). We never really talked much while I was in high school. I hung out with “cool people” and she was navigating learning to walk, run, and ride a bike. It wasn’t until after college that we truly found each other. When she was in high school we finally bonded over important stuff like The Cure, crappy girlfriends/boyfriends and life-as-a-bitch.
Here’s something annoying: she’d always had headaches that were beyond bad. She experienced pains that doctors threw darts at diagnosing. As an older, incredibly-wise brother, I was pretty sure that she was just your typical younger-sister-whiner kid.
It turned out that wasn’t the case at all.
It’s funny; at that point in my own life, my goal was to “become something.” To be “someone.” To shine bright so that others could look up at the beacon of hope before them and exclaim, “He’s super awesome.” Now, two kids later and having found a little “fame” with local television and national media, I’ve realized just how flippin’ shallow I really was. That’s no longer my goal. I want to be helpful to my family. I want to be a good husband. I want to be secure with Cheryl in our retirement.
Because I was pretty self-possessed, I didn’t “get” my sister’s pain.
Well, I’m not sure, but it probably was to just feel “normal.” To stop feeling these excruciating headaches that people around her didn’t feel.
They made an appointment with top-notch doctors at Cleveland Clinic (one of the world’s most awesome hospitals), and the diagnosis wasn’t pretty: as I understand it–and I’m a medical moron–she didn’t have any bone holding her skull over her ear. It had disintegrated.
While the rest of the world could walk, run, think….every time she picked up a bag of groceries, her daughter, or tied her shoes, she’d have a different sensation than you and I. She could hear her eyes twitch….in fact, she could hear so much that it spawned those headaches. Imagine what that might do to your overall outlook on life.
She and her husband made a tough decision: she’d let them cut into her and replace that bone around her ear. It had only been done a handful of times. In fact, she was the topic of some health-related news stories. Not unsurprisingly, there was a chance that she could die. When I saw her before she went under, you could see the fear in her eyes and when you couldn’t, you saw it reflected in those of her husband.
It made me focus on my own mortality. How come she had this problem and I didn’t? What was the point of life? By this time I’d already begun Average Joe’s Money Blog. Pounding out 500 word budget articles felt so f-ing irrelevant to the real world when my sister was about to undergo such a huge surgery.
But in the weeks leading up to the procedure, that wasn’t what she focused on. Instead, she helped others. She volunteered, cranking out pillowcases for people in the hospital who weren’t going to get better soon. She threw herself into community service and thinking about every else’s problems. Why? Hell, I don’t know. If it were me, I think I would have wallowed in my own issues, but my sister’s method for dealing with it was clearly to think about everyone but herself.
Before her surgery, she found out that she’d lose her hair. So, for fun and to support diversity, she decided to mess with her look. My always-pretty-conservative-looking sister grew a funky 80’s wave. She dyed it. Then, just before her big event, she changed it into a Mohawk.
People who saw her on Facebook and didn’t know her thought she was going off the deep end. I thought she was awesome. It wasn’t my story to tell, so I just shrugged my shoulders.
An aside….. If you thought you might die tomorrow, what would your goals be? Would they change? How would they change? Would you live today differently? Why?
Obviously, she lived.
More great news: she took up running again after her doctor told her it was okay to do so.
I could tell from far away that she was looking at life differently. I’m too far away to tell for sure, but my sister had made some big life changes that we should all probably think about making. She still volunteers. She has a new job. She guards her health.
I received a call from her in February. She said, “I want to run my first marathon. Would you pace me?”
Oh, hell yeah, I said. Hell, yeah.
So, why was I headed out on a run while everyone was going to the bar? That’s easy: I don’t want to let her down.
On Sunday I’ll line up on the starting line next to my kid sister who has taught me a ton about the value of service, of being just a little bit crazy, and about making some wise choices in the face of incredible adversity. It’ll be my pleasure to help her across the finish line.
I hope you join me in learning from this amazing person. Ask yourself….What are my priorities? What are my dreams? Am I just living in excuses or am I fighting to achieve “my marathon?”
It doesn’t matter to me which finish line you’re shooting for….but I know you have one.
Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way
I really adore her I think she was born to be a fighter! Kindly send my regards to her. My perfect dream is to have a happy family forever.
Matt @ momanddadmoney
Wow, powerful story Joe. I’m always in awe of people like your sister who take news that’s really hard on them and turn it into a way to help others. Like you, I can only imagine wallowing in my self-pity. But I think there’s a really important lesson here on the important of living your life to help others. Your sister turned her negative into a positive by turning her attention towards others. You changed your goals from fame for yourself to helping and loving your family. And now the goal that’s motivating you is supporting your sister. It’s very easy to get caught up in a life where we’re constantly chasing more for ourselves, but it’s often so much more fulfilling when we make it about others.
thanks for the cry first thing in the morning! please wish your sister luck this weekend! Now I am off to hug my family.
John S @ Frugal Rules
Wow, what a story Joe. I think, no I know, I’d be in the corner in the fetal position feeling sorry for myself and just simply wallowing in my feelings. Like Matt touched on, this is such a powerful lesson of what can be done when you take the focus off yourself and put it on others and helping them even when you might be in need. Thanks for the encouragement today Joe, to not hold ourselves back and to move/work for what we want and what is important to us.
I had tears in my eyes the entire time I read this story. Your sister is the type of person who changes the world. From what I’ve read she’s so unselfish. That really makes me think about my life and the insignificant things I worry about. Good luck to you both in the marathon!
That’s an awesome story. I love the Mohawk and the fact that she fought so hard to get well!
Mrs PoP @ PlantingOurPennies
You and your sister are both awesome, and I know you’re going to rock that marathon on Sunday. Weather forecast looks great, too! Nice and crisp!
Done by Forty
That’s some inspiring stuff, Joe. I’m not sure what my marathon is but I better get off my ass and figure that out.
Ok crap I’m crying in my friggen oatmeal right now. I think I’m even more emotional because my mom called me yesterday and told me my cousin, who is a couple years older than me and mom of three has breast cancer. I only have 5 cousins total so my family is really small. But back to you and your sister, what a great thing you both are doing together. I’m so glad she is doing better and I hope you both do great at the marathon!!!
Loved this. And should you want a visual to explain (or not) the pink phone, check your email. 🙂
Wow, what a story Joe! Thank you for sharing this. I am glad your sister is doing better and good luck to you guys in the marathon 🙂
Thanks bro. I’m excited to run with you and so very thankful for your loving support. I think both the hubs and I have a better appreciation of what’s important after both of our health issues. See you soon!!!
That’s an awesome story and great hair. Good luck with the marathon!
She sounds like an amazing person, I wish you both all the best on her first marathon!
I don’t think I would change much about life if the outlook was different, maybe be nicer and closer to other people, from the distance it is easy to stop writing/skyping that often..
I don’t know how I never found my way to your site before, but I’m so glad that we connected and I’m here now – a guy can never have too many sources of inspiration. I’m very happy to hear that they were able to figure out what ailed your sister and were able to correct it. Kudos to you for being the kind of big brother that supports your sister the way that you do. I wish that I would have asked the obvious question when we were talking at fincon as to why you decided to run a marathon (but at least I know why you have a pink phone!). I’ve run a couple of marathons myself, and the feeling of crossing that finish line is a powerful thing. I’m sure that it will be especially powerful for your sister and I’m sure you will cherish being there to share it with her. I’ll be thinking of you and your sister this weekend as you run your marathon, Joe – enjoy the race, and enjoy the time with your sister!
Only the strong survive, you two. Keep up the awesome and inspiring work. 🙂
I love this story. Thanks for sharing. Your sister is a huge inspiration, and I wish I could have her by me when people (self included) complain about our first world problems. Best of luck in your marathon.
What a beautiful article! I think it’s important to keep family close and remember how lucky we truly are. Life isn’t fair most of the time, and somehow it seems so strange. I am so inspired by both of you for continuing to fight this and live your dreams!
Joe, you definitely did not just bring a grown man to the verge of tears. Just for the record.
I hope you guys kick butt tomorrow! Finishing a marathon is an amazing accomplishment and you’re doing an awesome thing for your sister!
Your sister sounds like a pretty amazing woman. So I’m sending strength to you today, Joe. Obviously, your sis already has bunches! 🙂 -m&j
Thank you for sharing that story, Joe. I don’t know you, but I sure love the person you have become…