My good friend Keith had the “perfect” life. A great wife – married 20 years. Three amazing young daughters. Two beautiful homes. Successful career. All healthy, happy and living the American dream. That was 2011.
A lot has happened since then.
I will never forget the day, six years ago, when Keith called me and asked me to lunch. First time I ever saw my buddy cry. I’ve never seen a “perfect” life unravel so fast.
Within six months he was divorced, unraveling financially, the victim of a Ponzi scheme, living in an apartment, looking for a new job and fighting prostate cancer.
Sometimes, life throws us more than just a few curve balls.
Most storytellers leave the punch line until the very end. But let me share with you the beautiful conclusion now.
I reached out to Keith last month, asking him if I could share his story. I sent him this note.
Of all my friends. Of all the people in the world that I know. Nobody has made such a significant change in their life as you. You took a failed marriage, fight with cancer and a career change and chose to make your life even better and healthier. And you stayed an amazing father through it all. I am deeply proud of you.
Amazing how life’s curve balls can help shape all of us into the person we are meant to be.
It is dangerous (and not my place) to explain why a twenty-year marriage ended. But for this story’s sake, let’s just say that Keith’s marriage lacked vulnerability, spontaneity, adventure and intimacy.
Keith, a poster child of German decent, grew up in a household where there was regiment, structure and discipline. His parents loved and cared for him immensely, but vulnerability, intimacy and spontaneity were a reach for him.
Now, just 6 years later, when I see Keith, he hugs me and kisses me on the cheek. When we connect on the phone or in person, he is deeply vulnerable, open and real. He has discovered intimacy in new relationships that he never knew existed. And here are a few things that Keith has done to expand his vulnerable, spontaneous and adventurous world:
Became a spokesperson for prostate cancer awareness. For his Skate for Prostate campaign he inline skated across the State of Colorado (2012), the State of Texas (2013) and 100 miles in one day around Denver (2014) to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer.
Learned to kite-board in Mexico.
He and his daughters got chased off the roof of a resort hotel by security guards – they were just getting the best view of the sunset.
Backpacked and mountain biked solo throughout Vietnam, Thailand & Myanmar.
Went to Denver International Airport and bought a ticket on the next Southwest departing flight.
Spent five days alone in the Wyoming wilderness with limited food and no clean source of water.
However, Keith shared that the most vulnerable and adventurous thing he’s done, since getting divorced, has been the journey of living with and loving himself. “When the family unit is broken and one is, suddenly alone 50% of the time, choices are made on where to spend your time and energy. It’s one thing to do physically adventurous things. That’s relatively easy. It is another thing to be adventurous and vulnerable mentally – to become a better father, son, friend, lover, etc. That is hard!”
Keith shared that his greatest challenge was allowing his 12, 16 and 18-year-old daughters be his caretakers during cancer treatment and recovery. “Allowing my daughters to help me out of bed half-naked with a catheter in, quickly disintegrated what was left of my emotional shield. Our love was enhanced through these trials.”
Some of us get divorced or have failed relationships. Some of us unravel financially. Some of us get cancer. And some of us lose our jobs. But it’s how we handle life’s curve balls that truly shapes us. I felt compelled to share Keith’s story because I think we can all learn from it. I know I have.
I think we all can choose to go deeper and be more intimate in our marriages. We all can choose to become more vulnerable and open in our personal and professional relationships. We all can choose to be more spontaneous and adventurous. We all can choose to allow life’s lessons to help shape us – not define us. Curve balls and all.