In 2019, I was managing an IV Infusion MedSpa in Wilmington, NC where I met a man who spent his life changing the world and quickly became a friend. He was exceptionally tall and surprisingly fit, with a bold smile that he gave to everyone he saw and stories that carried on forever. He came in to try the IV therapy in light of his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, vitamins, exercise, a good diet, and his other means for withstanding immense pressure, stress, and anxiety that he endured through his life.
He said hello to everyone in his path and inquired about their lives, education, families, hometowns, work experiences, children, ambitions, and objectives. During his stranger discussions, he would mention his own connections to nursing or business, and whichever current events were happening. The more I listened to his conversations, I learned that he traveled the world, built a business the largest in his niche on the planet, owned massive amounts of ocean front property, had written 11 books, it never ended.
HOW RETIREMENT KILLS
After some time in the MedSpa month after month, he began talking about an illness he faced a year prior to joining. While he was a successful workaholic, he saw work coming to an end and admitted that he did not intellectually or emotionally prepare for that. With all of the money he could ever need and then some, plus international recognitions, he could do whatever he wanted… except for the work he loved so much and devoted his life to. As retirement slowly approached, illness manifested through significant weight gain of up to 120 lbs, loss of appetite, indifferent about life, ultimately coming to the moment he was found unconscious in his home the day after Christmas.
A friend found him there and rushed him to a hospital, where they gave an immediate diagnosis of a heart attack. Ultimately, my friend deprived himself of the nutrients we all need to survive to the point of disaster. Eleven days in the hospital was spent rebuilding his internal systems, significant weight loss through a normalized diet, and he was discharged with support from occupational therapy, psychological counseling, and a registered dietitian. He explained that he could hardly walk and with hospital recovery options not available, he stayed at a hotel.
Now medically healthy, he was confronted by the world without a plan and unknowingly what to do next. He knew he wanted to live, he had one son living an entire country away from him and a business negotiated to sell by the time he was 70 years old. He had been so used to the active business lifestyle, working with professionals in his business every day, and he told me that he would cringe when people suggested that he “get a hobby” because he never had one.
As the “what to do” was and is still materializing, he focused on his health. Off and on, he took advantage of personal training. His driver’s license expired, and he needed to re-take the driver’s test, which he failed. Failure in the driver’s test resulted in his first visit to a chiropractor who diagnosed him with an arthritic neck. Over six weeks, the Doctor loosened his neck and resulted in helping him pass his driver’s test. Now he was down 120 lbs., had minimal strength, and was being regularly monitored by a physician for special medication.
FORMING UNDER PRESSURE
He shared with me that anxiety plagued most of his life: His father died when he was four years old, his mother never re-married and relied on him for help and perspective – thus meaning he had to grow up rather quickly. He did not come from a wealthy family; his mother was a nurse and a midwife war bride from Australia. At 11 years old, he has a memory of his mother asking for his advice on signing the mortgage for a new home. At the age of nine he started his first business, went on to become the President of his High School Senior Class, then in college was elected three times to the highest student role on campus being selected for National Student Leadership and eventually as the Student Head of an international student program based in Paris, France. During the Vietnam War, he joined the Army Reserves and was selected as Squad Leader which made him responsible for 12 other trainees.
When college came to an end, he pursued a graduate degree and became the Dean of Students by the age of 21 at a small college, then quickly promoted at age 22 to the colleges Vice President and COO. He went on to graduate from law school as Executive Editor of the Law Journal and chose not to formally practice law to return to higher education as Vice President of a regional University by age 29.
Three years later, age 32 now, he was selected as Executive Vice President of a large university and given the responsibility to lay the groundwork for moving the institution to becoming one of a select number of major Urban Research Universities in America. Overseeing hundreds of employees, thousands of students, the athletic department, tens of thousands of alumni all watching, commenting, criticizing, or praising his every move. It is possible that this man became the most recognized university figure in the city in addition to the highest President – both overseeing hundreds of millions of dollars and vital employees in that community.
His success led to him starting his own business and leaving the security of a state university for the risk and opportunity within private enterprise. The business grew rapidly into a multi-state imprint, a regional force, then had a national presence, and turned into worldwide impact. This man became responsible for hundreds of employees and their family members, and thus felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.
He once told me about a meeting in Texas where he asked the CEO of a chicken processing plant, which had 535 employees, what it was like to run a business with so many employees. The CEO’s answer surprised him, “Every morning, I wake up knowing that I am responsible for 535 employees who have family numbers into the thousands. That, my leadership, is responsible for providing each of them the opportunity for a job.” My friend said that this reflection from a stranger gave him back his own sense of responsibility. The CEO had zero complaints in his voice, but acknowledgement that he was making a fortune only so that his employees could also make a good living and be given opportunities. I found this to be an interesting presentation of business ownership.
NOW AGING BACKWARDS
While this man was regaining his strength and self-worth over the years, he would reflect on that conversation amongst others. He began to walk every single day between 12,000 and 20,000 steps, read about holistic medicine and me questions about the effectiveness of this treatment versus that treatment (as a manager of a holistic practice), and he would get dressed up every day in a suit or sport coat as if he was still managing a university. So, as I know him, he talks to everyone in his path but not in an intrusive way, kindly with humor and appreciation. He worked with his personal trainer down the street from the MedSpa and would tell me about the workouts and how much progress he was making.
He lived in a beautiful home, but during the pandemic of Coronavirus, he could no longer join a local service club that would’ve given him the opportunity to meet new people and make friends, so he moved back to his hometown where his former company was headquartered states away. Of course, with the pandemic, there are a multitude of excuses not to talk to people, invite people out, engage in sports or recreation, but every day my friend now has lunch planned with a former client, friend, new acquaintance, his trainer, doctor, eye doctor, chiropractor, or IV Infusion therapist… you name it.
As a result of making gifts of over $50,000,000 to his professions training and education, he also now monitors programs at three universities in the United States and United Kingdom. He leads a small Think Tank working on issues facing the philanthropic profession, has a small client base for life coaching, and began a small web based high-end watch buy-and-sell business.
However, he tells me that all of these events and work today take a back seat when it comes to his health – the largest priority in his life now. Fortunately, his illness from years ago is not seen as a negative anymore. His perspective grew to be positive and resilient. Most recently, he was evaluated during a health screening and was given his new metabolic age of 47 years old.
My friend’s name is Bob, and he is 73.