It’s stating the obvious to say that as individuals, our character, beliefs, values and perspective on life are basically shaped by a series of small events and experiences in our lives. Every person we meet, every job we have, every trip we take – they all add up and help define us as we move through life.

But there are also monumental events and experiences that are so profound (both good or bad) – they touch us to the core and have an even greater impact on our lives than even the collection of hundreds and thousands of little events. Sometimes these experience just happen to us – and sometimes we choose to seek them out.

I try to be proactive in life rather than reactive. For the life of me, I have no idea when or where I adopted this philosophy – maybe it’s simply a result of the middle kid syndrome as I have an older brother and sister, and younger brother. I have a hunch I was just born this way though so it’s somehow hard-wired into my system.

Right after I was born, I was diagnosed with spinal meningitis and my parents really didn’t know if I would live or die as a baby. My mom loves to remind me that the doctors constantly marveled at what a “fighter” I was as an infant and that this trait would bode well as they tried to treat me. The situation was very dicey (so I’ve been told) and eventually my parents were told by my doctors that they would try one final drug on me – but they could provide no guarantees about potential long term side effects, including the possibility of severe developmental delays. Given that my prognosis for survival was less than 50/50, my parents (thankfully) elected to use the drugs, and I survived.

We all know that its impossible for us to retain memories from the early part of our lives but  I have to believe that this traumatic of an event must have shaped me somehow. I mean, if fighting for your life doesn’t impact you, what will?

So fast forward through my childhood and teen years – which were pretty easy when compared to the life and death struggle I faced as an infant. I actually really enjoyed being a kid and teenager in Walnut Creek – and unlike others, was in no hurry to grow up. Inherently I knew I had it pretty good.

But as I said, I’ve always had a side of me that thrived on challenges and goals. The first major goal that really meant something to me was graduating from the University of Oregon. The second major meaningful goal was my first “real” job after graduation. But after I entered the workforce and began the adult phase of my life, I soon found that the major motivation, challenges and goals that drove me before seemed to be lacking.

I needed to shake things up.

Like many others, I discovered that I was putting on weight after college. No longer was I walking to and from classes all over campus – or playing IM sports. My days were now spent behind a desk staring at a computer screen. And my nights were usually spent in a Portland area microbrew or sports pub. It was not a good combination. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel athletic and I hated it.

Luckily for me I became roommates with a friend (David Rodewald, who now owns a successful PR agency in Southern California) who served as both a coach and a confidant for me. We started jogging together after work. At first it was only a mile – and then we upped it to two miles. Soon it was three miles and we started entering and running 5K fun runs. I saw other runners participating in 10K races and boom – had my next big goal. I wanted to run a 10K.

Soon enough I was running 10K races and by now, was enjoying running so much that I joined a group of colleagues from work on after work and weekend runs. A new world opened up for me and I absolutely loved it. Suddenly the thought struck me – if I could go from basically not running at all to easily running 10Ks in only a few months, why couldn’t I set my goals higher and aim for a marathon?

Most of my family and friends thought I was crazy when I announced that as my next major goal. Fortunately, David didn’t think it was crazy – he thought it was a great goal for both of us, so we agreed we would train and run the Portland Marathon together. What we didn’t anticipate though, was David receiving (and accepting) a job offer from an LA-based PR firm. He moved to SoCal but we both vowed to continue our training and run the race together.

Needless to say, we both finished the marathon and it was an amazing feeling to cross that finish line. Running and completing a marathon was something that hadn’t even entered my mind only 12 months earlier, yet here I was finishing one in just over 4 hours.

The entire experience of transforming from a depressed, non-active, entry-level PR professional to a marathon runner who was part of a new community that included local PR and marketing agency executives (who focused on positive aspects in life) had a tremendous impact on me. I had newfound confidence in my abilities and began a new cycle of setting bigger and more audacious goals for myself. I now had the attitude, “heck, I just ran a marathon, what is there out there I can’t do??”

In my next blog post, I’ll write about how that attitude led me to my ultimate Vision Quest: a solo 3 month, 3,000 mile bike tour across Europe exactly 20 years ago.

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