013 Two Death Sentences and Still Surfing
An Assumption-busting Conversation About Letting Go, the Sneaky Downside of Hope, and Embracing Life's Necessary "Little Deaths"
After receiving two medical death sentences, separated by 30 years, my guest on this episode is still surfing.
Rick Kahn helps us learn how to let go and live now, reveals the sneaky downside of hope, and shows us how to embrace life's necessary "little deaths."
His road from dyslexic middle child, high school drop-out, globetrotting spiritual seeker, and high-end custom home builder to the life he lives today based out of a quaint seaside town in Mexico is fascinating at face value. But add to that storyline his two mind-blowing encounters with mortality--and you've got a tale that's packed full of extraordinary lessons and wisdom for all of us.
Rick is an outstanding executive coach for companies whose products and services we all use every day. He specializes in leadership and communication development for executive-level professionals. His clients include Facebook, Ebay, Cisco, the Stanford Research Institute, Wire, and other Silicon Valley technology companies. As a strategic partner with FMI, the nation's premier full-service consulting firm to the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries, Rick provides best-of-class leadership development training to executives and teams.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry--for Tomorrow...
At 24, Rick was living it up in 1970s San Francisco--bartending and taking in the vibrant music scene as a self-described “Van Fan” (referring to Van Morrison). Then some alarming symptoms took him to the hospital, where eventually doctors gave him a grim diagnosis: colon cancer. What Rick did next took me by surprise:
He ignored the treatment protocol prescribed to him and instead doubled down on his life of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll--determined to live his life his way...whatever was left of it.
Then, a couple of weeks later, a nurse showed up at his apartment door with shocking news: He had been misdiagnosed. His symptoms were evidence of a hookworm infestation picked up during several years of traveling and spiritual searching in India before moving to San Francisco. The hookworm problem was remedied, and Rick suddenly found himself with the possibility of years ahead of him instead of only days or weeks.
Simplicity is Bliss. Expectations Bring Disappointment.
Rick left home at 18 as a high school drop-out--tired of living in the long, dark shadow of his older brother’s luminous performance in life. Luminous, at least, in terms of the prevailing social metrics for performance. This was one of the first “little deaths” that Rick embraced--dying to the ever-present comparison and competition with his brother. He headed for India to find the better version of himself “out there” that he was convinced existed within him--traveling overland via the “Hippie Trail” through countries like Afghanistan and Iran along the way.
In India, he learned that “simplicity is bliss, and expectations bring disappointment.” He also rubbed shoulders with the idea of “impermanence”--the temporary nature of joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, etc.
This experience added spiritual and philosophical depth to Rick’s existing courage-fueled and risk-friendly orientation to life, so that when the colon cancer diagnosis hit, he resolved quickly to keep it simple, embrace the impermanent nature of both joy and suffering, shed expectations about how everything would turn out, and go out with a bang if that was the hand he’d been dealt.
When he got the news of the misdiagnosis, it bolstered his confidence that he could trust himself to find his unique path in life.
A New Lease on Life Brings New Focus
Now free of the medical death sentence and rid of his hookworms, Rick began to exercise more moderation on the party scene and put his aptitude for construction to work. Gradually, he built a high-end custom home construction business that flourished until the Great Recession of 2008.
The demolition of his construction business was another one of Rick’s “little deaths”--and it led to a new life based in Mexico, where he and others like him settled down as economic refugees.
One day, Rick realized something was terribly wrong with his left eye. While surfing, he was suddenly unable to see well out of it. And then it went dark.
30 years after his first (incorrect) medical death sentence, at 54 Rick was shocked to receive a second medical death sentence: aggressive MS.
And once again, this second death sentence proved premature. A radiologist friend of Rick’s took a second look at his imaging and discovered that the symptoms the doctors initially attributed to MS were actually the result of “artifacts” created during the imaging process: slight movements while Rick was in the MRI machine created the appearance of lesions characteristic of MS.
Takeaways from Rick’s Story
At least several key takeaways emerged from this amazing tale and the way that Rick has used his experiences to shape the course of his life:
Hope and fear are close cousins. When we hope for a specific outcome, we can also become fearful that we won’t achieve that outcome. Rather than hope for a specific outcome, Rick recommends that we stay present in the here-and-now process of life and allow the outcomes to emerge as they may.
Expectations are tricky and potentially harmful.
Goals are useful and important--when we’re able to stay open to outcomes other than we originally envision.
Let go of the tiger’s tail. If we grasp the tail of life firmly and desperately, we will be shocked when it turns around and bites us. Instead, let go and “be in life now” rather than demanding your life be or turn out a certain way.
Life is full of good and necessary “little deaths” that open the door to new life. The death of a parent’s approval. The death of other’s expectations. In Rick’s case, the literal death of sight in one eye. Some deaths need to happen so that we can move past them and into the new life that awaits. Don’t resist them. Let them happen.
The full episode has so much more nuance, color, and depth than these show notes can ever hope to convey, so I hope you’ll tune in.
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Get Close Up with Rick!
And here's a special opportunity--limited to just six listeners: On Wednesday, August 19, 2020, from 4:30-6:00pm Mountain Time, I'll host an exclusive Guest Close-up video call with Rick. If this episode left you wanting more from Rick, then this is the best place to get it! The first six people to throw their hats in the ring will get to join the call. Email me or connect with me on Facebook.
Connect With Rick
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If You Liked This, Listen to These!
011 Embracing Mystery, When to Call It a Day, and What Matters Most: Lessons From an Astonishing Life-After-Death Story
012 How to Harness the Winds of Discomfort to Get Where You Want to Go: Becoming a Seasoned Sailor On the Seas of Life
Remember: You ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet! Become the person you were made to be, and live the life you were made to live.