Keeping the 5th

In my last post (in addition to announcing my pending retirement from Mayo Clinic as of August 3) I paid tribute to my recently deceased father-in-law, Leonard Wacholz.

Today I want to honor my father and my mother, who are still very much with us and have been my most important sources of support and encouragement for more than 58 years (although Lisa has taken the lead in that regard for the last 40.)

Instead of Taking the 5th (Amendment), today I want to Keep the 5th (Commandment).

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are good occasions that cause us to reflect on our parents and their roles in our lives, and hopefully to spur us to gratitude.

I want to honor Lewis and LaVonne Aase today not because of a Hallmark trigger, but more spontaneously.

Eulogies (literally “good words”) should be spoken about the living, not just those who have finished their races.

Some people would say I’m privileged. I think a better word is blessed. In either case the benefits are undeserved and unearned. I didn’t choose my parents. Saying I’m blessed not only honors my father and mother, but also Our Father who gave me to them and them to me.

Here are just a few of the ways they have been a blessing to me, to my brother Mark and to our extended (and extensive) family.

  • They have demonstrated their love not only in words, but in concrete actions. For example, when Lisa and I moved six times in our first six years of marriage, our parents were there to help us move. Every time. That’s love.
  • They have modeled grace to us. Mark and I have both done things we came to regret. While there was never any question in the moment as to whether Dad and Mom approved, the consequences we experienced were better than we deserved. And when we came to our senses they didn’t hold our previous errors against us. They taught us the Law and showed us the Gospel.
  • Mom particularly modeled practical repentance. When her perfectionist tendencies caused her to occasionally overreact to something the men in her life did, she was quick to apologize and ask our forgiveness. Her willingness to admit mistakes made it easier for us to do the same.
  • They have lived out the practical implications of their Christian faith in their vocations. Mom worked as a geriatric nurse, caring for vulnerable aging patients and residents, and Dad was an elementary school principal whose continuing question in running school programs was, “What’s best for the kids?”
  • Dad has been relentless in developing and pushing helpful innovations. Some have been in his work and in areas of his direct responsibility, such as finding ways for younger students who weren’t keeping up academically to participate in the decision to take another year in a grade so they wouldn’t fall further and further behind. He also co-founded a mathematics challenge program called Math Masters in Austin, Minn. in 1989 that has grown throughout the state and continued to this day. You should read about it.
  • They’re faithful members of their church, contributing their time, talents and treasure and actively caring for members of the church body.
  • They’ve been active in other community improvement efforts. Dad’s been a Guardian ad Litem and mentor, and served Meals on Wheels until he broke his hip a couple of years ago. Even now, at 90, he is writing letters to elected officials suggesting that a program to have police officers visit elementary schools would be a constructive solution to the current societal unrest.

I could go on, and in the series on My Career Journey and My Faith Journey their ongoing influences will be a recurring theme.

Dad and Mom have striven to follow Jesus Christ in their life’s calling, in humble reliance on the Holy Spirit, and bearing His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

They remain an inspiration to me and to many others, and a reminder that we are blessed to be a blessing.

I thank God for them.

Retiring from Mayo Clinic, Embracing Elderhood

My last day of work at Mayo Clinic will be one month from today, as I will be retiring August 3 to begin my third career.

I’m excited about what’s ahead, even as I look back fondly on more than 21 years of amazing experiences at Mayo Clinic and also on the chapters before April 2000 that prepared me for my Mayo career.

I started a series here on my blog in January 2020 to tell the story of My Health Journey, sharing what Lisa and I had learned over the previous three years that I thought others might find helpful.

Today I’m starting two more: My Career Journey and My Faith Journey.

Instead of a three-year scope I’ll be reflecting on more than a half-century of life experiences, but with the same goal: sharing stories and insights you might find interesting and that may lead to beneficial applications in your life.

Three factors spurred me to start these series: Chip Conley’s concept of modern elderhood, my renewed focus on old-fashioned Elderhood and our recent loss of Lisa’s dad.

As I wrote in Is 58 Halftime?, Chip Conley’s presentation two years ago challenged me to consider what my career contribution might be over the next 25 or 30 years, and how it would look different from my last few decades.

That led to some personal retooling, including getting my MBA, and also my decision to notify my division and department leaders on May 3 of my plans to retire from Mayo Clinic. As the series on My Career Journey progresses, I look forward to sharing news about what’s next for me, but before that I will begin my modern elder role by sharing earlier career stories and insights, including what mentors have helped me to learn. 

But I’m not just a modern elder: I’m a traditional one, too. Since 2010 I have been a Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), in Rochester, Minn. I’ve just returned from attending the PCA’s 48th General Assembly in St. Louis. As I move into my third career, I want to dedicate more of my time and effort into this role, and in the My Faith Journey series I will share deeper “meaning of life” reflections.

The death of my father-in-law, Leonard Wacholz, on June 17 is my other motivation for starting these series. As I wrote in his obituary, Leonard was blessed with a long and relatively healthy life and was able to live at home on the farm until his last three months. His three children and 13 grandchildren (as well as us in-laws in both generations) have vivid and precious memories of Leonard, but for his 19 great-grandchildren (plus one on the way in October) the recollections will necessarily be fuzzier.

In his last weeks, as dementia was affecting his ability to speak and his short-term memory, we were amazed at some things Leonard could recall from 60, 70 or even 80 years ago. We know Leonard had a deep faith in Jesus and didn’t fear death, and so as the apostle Paul wrote, we don’t grieve “as those who have no hope.” But one of the hardest parts of losing him – besides the experience of his love, warmth and kindness – is that we’ve lost touch with those memories of his, and that we can’t ask him about them anymore. 

Through the series on My Career Journey and My Faith Journey, whatever good they may or may not do for others, I’ll be capturing memories – and hopefully wielding wisdom well – for my children and grandchildren.

And, Lord willing, through the changes Lisa and I have made as outlined in My Health Journey, we hope to also enjoy time with our children’s children’s children. 

I hope My Career Journey and My Faith Journey will be helpful to you, too.

The Inspirational Example of Dr. Sarah Hallberg

Thanks to the diet and lifestyle changes Lisa and I have made in the last four years, my life expectancy is now 96.

Dr. Sarah Hallberg is among my Health Sherpas who have guided us in our Health Journey.

That’s why I was looking forward to listening to this week’s episode of Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast, The Drive, when I heard she would be the guest.

Dr. Hallberg has led the Virta Health studies in reversal of Type 2 Diabetes through carbohydrate restriction and active daily counseling.

She’s a true pioneer who has developed the data that make it safe for others to experiment with and advocate for a way of eating that runs counter to prevailing dietary dogma.

In the second half of the podcast, she shifts to telling the story of her lung cancer diagnosis four years ago, and her subsequent journey and learnings. While I had heard of her diagnosis I wasn’t aware just how grim her prognosis was.

Dr. Hallberg gives us a timely reminder that while we can make changes that increase our life expectancy in general, we can’t know what unexpected challenges we will face.

This video is well worth your time, both in its explanation of how carbohydrate restriction fights metabolic disease and in Dr. Hallberg’s inspiring example of continuing to do her important work even while in a cancer battle she knows she won’t win.

She’s hoping to make seven more years, when the youngest of her three children will graduate high school.

You won’t soon forget her jarring story.

While most lung cancers occur in smokers or those who live with smokers, this wasn’t the case for Sarah. She’s done more than most to maintain her metabolic health, and yet she got this inexplicable metastatic lung cancer diagnosis.

This interview increased my already-strong commitment to our monthly #3DayCancerPreventionFast regimen. It’s not a guarantee we won’t get cancer, but it has a plausible prevention mechanism.

And if it has even a slight chance of preventing us from going through what Sarah has experienced, fasting a few consecutive days each month is worth the minor discomfort and inconvenience.

I hope you’ll find Sarah’s metabolic disease teaching as informative, and her personal story as inspiring, as I did.

See also my earlier post that features her TED talk.

Increasing My Life Expectancy

Chip Conley tells the story of taking an online life expectancy assessment and discovering he was only halfway through his projected adult lifetime.

After reflecting on this yesterday, I decide to find one of those calculators to see what I might expect.

The top one on Google (which means it must be the best, right?) was developed by University of Pennsylvania professors and is part of a retirement financial planning website.

Based on a short quiz about my habits, height and weight I got this estimate of life expectancy:

That got me thinking: what if I hadn’t made the changes outlined in My Health Journey over the last four years?

What if I still weighed more than 260 pounds?

Answering the quiz questions based on that scenario provided a strikingly different result:

So four years ago my remaining life expectancy was 35 years.

Today it’s 38 years!

I’ve lived four years while increasing my life expectancy by seven.

And given how much better I feel, and my increased energy, I think it’s highly likely those additional seven years will be productive and enjoyable instead of being characterized by disease and decline.

What result= do you get when you take the quiz?

It’s not too late to change it!

Is 58 Halftime?

Today is my 40th anniversary of being an adult.

What if I have another 40 years left? What if I’m only halfway through my adult life? How would that change my career perspective?

Those are among the questions Chip Conley raised in this TEDx Talk in November 2019.

I had heard Chip earlier that year on Tim Ferris’ Podcast Episode #374, just after I had turned 56, and his message deeply affected me.

It made me think I should be planning to work at least well into my 70s, and that maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea to go back for an MBA at my age.

With the health changes Lisa and I have made in the last few years, we feel healthier and have more energy than we did 30 years ago.

We’ve been doing what we can to prevent diseases that could shorten our lives or diminish their vitality.

On my 58th birthday I’m especially grateful for Lisa, our six kids with their five spouses and a significant other, and our 14 grandchildren. My brother Mark and I are both eligible for the discounted breakfasts at Denny’s, and yet we’re blessed to have our parents still doing well. Dad turned 90 in January.

Ultimately we can’t know how long we have remaining. Life is a vapor. “If the LORD wills we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15, ESV)

That’s not denigrating planning. It’s admonishing against presumption.

Whatever your age, as a Modern Elder I encourage you to watch the video above and to think about how you can be both curious and wise.

How might the COVID Chrysalis be preparing you for something beautiful and amazing?

How can you Wield Wisdom Well and become a Wisdom Worker?

What percentage of your adult life is still ahead of you, and how can you make the most of it?

As Chip concludes, “Life is not a one-tank journey.”

How are you planning to refuel?