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The Secret to Living a Winning Life
by Cary Mullen

What it takes to stop breaking promises to yourself and start making the most of your life.

The birth of our third child last week has caused me to realize yet again how important it is to really live life to the fullest. I am reminded of a time when I wasn’t so good at celebrating the moment. I’d like to share what it took to change my perspective and how this has helped me to live more of a winning life.

I was in the VIP lounge at the Chicago airport, gripping the phone as my hands shook uncontrollably. Tears were streaming down my face. Suddenly, the entire room was blurry. My cousin was at the other end of the phone sharing the most horrible news.

The night before, my teammate and long time friend Rob Bosinger had died in his sleep from heart problems. His death was completely out of the blue: he was 39 years old with no history of heart problems. He left behind his 38-year-old wife and his brand new 6-month-old son, Matts. My mind was racing as the tears streamed down my face. I thought about what an amazing man Rob was. He was so fun loving and friendly to everyone that he was a shear joy to be around. I thought about his wife Janet and how she had lost the love of her life. I considered what becoming a widow at such a young age would be like for her and part of me sunk. And then my thoughts turned to their son Matts, who had just been robbed of the opportunity to know his own father forever. It all seemed so unfair.

Rob’s death was also close to home for me. You see Rob’s wife Janet and my wife Kristina had been pregnant at the same time. Our daughter Linnea was born only two weeks before Matts. It didn’t take long for me to start imagining what would happen if I was the one who had died that evening. I thought about not being able to watch my children unfold into the people that they are meant to become. It was devastating to think about not being there when my kids learned to walk, or their first day of school, or their first date.

I began contemplating how Matts would never be able to learn life lessons from his dad like I had learned from my own father growing up. Being a young witness to my father’s strong work ethic and deep respect for other people has had a profound influence on who I am today. I was fortunate to grow up with both of my parents and gain knowledge through observing their very different ways of being. I realized that Matts would never know Rob’s gentle nature or learn his philosophies. He would never be able to observe his father in action and use this knowledge to help him to discover who he is and what he is capable of becoming. Worse, this little boy would never receive the gift of confidence that comes from having his father love and support him unconditionally. Suddenly I pictured Matts at age 6 with absolutely no recollection of how much love his father had for him and I went limp. I was comforted by my belief that someday Matts will be able to make meaning of his father’s death, just like all of us are able to find gifts in even the darkest events that occur in our own lives. I also knew that Janet will ensure that Rob’s legacy is shared with Matts as he grows up.

As I continued to reflect on Rob’s death and my own mortality over the next few days, I asked myself, “What would I regret if I died right now? What haven’t I done? How might this be impacting my children?” It hit me that I have been deferring living and deferring having fun until later. I wondered to myself “What if later never comes?” In a moment of reflection I realized that I defer gratification better than most people. I believe that this is one reason that I have been able to succeed on many fronts, yet I have become ‘too good’ at deferring gratification. I need to enjoy the now, right now and stop postponing all the fun until later. The question for me isn’t ‘when am I going to die?’ but rather ‘when am I going to live?’

That’s when I remembered the promise I had made to myself years before. I had been so nervous before a World Cup ski race that, in order to relax, I made myself a promise that I would buy myself a Harley Davidson if I made it onto the World Cup podium. I did make it onto the podium that race, but I put off buying the bike until the summer.

By the time summer came, I was busy nursing damaged knees and it wasn’t a good time to buy a bike. Then the next summer I was feeling frustrated because my results had slipped due to my sore knees, so I didn’t buy the bike. Then I bought a house and it didn’t seem very practical to buy my Harley. After that, well I can’t even remember the excuse. Every time I thought about my Harley, I decided that it was better to wait until another time. The right time to follow through on this promise to myself was always at some undetermined future point when everything in my life would indicate that it was the perfect time.

As silly and insignificant as it may sound, the more I thought about Rob dying prematurely, the more that Harley Davidson seemed to be tugging at my gut. This was a perfect example of something fun that I had been deferring. Recognizing that I had not only broken promises to myself, but I had become an expert at denying myself fun, I couldn’t help thinking “What kind of role model was I being for my children? What messages were they learning from me about how to live their lives? How was this unlived part of my life impacting who they would become?”

Rob’s death made me realize that I have spent most my life being afraid of investing my time, energy, or money into things that don’t help me achieve my long-term goals. My need to achieve is so strong that I have told myself that it is not only OK, it is necessary to defer enjoying my life until later. For instance, I’ve been reluctant to go out the odd night to a comedy club or to have more dinner parties because I need to save my energy and my focus for work. I have been too afraid of wasting valuable “productive” time doing something silly, like riding a motorbike. I have been scared of spending my money on anything that might not fund my long-term dreams and help me acquire ‘more money’. I realized that I had forgotten that life is about more than counting money and achieving goals. It seemed that no matter what finish line I crossed, no matter what I accomplished, no matter what material possession I acquired, I still wanted something more. I had taken my goal achievement so seriously that I ended up taking my life too seriously.

When I thought about Rob and I thought about how much fun he had, and how he loved motorbikes, I said to myself, “That’s it. I’m buying my bike. Rob would approve.” Within two weeks of Rob’s passing, I called my cousin to come over and see my brand new 2003 custom Harley Davidson Chopper. I believe that Rob’s message to me was “Cary, enjoy the now. Quit delaying living.”

I am finally surrendered to the fact that I am absolutely going to die someday, and it might be sooner than I want, so I better enjoy right now. Since that day in the Chicago airport, I have been deliberate about making sure my life is about more than being productive and achieving goals. I want my children to experience their dad as being someone who values fun in the same way he values achievement.

My Harley is just one step in a conscious commitment to enjoy my life more. My motorbike is silly, foolish, frivolous, unpractical and purely for fun. And that is exactly why I bought it. Because I need to be sillier, more foolish, more frivolous and less practical. I need to have fun NOW. My bike is my reminder of that for me and whenever I ride, I think of Rob, and living my life in the now. My bike was my first step in Lunging Forward to Enjoy.

What has been surprising for me is that even though I have dedicated more time to having fun lately, I am producing better results in every area of my life and I have more energy. Taking time for fun has recharged me and kept me invigorated.

I realize now that if we want to truly live a winning life, then we need to enjoy it. We don’t serve anyone by deferring happiness. Worse, we might die before we finally cash in the ‘enjoyment chips’ that we have been saving. When we have fun, we get more out of life. The people around us are inspired by our enthusiasm for life. When we are truly engaged in life, we are also more likely to attract the right people and resources to help us succeed.

I wonder if any of this rings true for you. Is there a promise that you’ve made to yourself that you haven’t followed through on yet? Are you deferring having fun? Are you being too practical? Are you deferring living until later? What impact do you want to have on your children and your loved ones? What will it take before you finally start living?

If we don’t start living, we lose our zest and we might just miss the best thing of all: our life! Honor the promises that you have made to yourself.

Until the next article of Winning Insights, I wish you EVEN Greater enjoyment, and even greater Success.

Conquer Doubts, Lunge through Fears and Find Focus,

Cary Mullen, Olympian, World Cup Champion and author of HOW to WIN Coaching Great People - to EVEN Greater Success

P.S. Lunge Forward and Enjoy your life right now.

Be Invinceable Group is a Dallas-based organization specializing in transforming personal and workplace performance through the development of self-leadership.

Copyright© 2006 Cary Mullen. All rights reserved.

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