When I founded the
American Institute of
in Oakland, Calif., 16
years ago, we advocated principles and
practices for managing stress effectively.
Our process began with a principle that I
now attribute to saving my life: Pay attention. We often get so caught up in our
lives that we fail to address critical issues
until they are knocking on our door. On
July 17, 2008, one knocked on mine.
who reminded me of a conversation
we once had about handling a medical
emergency when traveling. He arranged
an appointment for me with world-renowned neurosurgeon Keith L. Black,
M.D., at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
in Los Angeles. On July 29, the
tumor was successfully removed
and a chemo wafer was inserted.
Imagine being 3,000 miles away from
home when you realize you just don’t
feel right. I was in my Baltimore hotel
room preparing to address
a meeting of 70 senior
the next morning—but
even the task of buttoning
my shirt seemed difficult.
When I feel stressed, I usually take a hot shower,
relax and go to bed early.
On this particular evening, nothing relaxed me.
I called the front desk to
inquire if there was a physician in the
hotel. Although there was no doctor on
site, there was a hospital across the street.
I admitted myself to Mercy Hospital
the next day, where an MRI and CAT
scan revealed a mass in my brain that
was later identified as a glioblastoma
multiforme (GBM), the most common
and aggressive type of brain tumor.
Concerned about the physician’s desire
to do a biopsy right away, I planned to
fly home that evening.
After phoning my wife and daughter
to break the news, I called a colleague
I’m on the road to recovery
now because I paid attention
to my condition and was
compelled to seek medical
evaluation. From this basic principle,
four common sense—yet rarely common practice—guidelines emerged:
• Ask for help. Too
often, we refuse to seek
help. Men, in particular,
view asking for help as a
sign of weakness. Once
we understand that no
one achieves anything
alone, then asking for
help becomes a virtue.
• Enlist others. Reach
out to people in your
life and assist each other
when assistance is needed. When we
work together, there is no problem or
obstacle we cannot overcome.
• Take nothing and no one for
granted. For life to work through you,
you must be informed. Much knowledge
comes from our experiences with other
people. People are our greatest resource.
• Express gratitude. I have changed
my entire attitude toward life. Some
time ago, I wrote a book from a very
heady and intellectual perspective,
titled Life Is a Gift—Don’t Trash It.
Everything has changed. Now, when I
We often get so
caught up in our
lives that we fail
to address criti-
cal issues until
they are knock-
ing on our door.
say life is a gift, I have greater appreciation for so many things, especially the
people who reached out and stepped up
on my behalf.
Waking up each morning is a gift. I
enjoy doing simple things that I used
to take for granted, such as putting
my pants on straight, guiding my belt
through all of the loops, remembering to close cabinets and turn off appliances. I pay closer attention to relationships that make my life worth living,
including my speaking colleagues who
are filling in for me, my manager who
has faith in my ability to secure speaking engagements, and my family’s love,
encouragement and support.
John Alston, CSP, CPAE, is a
former teacher and school
administrator with a master’s
degree in counseling psychology. The author of four books
and the forthcoming Goodness Must Be
Taught, his life’s work evolves around
personal accountability and responsibility.
Former clients include General Electric,
Wells Fargo, General Motors, U.S. Steel,
AT&T, and the U.S. Army. For more
information, visit www.johnalston.com.