Didrik: This is Didrik Johnck, the new (and old) producer of the No Barriers podcast. I launched this podcast exactly 130 episodes or 3 seasons ago. After season 2 wrapped, I took on some other projects, but now as we approach season 4, I’m happy to say I’m back in the saddle again working with the hosts Erik, Dave, Jeff and the rest of our fantastic production crew.
So check it out, it’s mid-november and 2021 is rapidly coming to a close. The end of the year is a time to reflect, but als give the hard working staff of this podcast a little break.
This week I want to share an episode from Season 2 with you. It’s a staff favorite. The question is this: If you had the option of knowing the day you would die and how it would happen, would you want to know? The guest in this episode found himself in just that position. His name is Jim Kwok. He accepted his fate and made it his mission to squeeze as much life out of the short time he had left. And along with that, committed himself to encouraging people to wake the hell up and value this one precious life that we each have. Jim, sadly is no longer with us.
Jim: I can't believe how lucky a life I've had. I've been surrounded by an amazing family, friends, I've seen some of the best parts of humanity, the last three years. They give me a really strong sense of peace, and that peace, I think makes me feel really powerful and not fearful about what lays ahead.
Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. Part of the equation is diving into the learning process, and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way.
That unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in, in the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call No Barriers.
Jeff: Welcome to another installment of our No Barriers Alchemy Podcast series, where we explore this extraordinary moment in our lives. Special thanks to Wells Fargo and Prudential for their generous support in this series.
What does it mean to live a good life? Jim Kwok has been reflecting on this simple but important question, since his colorectal cancer diagnosis three years ago. After 41 rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries and 28 rounds of radiation, Jim is stage four and is told it's non-curable. He ceased all treatment one and a half months ago, and now focuses all of his energy on making the most of his remaining time.
He's had a largely successful career, and is still actively working as managing director at J.P. Morgan. He lives with his loving wife of 28 years, spends time with his two children, and remains active in his local running and tennis community. Jim now says, "I am determined to live out my time a certain way, resolute that cancer doesn't get more than its fair share."
Y'all are going to enjoy this one.
Erik: Thank you Jim for joining us. I went to school with you at Hong Kong International School, believe it or not, my dad was working for Pfizer pharmaceuticals, and he was over in Hong Kong. You were just a tiny bit older than me, and I was in the class with your brother. He reintroduced us. I wanted to interview you on the podcast, because you've been sending me these beautiful messages that you've been sending out to friends about your cancer situation, and I thought they were just really profound. You have a great perspective on life, and you can help our audience in so many ways, because people are struggling to figure out what a good life means.
I'm really excited to spend some time with you this morning. Thanks for joining us.
Jim: I'm really happy, happy to me with you today. Thank you for having me.
Erik: Yeah. Earlier, we were talking about your morning routines. Just tell us that.
Jim: I've become an early riser. I love the quiet of the morning. I love hearing the birds. I love just having my coffee and just sitting there and looking out the window, and drinking my coffee, reflecting a lot, doing a little bit of reading. Sometimes I do some of my writing at that time as well. It's usually when my body feels about as good as it's going to feel for the day.
Jeff: You need to give us, continue to paint this picture for us, I think, just a little bit, if you could. There was this overlap in Hong Kong with you and Erik. Then, you started with career path that had a pretty, I think, meteoric trajectory. You were a big dog for a long time, rising pretty high in the financial industry. Can you get us up to that point, before we get to the crescendo, and build up that background of your career with your family as well?
Jim: I grew up in Hong Kong. We grew up in Hong Kong, I lived there, I was born in the States, but we moved there when I was less than two years old. I don't remember the first part of my life in the States. I remember it from Hong Kong, and I was there from two years old until 10th grade. It was just a magical time to live in Hong Kong then. I lived it as an American expat family. We were a close-knit community, living with lots of other American families. We were all on this great adventure. I really got a kick out of reading Erik's autobiography, and some of the adventures his dad took him on, which were even way more adventurous than most of ours.
It was just a great time, and it was a very close-knit community. We had a terrific time. We moved back to the States when I was in 10th grade. I finished high school in the middle of the country, in Michigan. Then I ended up at Northwestern University, and studied economics, and then started my career in finance. For 10 years at Goldman Sachs in their money management area, and then for the last 23 years, I've worked at J.P. Morgan in their money management area.
I oversee a small group of people that manage money for institutional clients. Because they're institutional, the number sounds kind of crazy, and I've gotten so used to it, you forget. We oversee, the group I'm in charge of, oversees about $100 billion of client assets. We just focus on working with clients, who are, they're just terrific people, and that's what we do. That's what I've been preoccupied between family life and work life, for the last 20 something years. I know we'll get to it, until life derailed my path a little bit. That's what life was like, up until that point.
It was a nice progression. I really enjoyed the challenges of work, and the challenges of everything that that brought.
Erik: Hong Kong was so exciting, right? It had this vibrance to it. It was an incredible, tight community, it was pretty wild back in the '70s too. My brother graduated from HKIS, Hong Kong International School, and he would go down to this place called the Shack, and they would drink beer after high school, after getting out of class. It was a wild place. Then you go back to Michigan. Big contrast, huh?
Jim: Oh, it was shocking. It was really shocking. Yeah, we were living in a big city. Think back to what we were all like in 10th grade. I'd say earlier than 10th grade, you wanted a lot of things that just kids wanted to do. You wanted space, you wanted to get out and throw a ball, you wanted to ride your bike. Then, around 9th, 10th grade, there's a whole 'nother life that exposes itself. It's kind of exciting. You become a young adult. You want to go into the Shack and drink some beer in the afternoon.
There were places like that, that you can do that in Hong Kong. To go from that, and being in a really big city, and very international, and moving to a town of 25, 30,000 people, in the middle of Michigan, was a huge contrast. Culturally, that was a contrast. I had to deal with being a minority for the first time in my life. I'm an Asian American. Having to encounter racism for the first time. I won't say a lot, but all of a sudden, you're calling me that? We're going to get in a fight-
Jeff: You didn't even know that existed, right? Prior to that in Hong Kong. Maybe peripherally way out there?
Jim: Yeah, I really didn't. As a kid, I didn't really know it. We grew up sheltered. I'm living in Hong Kong, where even though I'm an America, I look like I'm a Chinese, I look like I'm part of the majority.
Erik: Your life had a dramatic change, because you were diagnosed with cancer, and you went through a lot of chemo, trying to heal. Tell us about that journey, when it started.
Jim: Yeah. I'm just going to rewind a little bit leading up into the journey, so you can almost see how out of the blue it came. My kids had just finished high school and graduated, and they were off to college. We were empty nesters. My wife and I were saying, we miss them a lot, but this is an unbelievable opportunity to go see the world. We had literally just saddled up our horses and we were starting to travel. In the beginning of 2017, my wife budged in, and forced her way on a business trip I had. I don't do a lot of international travel, but she came with me to Dubai. A place, an area of the world we had never gone. That was awesome.
In February of 2017, we took a back roads bike trip through Vietnam and Cambodia, and it was just an amazing way to see so many things we had never seen, and take in a culture. I told my wife, this is how I want to see the whole world. Back roads is going to bring me into that. That's February of 2017. If anyone knows back roads, it's a fairly active trip. We weren't super strenuous, but we biked about 200 miles over a week through Vietnam and Cambodia.
Then, all of a sudden, I just didn't feel particularly right. I was also 52 years old, and past the age when you should get your routine colonoscopy. My wife was really bugging me to get the doctor's appointment and go and get checked out. I was thinking, maybe I have a bug. It's not a big deal.
Jeff: How were you feeling? Just tired or ill or what way?
Jim: I had irregularity with going to the bathroom. I just all of a sudden had to go a lot more frequently. There was nothing, though, Jeff, in it, that suggested something is seriously wrong with me. I thought, maybe I picked up a business while we were in Southeast Asia. That's it. She was relentless. Frankly, such a pain in the ass about, call the doctor, I'll call tomorrow.
The interesting thing is, I have a fear of doctors. I have a fear of anything they'll do to me, and going to the doctor. I was looking for every reason to procrastinate. I will say this, everything anyone probably knows about a colonoscopy who hasn't had one, I can think of 10,000 things I'd rather have them do to me than do that. I will do almost anything before you're going to do that to me. I really was dragging my feet.
Anyways, fast forward, I go in, and I've got all the sophomoric and juvenile jokes with my friends that I'm texting as I'm going in, into my colonoscopy. I have it. It was really no big deal, and I wake up, and I'm in the recovery room, and my wife has joined me in the recovery room. Then, at the moment, it just became the most surreal thing. I'm in a conversation that was just like out of the movies, where the doctor said, I'm sorry to tell you, we've discovered a very large tumor in your colon.
Your mind is just reeling, because I'm not that guy. I'm not that guy. That doesn't happen to me. They discovered it. They said, they're going to do some biopsies and some testing. I said okay, you'll confirm, and you'll let me know if it's cancer? She said, "Look, it's a really large tumor. We're going to do some biopsies just to know a little bit more. I don't need to know anything more than to say, you have a pretty advanced stage of cancer," which we had learned at the time, was stage three. Then, all of a sudden, it's just a whirlwind of doctor's appointments that, thankfully, the doctor starts sending you, "You're going to go see an oncologist, a surgeon," and blah blah blah. You just are on a conveyor belt, and going through it.
For about 12 hours, my mind was reeling. It wasn't a lot longer than 10 hours, which was kind of interesting. For 12 hours, I kept thinking, but how? But why? How did I get here? This isn't me. The probably surprising thing is, it just wasn't longer than that.
Jeff: Did it almost feel like that introductory phase was denial like we all hear about, when you go through a pretty traumatic experience like that? You went through, it sounds like several days of, wait, what?
Jeff: Then, what happened right after that? When was the transition from denial to acceptance, and then take us further through that process?
Jim: Yeah. Jeff, it was about 12 hours, really. I woke up and I started calling some friends and telling them. As I, the next day, started telling some close friends what I just learned, it was crystallizing in my mind. Probably one of the first things I said, that crystallized is, I don't know. I don't know, there's a lot of stuff I don't know. I'm not going to go on Google and try to be a doctor, there's a reason these doctors go to medical school for a long time, and I'm not going to try to become a doctor in 24 hours.
I didn't go on Google. I've never been on Google to learn more about what's going on with me. Just wasn't the way I was going to do it. One of the realizations I came to, 12 hours later was, I don't know what this is all about. I don't know what this is all about, but for me, I remember sobbing, and just thinking about what it would do to my wife and my kids. That was the overwhelming sensation, just sobbing. It was all about them.
I wasn't scared. Then, I really quickly got this picture which is, none of us are in control about, and it stayed with me the whole time, we're not in control. We're all going to go. We don't know when we're going to die. Maybe this is it for me. It's not about how long it is, or how much you get. It's not the quantity, it's the quality. That stayed with me one day after I got diagnosed, and has stayed with me to this day.
Erik: You're also, from your business background, I imagine that you're pretty decisive, take charge kind of person. You probably also kicked into gear, in terms of okay, I'm going to attack this thing, I'm going to do everything I need to do to take care of my health. I'm going to do all the right stuff. I imagine that take charge mentality jumped right in, as well?
Jim: Yeah. Erik, that's interesting you say that. I haven't really ever thought about that until I just heard you say that. I think that is how I think about work. You get a set of facts. Those are the facts. Once you have those facts, then you say okay, if those are the facts, then what do you do with them? You don't say, give me some new facts. You have to make a set of decisions around the facts that you're given. Those were the facts I were given.
It was a tough hand. I've always thought, in life, in recent life, the last three years, and in work, you just got to be realistic. If those are the cards, then how do I think about that? What do I decide?
I think I was fairly decisive.
Erik: Yeah. Then you think you beautiful this thing too. You went through chemo in the beginning as well, right?
Jim: Yeah. All the doctors, and this helped me a lot, especially when I thought about how I was going to tell my kids, all the doctors were telling me, "You're curable. We're going to bring you to help. We're going to do a lot of things to you." Which was, three surgeries, six or more rounds of chemotherapy, 28 rounds of radiation. "You're going to end up living a full and normal life." If I fast forward that, it helped a lot, because in that first two weeks as we learned that, and every doctor was telling me, "You're curable, we're going to get you through there. I did go through a period of time where I thought, in the very beginning of, I'm not sure if I can do it. Let me just fast forward for a second.
When it came to telling my kids, that was a huge thing. My son was just going into finals when I learned I had cancer. Finals at his freshman year, and I didn't want to tell him. Not right as he's going into finals. That two weeks as I learned I was curable, and he came home, and I told him, and it just helped a great deal. I always thought, get bad news, get it out fast. Peel the Band-aid off. It helped a great deal. My two sentences were, "I have cancer, but all the doctors say I'm going to be okay."
I think those are just two important facts. Then, "I'll fill you in on the detail."
Erik: Then, at that point, once you think you may be cured, you have what, monthly checkups to keep going to the doctor, and then it came back, right?
Jim: Yeah. We had check-ins of various types, for probably every other month. Where they're just monitoring you. I think I did a really good job, because I heard some people feel like ... I read something that was just all wrong to me. That sounds probably a little judgmental. It wasn't right for me. I can't judge that about someone else, but I read it in some magazine, where someone said, they had their tests for recurrence, and they were clean, and I got 90 days to live. 90 more days to live until the next test.
I thought, I'm not going to be a hostage to these tests. I know cancer can come back and take me any time. I'm not going to sit around and wonder, is it coming back? Is it here? I'm just going to forget about these tests. I know it can come back, I know that's why cancer is so dangerous, because it's so persistent. I'm just not going to be held hostage and sit around, wondering and being scared of the fact of whether it's going to come back. I got a life to live.
Jeff: How successful were you at that? I know that that's an ideology, but was it ... I know it was probably hard, but did you do it? Were you able to fully do that?
Jim: Jeff, there was ... If you knew me before I had cancer, I became a really different guy. It was actually pretty easy. It was pretty easy. Now, I'll tell you about a day or two before I'd go in for a test, it starts getting in your head. I just try to keep everything around me real calm and real quiet, really look out at the morning sun, and just looking at how beautiful things are. Would not really get in my head. You go in and you get a scan, and then now, they've got images of you, and you know when you come home, there's a paper, there's a report that says, did your cancer come back or not.
You know it's out there, but yet, about 24 hours, 24, 48 hours before the doctor tells you what that piece of paper says, and what the scans showed, then it gets a little tricky to not be a little anxious about. What's the deal, what's happening. Even then, I think I did a pretty good job of not, there were no sleepless nights. I don't know. Somehow, I managed just to push it out of my mind.
Jeff: Then, how many clean scans did you get between the initial remission and the next recurrence?
Jim: Yeah. Unfortunately, I lived this really, all too short period of time, in December of 2017, at the end of December, I diagnosed in May of 2017, in December, was the last and final step, where they did a major surgery on me, cut a foot and a half of my colon out. Did biopsy. All the doctors said, "At that moment, that's going to be your moment of truth. That's when we're really going to know whether we got the cancer or not."
December of 2017, the doctors told me, "We got it. We got all the cancer out." It was from that point on, in my mind, I thought I was cancer free, and it was in the very beginning of July. Six months later, is when my cancer came back. That's what was a little bit alarming, that it came back that quickly, and it spread that quickly, was pretty concerning to the doctors.
Jeff: What was your gamut of emotions at that point, coming back?
Jim: I remember the morning really well. I was dressing for work, and my doctor had said, in one of these routine tests, and they were all saying, get out of here, we'll see you in three months or two months for our next test. We're smiling and high fiving-
Jeff: Everyone's high fiving. Yeah.
Jim: Yeah. I'm back and I'm living my life. I went through hell's basement to get my life back, and that's where we were. We took a blood test, my doctor called me and said, "Hey, I saw something I don't like, it's probably nothing. Just come on in and we want you come in and get a scan, which you're not due for four or five more months, but I want to get a closer look at that." I said, "Great, you want me in in a week or two?" She goes, "I want you to come in tomorrow."
That was a little concerning. I went in the next day. Then, it was a Monday, and I was dressing for work when my doctor called me with the results. I had just dressed and I was getting ready to go, and she said, "I'm really sorry to tell you, your cancer has come back, and it's spread to your liver, spread to your lymph nodes, and you're not stage three anymore, you're now stage four. You're not curable. We're going to need to start doing some things to you right away. We need to get you on chemotherapy, because it's a little alarming how quickly it came back."
I sat down, in this very room I'm talking to you from now, I cried. I couldn't believe this happened to me, because I paid one hell of a price to get my life back. My family paid a hell of a price for us all to go through that. I cried for 10 minutes. My kids are sleeping at the end of the hall. I just couldn't let them see me like that.
After about 10 minutes, I grabbed my wife and I said, "Let's go for a walk." In Chicago, we live not too far from the beach. We drove over to the beach, we walked along the beach, it was just so beautiful. I just said, "Just look at this. Look at just how great life is. Just look at how beautiful it is. Just restored everything about, no matter how long or short this is, I just can't believe how lucky I am to be alive. Even with this news. We're going to tell the kids."
A lot of it, maybe I would've handled it differently if I didn't have children. I just couldn't have my children see me falling apart and at a complete loss of emotional control. We had to figure out how to face the kids, because they were going to wake up in an hour. We had to tell them, because I wasn't going to go to work that day. In fact, I was going to now be going into the hospital every day for appointment after appointment. There's no way you could keep that from them.
Erik: Yeah. You sat the kids down and talked to them about that.
Jim: Yeah. They were shocked, blown away. We were celebrating, because I got my life back. We were going out. When you get a second lease on life, man, it was pretty cool. Every day was pretty amazing. Yeah, I think out of all of us, the air just left us. It was just like you got gut punched.
Jeff: When you reflect back on this process, I can't help but think about those six months.
Jeff: Your mindset during that six months, you've told us, you celebrated, it was a lot of high fives, it was a lot of really pure, raw, beautiful emotion about this second opportunity with your kids and your wife. I wonder, do you reflect on those six months frequently when you reflect, or is it all packaged together in this journey? Is that a beautiful flower that's in the middle of all the thorns, or does it blend in with everything else?
Jim: It's funny Jeff. On December 7th, it's a day that sticks with me, because that's the day I had my surgery, and that's the day they told me I was cancer free. It's the only day where I go, damn it, how did I get there? How did I go from cancer free to that? It's the only day that I really get stuck on that.
I don't go back to, how come I was clean, free of cancer, and that was amazing? I have learned just to be totally in the moment. I can't go back in time. I can't change anything. Can't change what's going on in my body. I haven't really thought back on how great those six months of cancer free were. I've really just mostly thought about where am I at today, and what do I want to do with today, and dealt with the reality of what I have today.
Have not really spent a lot of time thinking about those six months.
Erik: You also, Jim, you've talked, you sent me posts, they were really beautiful, they're very powerful, they're very insightful. You talked one time about getting the CT scan, and how injects contrasts into your bloodstream, so they can see things. Cancer has created a contrast. Talk about that clarity, because that's fascinating.
Jim: I view cancer, has really been a gift in my life. That sounds so crazy, and I wouldn't wish this on anybody, but the last three years, the contrast that I've had has allowed me to see just so clearly and vividly, there's three things that matter to me in life. The first is, my friends and family. I just see very clearly, the people in my life that really count. Sadly, there's a set of people that don't matter as much, but I just so clearly see the people in my life that matter, a great deal to me.
Then there's a set of things that matter to me in life, including my work. It matters a great deal to me. It's the fulfillment of my human potential. It's my canvas. You guys climb, which I think is just awesome. I don't climb. In work, I'm testing my potential to see, can I do things that I didn't think I could do? That's my canvas. Then the third thing was, as I've been on this journey for the last three years, just seeing how powerful positive humanity can be. I want to be a better human.
Cancer really taught me that. I wasn't that guy. I never thought about those things, but the last three years, having this darkness all around you, allows you to see the brightness and those things came into a really, really sharp focus, and I would say purveyed my thinking all the time. That's what matters to me. I wouldn't be this guy, were it not for cancer. If you said to me, this will sound a little crazy, but live a full life, live until you're 80, 90 years old, but not know these things, as strongly as I do, or you're going to live three years, and you're going to die of cancer, but know these things so clearly and so vividly, and powerfully.
I'd take the trade, and live a shorter, higher quality life, than to live a long life, and be less clued in.
Erik: Yeah. I also feel, and again, just my observation, that you have a lot of energy, even though your body is getting beat down. There's something else in you that continues to have energy. What's the source of that energy, Jim?
Jim: I think it's really two things, Erik. Life is just such an amazing gift. I hope everyone who's listening to this just appreciates that, life is such a gift for all of us, and it's a privilege, and we just owe it to ourselves to give it the best ride that we can. There's an energy that derives from that. I want to be better, I want to be a better father, I want to be a better husband, I want to be a better human. There's an energy that pulsates through that, when you have a sense of urgency around that.
The other part of where my energy comes from is, a sense of peace. I can't believe how lucky a life I've had. I've been surrounded by an amazing family, friends, I've seen some of the best parts of humanity, the last three years. They give me a really strong sense of peace, and that peace, I think makes me feel really powerful, and not fearful about what lays ahead.
Jeff: I want to ask you, it's a little bit of a dovetail, but it's about this I guess, acceptance of death, and how I think, generally, the human condition creates a fear that surrounds it. I think most people would say, I'm afraid to die. There's a lot of therapy modalities that are used, and some are gaining more traction than others in the past decade or so. They deal with the extraction of the ego, because the ego is really the thing that is protecting you from death. It doesn't want you to die. It sounds like these dreams that you've had, Jim, have honestly been your ego or your consciousness saying to you, it's okay. Let's not be fearful of this. Let's allow this to happen.
It's almost like you went through the therapy on your own, and your consciousness is pushing you there, and stripping away that ego that's trying to hold you to the planet. Does any of that resonate with you, or what do you think about that?
Jim: Yeah. I really think that's right. Jeff, I'm not particularly spiritual. I don't know that I believe ... I don't know what I believe, about whether there's an afterlife. There are some days I think, who knows, maybe there is something on the other side. There are other days where I think the lights just go off when it's my time.
I think, if you think about what is going to scare you, what could cause you to have fear, I think the first thing is, we fear, and I think it'd be very natural for us to fear a painful death. As I've talked to some of my hospice doctors, and I've asked them about that, they said it won't be painful. You got to work with us, but we can take care of the pain. We're fortunate enough to live in a time when there's medicine that can take care of it. Pain has become a little bit more of an issue for me in the last few months.
Sure enough, they've been helping me take care of the pain. It's unpleasant at times, but I know that we can get our arms around it. I feel confident in knowing I'm not going to have a painful death. That takes a big part of it off. There is something also about knowing that we're just all going to die. We're all going to die at some point. I just happen to know way more about it than 90% of the people that are out there. I know roughly when it will happen, how it will happen, what I might feel like.
Look, none of it is pleasant. I certainly don't look forward to any of it, but again, I understand there'll be things that they can do to help me with the physical part of it. It just leaves you with the spiritual part of it, or the, what do you feel inside. I feel surrounded by love and an amazing set of friends. I just sit back and when I do reflect and think about life, I think about all of these great memories and things I've happened to ... That I just can't believe I got to ride on that.
If I told you all of those stories, they're really mundane. They're nothing particularly extraordinary.
Jeff: They're beautiful.
Jim: Yeah, they're just beautiful to me. The first time I rode a bike, the first time I saw the Rockies, the first time, or the last time I was at the beach. To me, they're all just beautiful things. I got to do those things. To me, I just feel so at peace that I got to do all those things, and I don't have a sense of, I need more. I just can't believe what I had.
I feel peaceful with where I'm at.
Erik: You talk about peace a lot in your posts. That seems to connect with the things that could influence. I'll actually, as a flag, I'll try to read this. "I am in control of the sense of peace I have. I am in control of a sense of having lived a blessed life." There are things, even though things are out of control in certain ways, you can't control certain things happening to your body, how do you maintain that sense of control or influence in your life?
Jim: I'm not in control of what's happening to my physical body. I'm not in control of what's happening with this molecular riot that's going on in my body. Just can't, I can't do anything about it. I am in control of my attitude, my outlook. That's what I'm in control of. That's the only thing I'm in control of. I've said this also, cancer, if you let it, and where cancer really wins, is if it gets more than it should. It's going to get my body. If it gets my soul, my attitude, then it's getting more than it should.
If it gets, and I've told this to my wife and my kids, you're going to be devastated when I die. You're going to fall down. You're going to cry, but you're going to get up. You are going to get up, because if you stay down, then cancer is getting more than it should.
Jeff: I love it. I know you said this phrase, and I want you to talk a little bit more about it, how there's this thing that we nonchalantly throw, I can live with that. You've paraphrased that a little bit. Can you tell us about what that means?
Jim: I think the whole wording of that is wrong. A much better wording of that phrase, I can live with that, is, I can die with that. If you just really think about it, it catches some people off guard for a second. This idea of, I can die with that, should just stop you and make you think, do you have the right priorities? Are you acting in a way that you'd be proud of your conduct? Are you making decisions that will last beyond you, that feel right? When it comes time, when they tell you that's your time, and you look back on it, are you going to feel okay about those decisions?
Really, it's what you can die with, because at that point, you can't go back. You can't do it again. This idea and again, I say, cancer has brought me gifts like that, and allowed me to think, because I didn't think like that. You just started thinking and doing, but I've really just tried to think. It doesn't mean I haven't made plenty of mistakes or seen things wrong. I have plenty of shortcomings. I just really tried to think very carefully about that, in the last three years.
When it's my moment, and when I draw my last breath, am I going to be okay with the decisions I've made? I believe this. While I'm an imperfect person, I believe on the whole, I've tried to do the best I can, and as right as I can. When you find me at the end, I hope you'll find me with a smile on my face, because I can't believe I got to live life. You'll find me with tear in my eye of, how to leave my family.
I would just hope people would just think about that in the moment, because just stop for a second and think about this. Can you die with the decision that you're making? Because it's part of you, it's part of your legacy, and it impacts people. Sometimes, these decisions are bigger than others. You should just, really just pause and consider, is that something that you can take to your grave and say, I did as right as I could?
Erik: What's your secret to trying to live in the moment?
Jim: I think the biggest thing, Erik, is just trying not to be consumed and worrying about things I can't control. Jeff, you were asking a while ago about scans, when I think about my last scan, which was, I don't know, a month ago or so, just had the headphones on, just drinking my coffee, and just reflecting, and just trying to not worry and think about the scan and things.
By not worrying about things that I don't control, it just leaves you with, then there's no room for really anger or frustration, because I'm just not in any control of that. The only thing I think you really got to do is, brace yourself. It's one hell of a thing, I'll tell you, and it takes a bit of energy, a lot of energy, and a lot of focus to walk in and get ready for a doctor to tell you, you're going to die. It's just one hell of a thing. I've done it too many times.
I think the way to do that is, all the things I've said, just to shore yourself up in a sense of peacefulness, about the life you've had, and that it's a blessing. Right now, today, this is a gift, and at night, somehow, when I go to bed, it just happens. I'm not conscious about this at all. When I go to bed, I find myself just thinking, wow, that was a hell of a day. It was a great day. I just think back on what it was. This conversation is going to be, that was a great day. June 1st was a great day. That's what I look back on.
Inevitably, I just look back and those are the things that just fill my mind. Now, I'll tell you, before my eyes shut for tonight, I'm going to feel like crap at some point today. That's just the nature of dealing with advanced cancer. That's just what it is. It sucks, I hate it. Somehow, when I close my eyes, I'll just think about, what are the great things that happened in my life today, and that's the moment I don't want to miss.
Erik: Were there things that you've done now, that maybe you would've been scared, or maybe reluctant to do when you think okay, I have 30, 40 years ahead of me? I just am trying to put myself there. It seems like you might be quicker to hug people. Are there certain things that you practice differently?
Jim: I say what's on my mind more. I'm much quicker to ... I still am not very good at this, but try to see the positive side of the person who's in front of me or I'm talking to. I'd say in the past, I think it's a common thing to be a little worried. Should I say that? Is it okay? Will they take that the right way or the wrong way? I think this idea that everyone, maybe could be helpful is, act like you won't have a second chance. I may not talk to so and so again. There's a certain set of things I want to say to them.
This is the moment. This is now, and what am I waiting for? I would say in the past, I would've been a lot more hesitant to express those kinds of things, and do them. I haven't become a daredevil. I haven't jumped out of an airplane or anything. It's not anything necessarily physical that I've become more brave about, but it's probably just the idea of expressing myself more.
Jeff: Would you have picked yourself as the person, say let's back up five years ago, would Jim have been the person who would have had a terminal diagnosis, and had the courage to stand up in front of his colleagues on stage, and tell his stories, get on podcasts, write pretty detailed, involved posts, and be almost, I would call you an advocate for life? Would you have pinned yourself as being that person, or have you grown into that, feeling like, maybe it's part of this journey that you're on, that this is your role now, to showcase to people, stand the hell up, man, y'all are ... Everything you've been sharing with us, it's there.
I wonder, did it come from a place where you really, do you feel obligated to do it, or do you want to do it, or where is it? Where does it sit in you?
Jim: No. I wasn't that guy five years ago. I was the guy who had stage fright. I was a guy ... I remember at work or other events, they say hey, we want you to get up there and say some things, or do things for work. They made me nervous. I didn't want to do things. Being around certain people, sometimes I'd get nervous. I think my cancer has changed things. I did have a chance to address my colleagues earlier this year. The old me would've never done this, but I asked for that opportunity.
I said, I've got something to say. I want you to put me up on the big stage at our conference, of our colleagues gathering from around the world. I want to share a perspective with them, because I have something to say. It's not really my ego that's leading me to want to do that, Jeff. I was explaining this to somebody, I feel like fortunately, I don't know anybody who's really had cancer. Among my friends. I feel like, cancer was something that really only happened to people who're quite a bit older. It was their natural end of life of living a long and full life.
To be relatively young, I'm in my mid 50s, and for this to happen, thankfully, I don't know any friends or any peers who really have been sick like this. I've started to become aware, unfortunately, that cancer has gotten ahold of way too many people. I say this, I feel like my role is to, I'm a forward scout. For whatever reason, I got sent down the river, and I saw some things, and I'm just coming back, and I feel like I want to share, here's what I saw. That message is in all the things I've been writing, and is in some of the messaging I've been sharing here.
I feel a little duty-bound to want to share it, because I have been surrounded by some of the kindest, and most compassionate people, and I can't believe it's been my good fortune to be surrounded by people like that.
What do you do to pay it back? Let me tell you some things that maybe it applies to you, maybe it doesn't. Maybe you might want to think about this stuff. Again, I recognize, doesn't play for everyone. If you could just think about this stuff, and it makes you just think about what are you doing with your day today, what are you doing with your moment, what are you doing with your attitude. If it just helps you a little bit, and you don't have to have the cancer battle, then that is a great thing.
I'm just a forward scout.
Erik: What is your definition? I know this is a big question, but what is your definition of a good life, for people to think about?
Jim: Boy, that is a big question.
Jim: Yeah, no, that's great. Look, I think first, it's looking within yourself. Do you feel fulfilled? I think a good life is one where, you give back maybe a little bit more than you took. We're each launched with a set of potential. In many cases, because we're human, we're not all going to be Michael Jordan. We're going to have limitations. Sometimes, those limitations are more significant. Erik, you have a limitation, but what do we do with, even in spite of our limitations or non-limitations, how do we just try to test the potential of what we can do, and to test the potential that we have?
As I mentioned, for me, that takes the shape of the relationships I have, but it also takes the shape of my work. My work has long ago, stopped being important for what many people think of their work, which is, it's a paycheck, or I want to be on a promotion path. I just think of it as a canvas to try to say, am I thinking clearly? Am I bringing some value to what I'm doing?
When I think about a life fulfilled, I would just say, did I realize my potential? Obviously, you want to be as good a family man as you can, with your wife and your kids. I think even bigger than that, were you a decent human? We all make mistakes. Did you just try to do the very best you can? If I look back on that, and I feel like I can check those boxes, then that's going to be a life fulfilled.
Erik: Yeah. It seems like courage is a big part of it, too. Seems like courage is something weaving its way through all that stuff.
Jim: Courage is a byproduct, I guess. I haven't tried to think of myself to act courageously. I do think I have been courageous through this thing, but it's just been a byproduct of acting with a level of resolve. I have limited time. I have a purpose with what I want to do with my time. If people see that as courageous, then thank you, that's a really complimentary way to characterize it. I'm just trying to do the best I can with the little time that I have left. I didn't start out this thing to be necessarily courageous.
As I said, if you want to go a two-hour podcast, I can tell you all the things I'm afraid of, because it's a long list. When it comes to life, man, yeah. I'm just trying to do the best I can with it.
Jeff: I'm sure you know this Jim, but I think a lot of people in your position, turtle up and cower in the face of it.
Jeff: You've done the opposite of that. I know that if you peel back the curtain, there was obviously plenty of times for you, when you felt vulnerable and fearful and scared. I feel like what you're doing, you say this duty-bound, forward scout approach, you have done something that is unique and powerful, and your legacy is cemented forever because of the words and the stories, and the feelings and emotions and advice that you are continuing to share with people. You're a gift. It's an amazing journey that you're on.
We're all better for hearing you tell it.
Jim: I appreciate that very much, Jeff. Thank you.
Erik: Yeah. We constantly at No Barriers are trying to talk about these elements of life, and one of them, we call alchemy, this idea of when shit happens, do you turtle up as you just said, Jeff, or do you think expansively? That's a big part of today for me, is thinking about how to think more expansively in life. Thanks, Jim.
Jim: Yeah. No, my pleasure.
Jeff: We can only say, Jim, I think about these next weeks for you, and months, hopefully, with your family. Sitting there, I'm going to imagine you, every morning, I'm in the very foothills of the Rockies, I'm going to think about you in the morning when I'm watching and listening to the birds, and just taking in the majesty of this place. I'm going to reflect on you, and where you're doing that same thing.
Thank you for that gift [crosstalk]
Jim: I love that. Jeff, you're going to return that gift, because you're going to take a picture of that, one of these mornings, of that view that you're looking at, and I want you to send that to me.
Erik: I'll do the same, the view I'm looking at outside my window. [crosstalk]
Jeff: [crosstalk] good photographer, Erik. It's actually quite striking, how good of a picture taker he is.
Jim: Is that right? Okay.
Jeff: Yeah. It's surprising.
Jim: [crosstalk] bring it.
Erik: Except that sometimes I have my phone backwards, and I just take a picture of my nose. It's the wrong direction.
Jim: That's all right. I want to see it.
Erik: All right. I'll give you a close-up picture of my nostrils.
Jeff: Thanks so much for your time, Jim.
Erik: Jim, thank you.
Jeff: The greatest commodity we all have is time. Some of us appreciate it even more. Thank you very much for all of it.
Jim: Yeah. No, Jeff, it's my pleasure. My pleasure to be here. Like I said, we're living in a tough time right now. My hat's off to you guys, because thinking about positivity, and positive energy, and the better side of our human spirit, and how we treat each other is just so important. I'm just so inspired by the things that you're doing to carry that message out to so many people. More than ever, this world needs to hear that, and be inspired by the good we can do, the good we should do, and how we lift ourselves up, and live a better life as a result of that. Because we can do a hell of a lot better than what we're doing right now, at this moment.
Jeff: No truer words have been spoken, man. It's a gift for us to be able to talk to people in an intellectual level, and finding their way through life. I think your topic and your transparency is unique in so many ways.
Erik: Yeah. What did you take out of this, Jeff?
Jeff: His lens and optic that he has is such a unique thing, that all of us need to take heed of. There is no one who gets out of this alive, as has been written eloquently. We're all going to follow the same path, that in a way, from what you could tell from Jim's tone and the way he spoke about his path, he sees it as a gift, in a way, to know we've all been in those positions where it's like, if you could look into that crystal ball, and you could say, this is the day I'm going to die, this is how I'm going to die, would you choose it?
I think most people that we pose that question to would say, no, I don't want to know. Jim didn't have a choice. Jim's like, here's the crystal ball, there's your day, your month, your period that you're going to go, and this is how you're going to go. In knowing that, it has provided him this tapestry to be able to paint and embrace and squeeze and hold and love and do all these things that, it encourages people like me, to go up and just randomly go up to my kid and just squeeze him really tight, and he'll be like, "Dad, what are you doing?"
Do that. That's one thing. Then the other thing that really stood out was Jim saying, it's not necessarily the quantity, it's the quality. I think I'm paraphrasing, but it's not how long, but just how strong, really, his days are. I think that that's something that, it's easy to just brush by, especially with all the negativity that's floating around right now. Don't forget that. Don't forget the power that comes with each day.
Then, sorry, one more thing. There's just so much. Give back more than you took. That's the cornerstone of servant leadership, which is so important to me, and being of service to people. I wish people would consider what that looks like in their own lives, on a micro, macro level.
Jim's a gift, grateful to've had the time with him. Where do you land?
Erik: Just how valuable this conversation has been for me personally. When we're doing this podcast, we're trying to dive into really authentic people. No BS. What does a real life look like? What does a good life look like? We don't want a motivational poster. I don't want this perfect little neat ingredient to the secret of life. It's a super messy thing. Jim didn't ask for cancer to happen in his life, but these things are like a catalyst, that create a kind of energy. Like he said, in terms of the CT scan, it creates a contrast in your life.
Cancer could make you go either way. Could be this thing that just crushes your spirits, and fills you full of fear, dread, could be this weight that looms over you, or like Jim, you can make it the catalyst to clarity, to understanding certain things a little better, to understanding the beautiful things in life, how to live in the moment, as he mentioned. Just so many "gifts." Part of that is seeking those things. Part of it is how you step up and try to live your life as Jim eloquently said, the best you can every day, with the time you have.
I think this is the perfect messy message for our community. Yeah. Thank you to Jim, thanks Jeff. If people are interested in No Barriers and want to attend our virtual summit, we're going to have thousands of people being a part of the summit. Incredible speakers and innovators and workshop leaders. Sort of like the podcast here on steroids. Also, thank you to Wells Fargo and Prudential, for supporting the podcast. These are great companies, go out and support them, because they support us at No Barriers.
Thanks to all them. No Barriers.
Jeff: See you next time.
Didrik: The production team behind this podcast includes producer Didrik Johnck, sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Kottman, marketing and graphics support from Stone Ward, and web support by Jamlo. A special thanks to The Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. Email us at [email protected] with any suggestions for the show.