Love Your Future Self Like You Love Your Child
May 1, 2023
I just finished reading a short but profound book: Life Is Short: An Appropriate Brief Guide to Making It More Meaningful by Dean Rickles, PhD. Dean Rickles is a professor of the philosophy of physics at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Life Is Short is such a rich book that I will only touch on one idea here. But, as I think you will see, it is so pertinent to what and how I coach: optimal health and self-care.
The concept is your future self. If you are a parent, you know how much you love your child or children. As a truly loving parent, you do everything you can to prepare them to have the best possible life. First and foremost, you do this by providing the best possible example. Like we said in the Marine Corps: Follow me.
The idea that I latched onto in the book Life Is Short is love your future self as much as you love your children or your very best friend.
Once that idea sinks in, you would never smoke as this habit would set up your future self for a potentially horrible future of lung cancer. If you truly love your future self as much as you love your children, you would never drink alcohol as you would be setting up your future self for potential dementia or Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. And what would be even more terrible, you would have to live with the fact that you did it to yourself.
My story, my perspective
Here is one perspective. As some of you know, I was a squad leader in the Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1966-1967. I was in the I Corps area at a place called Con Thien. I was shot at literally every day for over a year. We (my squad, my platoon, my company) were under mortar, artillery and rocket attacks dozens of times. I lead my squad on dozens of both daytime patrols and nighttime ambush patrols. Where I was, overlooking the DMZ, the casualty rate was about 50% killed or wounded. I was personally wounded twice including getting shot through my right thigh by an AK-47 fired by a North Vietnamese soldier (NVA). My point is I smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day because I had no future self.
I was chain-smoking – lighting one cigarette with the butt of the previous cigarette. I was smoking so much that all the fingers of both my hands were stained yellow with nicotine.
Like all my fellow combat marines, we were averaging less than 4 hours of sleep a night for over a year. We lived in the jungle. We slept on the ground for a year. During the hot season (in excess of 110 degrees) we slept in the dirt. During the monsoon season (when for 6 months it pretty much rained non-stop) we slept in the mud. No tent. No cot. No sleeping bag. Just a poncho. When the sun came out, swarms of flies. Clouds of mosquitoes every night. I could literally be dead at any given instant. Many of my friends were. I had no future self. Like most combat marines, I smoked.
With less than 2 weeks to go on my tour, my platoon got pinned down by automatic weapons fire from hidden NVA bunkers. Then the NVA put artillery on us in the open. No holes. We were pinned down for over 6 hours. I was lucky to even get out alive. The rows of body bags were stark evidence that many of my buddies did not.
I was medevaced by helicopter out to the LPH Tripoli– an aircraft carrier for helicopters. I was carried by stretcher down to the hangar deck. The hangar deck was the size of a football field. The hangar deck was covered wall-to-wall with wounded marines. Being one of the least wounded (I had only been shot through my right thigh by an AK-47 – like a 30-30 deer rifle) I was put near the end of the line.
Finally, around 2am or 3 am in the morning I was operated on. At dawn a few hours later, I was helicoptered with other wounded marines to the hospital ship Repose.
Flat on my back in a hospital ship ward, my wounded leg was elevated to minimize swelling. My gunshot wound, a bloody tunnel that ran from just above inside my right knee to just below my right hip, was cleaned out by a corpsman every day. Twice a day a corpsman pulled bloody gauze out of my leg, flushed out the raw tunnel with milky grey antibiotic fluid then repacked it with gauze soaked in yellow anti-biotic so my wound would not get infected and become gangrenous. The antibiotic gauze felt like steel wool against the inside of my raw gunshot wound. I was also given a walloping penicillin shot twice a day. My butt got so sore, I started taking the penicillin shots in my thighs.
After a couple of weeks on the hospital ship Repose, I was flown home from Clark Air Force in the Philippines via Guam and Hawaii on a stretcher on a med-evac plane full of wounded marines – many far worse than me.
I could not walk for 3 months while my leg was healing. I still have a couple of big nasty scars where the AK-47 entered my right thigh and where the bullet was surgically removed – a special kind of Vietnam tattoo.
After weeks on the couch, then weeks gimping around on crutches then a cane, I could slowly walk with a limp. That’s when I began to have a glimmer of my future self again. That’s when I quit smoking. That’s when I slowly began to release 1% of the insane tension I had been carrying around inside me in combat in Vietnam. That’s when I slowIy began to learn how to treat my future self with loving kindness.
I tentatively began to believe in my future self again. After literally living with life and death for over a year of intense combat, and losing so many friends, I realized how precious and how fragile life is.
It was 10 years of brutal PTSD before I began to learn how to truly relax and let go.
When I started my company in 1979, I felt that if I was going to coach and promote optimal health, I had to set a good example. I had to walk my talk. As a result, 1979 is when I stopped drinking alcohol. I have not touched a drop since. I want to convey true loving kindness to all the future selves and their children that I work with.
Thank you for listening.
You and your future self are worth it.