Really? I want to write more fun stories about childhood or maybe rant about my crappy dad again. What the heck am I going to write about related to being afraid, death? Come on, I got hit by a school bus at the age of 7, hit head on by a drunk driver once, slid 300 yards on ice into traffic, have had terrible clotting in my left leg after surgery for breaking it backwards at the knee in a softball game and more. Life is a gift at this point, why be afraid of dying?
Perhaps I should write about the fear of losing my children or my wife to Death? That sounds cheery – who’s not afraid of that? Maybe I should write a long depiction about my fear of ‘being wrong’ because that’s what I’m really afraid of; the fear of making the wrong choices, giving the wrong advice, choosing the wrong paths. But again, we all have to deal with these types of things on a regular basis. It sounds too self-serving to write about my fears. Oh wait, I’m writing a blog. All bloggers’ writings are self-serving, aren’t they? (sigh) But if you’re going to play in Emily and Kelly’s sandbox then you have to play by their rules and their rules say to bring your own shovel and bucket….ok, I’ll give it a shot – fear it is.
I have always been a long-term planner. If you read my Eric Carmen story, then you’ll have a good feel why that is. As I crossed into my 50’s and began thinking about qualifying for retirement benefits at my company, I started considering options for staying busy beyond life in corporate America. When I retire, I don’t want to golf full time. I also know that to enjoy a high quality of life beyond retirement requires a very significant level of funds. Hell, even just paying medical bills can easily eat through a person’s nest egg. I wanted to generate another option for myself and began exploring the possibility of becoming a CFP (certified financial planner). At minimum, I thought that studying for the CFP would provide me with a much deeper understanding of various laws and considerations which are important for planning for all the different facets of personal finance.
It’s a pretty tough program to become a planner. Firstly, one must pass a grueling 2-day, 10 hour test. To even qualify to sit for the test, one must successfully complete college semester credits that are approved by the CFP Board. The test has a small pass rate, about 60%. If you pass the test then you have to log a number of years engaged in the personal planning field, (oh, and you have to be “ethical”…boring). Only after all of that can one apply to the CFP Board, asking for permission to utilize and display the CFP credential. I knew it would be a difficult undertaking, but I had no clue as to what would eventually happen.
I enrolled in an online program with Boston University. Getting through the 6 courses was not terribly difficult for me.
I have a finance background and so much of the instruction was refresher material against topics I have studied before or have dealt with in my profession. My very good friend Carol had gone down this path already and so she was serving as a mentor for me too, providing me with advice and encouragement along the way. She shared with me how she underestimated how difficult the test was and how she had to take it a second time and then provided me with a great recommendation for a preparation seminar.
At minimum I wanted to pass the test. Passing the test would provide me with a new option. If you read the Eric Carmen story then you know how important it is for me to have options. I knew the test was likely to be the most difficult one I had ever attempted. I also knew I was not going to want to take the test twice. So I decided to become extremely focused. I had my sights on a mid November 2011 test in Oakland. My weekend preparation seminar was scheduled three weeks earlier in San Francisco.
I had developed a plan of attack that included 2 hours of study every night and 20-24 hours on the weekends. I was to do this immediately after my seminar for the 3 weeks before the actual testing. This was on top of all the preparation and study I had been doing for the previous 15 months. The seminar provided additional insight and study materials along with practice questions and simulated tests.
So for about 5-6 weeks I literally ate, drank and slept the CFP test. I was sighing and yawning a lot. At the time I was just thinking that I was nervous. I mentally had been shrugging it all off as “being extremely focused”. Oh I was focused alright.
I was totally unaware that I was under severe stress. I didn’t know my own limitations. We men, (especially), are pretty bad at that, aren’t we. We still think we can touch the hoop, that we can still throw a ball as fast as we once could, that we can still outrun anyone on the bases, that we’re still attractive to all the girls who are now young enough to be our granddaughters and that we can drink anything we want and be able to function perfectly the next morning. We sometimes can push ourselves to some pretty amazing accomplishments, but in general, (speaking at least for myself now), we’re all idiots.
The first day of the test arrived and I walked out feeling like I totally aced everything covered – there wasn’t a topic or question presented where I wasn’t like ‘oh yeah, I got this one’. Then came the second day, November 18th – everything was different on the second day. So they suckered us all in with the first day just so they could watch all our happy faces turn to agony and fear as the minutes ticked by on Day 2. I took the full time on Day 2, checking and re-checking as much as I could. All I could do was to keep my fingers crossed – I had already made up my mind that it was do or die, I was not going to sit through the test a second time. I saw people crying as they were exiting the testing facility.
Waiting for the test results requires yet another 8 weeks or so. Had I been more in tune with my own mind and body, I guess perhaps I might have been able to let go of the stress once the test was over. I mean, it was over and I had already decided I would not retake it so why fret any longer? It wasn’t like my career or my family depended on my passing this test. I wasn’t even sure if I would pursue the credentials afterwards. If things went according to plan, I was going to remain with my existing employer as long as possible – I was only exploring options and providing myself with a greater understanding of personal finance.
Bring in December 11th. I was working in my garage. I had bent down to pick something up and when I rose up everything began to spin. I figured I had better get into the house to lie down. I made it to the couch and I focused my line of vision on the television set up on the wall. It was horrible – the TV kept moving quickly back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. On top of the balance issue there was noise – noise that accompanied the movement and it sounded like a ‘whop, whop’ of a helicopter blade.
For a solid week I was horribly miserable and didn’t know what to think. Something was physically wrong with my inner ear balance and for that week I just did not want to live any longer. If life meant laying around all day and not even being able to move my head, then take me away. The following Monday I thought I would try to drive into work. I couldn’t get outside of my own subdivision as driving was just too dangerous. I admit here to the reader that I was afraid; afraid of living like this the rest of my life.
Ever so slowly, the symptom of dizziness began to recede. It took a very long time, but over the course of perhaps a full year it was slowly replaced with a feeling of things “just not feeling right”. I don’t know how to explain this part but it was as if things were in slow motion, like my brain was almost a second behind on everything that was going on around me. It was making it hard to concentrate. In early February I went to see a hearing and inner ear specialist. As the spinning was receding, it was being replaced with a constant noise in my left ear. It sounds almost like those noises you listen to when you’re taking a hearing test. It would be the one that is faint, yet detectable and at the upper end of the tones, so a very light and very high tone constantly. The doctor told me that I probably had some minor damage to the inner ear and that I definitely had some hearing loss on the left side. The tone I’m hearing he said was not a true sound but something the brain causes you to think is there and it’s brought on by the weak side of the ear working harder to compensate for the loss. He also said that the dizziness is linked to the damage. He explained that essentially my brain is re-learning, re-teaching itself to sync up both sides of my inner ear and outer ear messages. He said it would take time but ultimately he thought the dizziness would go away.
Fast forward – 2012 was a rough year, but it definitely got better as it progressed. I finally took an airline flight in early July to visit my sons in Phoenix and that went well. By this time I was feeling like I was on the road to recovery. The ‘delay of time’ symptom, (is what I call it), finally went away completely, (I think), by the beginning of 2013. The ringing in the ear is there and is constant though I notice it only when there is silence.
There certainly are much worse physical and mental traumatic experiences that I could experience. But life should not be a game of comparing ourselves to each other. There is no contest and no prize for ‘worst experience’, nor should there be. In my life, I pride myself on stepping back and trying to learn from each of my experiences. Where is the silver lining for this story? This episode in my life gave me time to reflect upon my next chapter of life, my next long term plan. A couple of years ago I had shared with my kids that I was happy because I had felt I had achieved my life’s goal of providing options for my children – I have.
This episode in my life though has caused me to think about the next 20 years. Should I continue to escape death by school bus, (which will one day be another blog story), what do I want to do now? “Love” – simple as that. I want to give and get as much love as I can. I want to focus on my relationships; my children, my wife and my friends. I am going to be transparent. I am going to say, (or write), what I am thinking. And I will be only nice – I will not be intentionally mean to anyone. I’ve always considered myself a lover, not a fighter anyway, but I know I can take more initiative towards finding ways to enhance my relationships. My wife and I are a great team in this area. She has a personality that people tend to gravitate towards. On my side, I have been making sure either she or I are flying in to see our boys on a regular frequency. I’ve also been trying to focus on a few key friendships – either visiting or helping.
The modification I made in 2013 was to be the ‘organizer’ of several outings amongst various members of a small local friendship network Kim & I have (she claims they’re her friends and I’m just along for the ride). As a group we attended 3 outdoor comedy shows, we took in a couple of concerts, there was a golf trip in Oregon, we went rafting and the past Sunday of this writing I managed to get 7 couples together for a fun golf outing with dinner to cap off the summer.
2012 caused me to realize that there is still much more music to enjoy. For the moment the music is sweet but I don’t know how long the record will keep playing. There are no skips or static and the sound is very fluid. I have people in the room who, like me, are listening attentively, smiling and enjoying the music with me. When will the needle hit the last track and begin that quick descent to the center of the album where there is only silence? My only fear is that it will come before I get to enjoy the last chorus.
(and in case you’re really wondering – yes, I passed the test…it was a high price to pay, but I created another option)
- Eric Carmen – 1970′s Pop Singer or Hell of a Teacher? (growinguponprytania.wordpress.com)