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Life 101: When only one thing matters




Pop quiz: What’s the great equalizer in life? What’s the one thing that puts all of us on a level playing field?

I’ll give you a hint. It doesn’t make a fashion statement. That’s because it often comes adorned in that blue-checkered hospital gown. In an instant, a Fortune 100 CEO can be sitting right next to the mailroom clerk, waiting to get a CT scan or an MRI.

Three things came across my radar in this vein last week, making me reflect on why we often need a major external event to make the changes we know we need to make in our lives.

The first comment was from one of my friends who was diagnosed with cancer and began making wide-sweeping changes in her life.

“I’m playing the ‘C’ card,” she said. It’s as if the diagnosis gave her “permission” to change. As humans, we’re resistant to change, and it often takes an external event to prod us.

Another friend shared how she copes with an autoimmune disease, equating the illness to one of a number of cards in her hand.

“So, I’ve got this card that says ‘disease.’ And I decide not to play it,” she said. “It’s that card that motivates me to play other cards though. I involve myself in activities. When pain arises, I work it out, lessening the inflammation. I hardly give the pain attention because I don’t want it to grow. It gets voted down when it comes to decisions like sitting at home and nursing my hurt or enjoying the day. Whenever I’ve done my soul wrong by concentrating on my weaknesses, they’ve become monsters in my life.”

And finally, I came across this gut-wrenching post from author James Altucher. It’s about a text he received from an estranged friend.

“You around later?” he asked his friend.


Altucher mentioned he had been holding a grudge. “We used to hang out five days a week, until I stopped talking to him for 18 years,” he said.

Then the rest of the text popped up. “Oh, I forgot. You don’t even know. I have terminal stage IV cancer.”

Altucher’s friend went on to say that he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer seven years ago and despite removing it, the disease spread to the rest of his body. He was put on a clinical trial, one that people often develop resistance to by 18 months.

“Then it’s a death sentence,” the friend said. “I’m at 24 months.”

Altucher relayed in his post that he didn’t know what to say and felt badly about holding that grudge. So, he replied, “What’s up?”

“I’m happier now than ever,” his friend said. “I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. One thing I realized … relationships are the only important thing in the world. Be with the people you like. Don’t be around people you don’t like. At any moment in the day I’m exactly where I want to be and with whom I want to be. Because of this, I’m always happy. I know that every day I will be doing the things I want to do.

“What else is there for me to worry about? I don’t care about potential accomplishments or anything artificial,” he added. “Relationships are important. Time is important. And my happiness is 100 percent a choice.”

It’s your choice, too.

Linda Arnold is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and founder of a multistate marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at or visit for information on her books.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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