Searching for a 'Better Way' to Add Value in Life With Multiple Sclerosis


At work, have you ever asked why something is the way it is and you’re told:

“I don’t know…that’s just how it’s always been done.”

Even just typing that, I start to break into a cold sweat.

I never want to do something because that’s the way it’s always been done. It’s not that I want to be contrarian; rather, for me, it is more important to understand the why.

The last place I worked was a large Fortune 500 company. The scope and size of their business was a big reason I wanted to work there. I didn’t want to make a lifelong career in Corporate Tax so I was attracted to the potential career opportunities it had to offer. Sure enough, within a few years I was fortunate to move into Finance and then a couple years later, Product Management.

Within each new role though, I was met with many that’s just how it’s always been done responses.

And each time I took that as a challenge. I’d wonder:

Why?

And is there a better way?

Sometimes, there actually was a valid reason why but for others, I aimed to design a new or more efficient path. Ultimately, I didn’t want to just go through
the motions of what had been done repeatedly for months, or even years, before
me. I wanted to make a difference, add value.

Add value. That may sound silly. I wasn’t a doctor, teacher or firefighter. I didn’t run into burning buildings to save lives; most of my days were spent in the cozy confines of a climate-controlled office studying financials or evaluating a marketing strategy.

But I believed in the company’s mission and wanted to provide my best effort, no matter how small the task.

I aspired to leave my mark.

In my view, if I was going to be spending countless hours away from my family, I might as well do it right and make it awesome. Otherwise, what’s the point?

In 2011, my life took a major detour when I medically retired and left the professional workforce.

It’s been seven years and I’m still trying to find my footing on this new path. One thing has become abundantly clear though, adding value and making a difference is hard to do when you have multiple sclerosis.

Sometimes, it seems like my new career is filling out medical forms, scheduling doctor appointments, taking medical tests and coordinating with insurance companies. And that’s while coping with the laundry list of physical, mental and
emotional symptoms that arise with MS. The cycle feels endless.

This is never how I envisioned my future.

How do I continue to feel like I’m adding value?

When I was at work, I strived to exceed expectations – adding that extra value – so it’s difficult making peace with not being the All-Star Husband and Father that I want to be.

Unlike with my office job, I haven’t been able to automate or reengineer my MS.

But still, I view it as another challenge.

Why?

In 2008, I was diagnosed with MS. The attending neurologist at The Mayo Clinic
told me then that what they don’t know about MS far outweighs what they do know. It’s been 10 years and sadly, this still rings true.

How did I get MS? How long have I had it? What does my future hold? There are no definite answers.

Is there a better way?

Living with MS, I’ve had to look for silver linings.

Lack of energy, brain fog, foot drop, shooting pains, etc. don’t mix well with being an engaged father of two very active children. But neither do late nights at the office or business trips away from home.

It’s a blessing to be around more, helping with their math homework, telling stories of my youth…and of course Dad jokes, all while hopefully forming a richer bond that might not have been possible otherwise.

If it wasn’t for MS, I would have never started baking and all the joy that has accompanied it. My wife and kiddos get excited each year requesting their homemade “Daddy” birthday cakes. During Thanksgiving we started a new tradition called Pie-a-palooza where I bake a variety of pies and everyone votes on their favorite.

At Christmas, I’ve been able to replicate some of my grandma’s old cookie recipes. Overall, through baking I’ve created many treasured memories, including when I made my Mom’s favorite, Black Forest cake.

To challenge my mind, I started doing jigsaw puzzles – filling the vacuum left by not working – and quickly became hooked. Picturesque views, Vincent Van Gogh landscapes, DaVinci’s The Last Supper, U.S. Presidents, favorite football stadiums and even a puzzle of delicious donuts. I’ve completed dozens and several special ones are framed and decorate our house.

I also would have never began writing if I wasn’t diagnosed with MS.

When I learned I had MS, I was terrified of having the same diagnosis conversation with friends and family about the who, what, where, when and why of MS.

Instead, I decided to write about my diagnosis and was pleasantly surprised to discover the passion I had for storytelling. That’s how it started. From there it has blossomed into a new chapter of my life and a new challenge that I embrace – increasing awareness and understanding of MS, one word at a time…

This new road is not easy. With MS, I never know what each new day will bring or what my future might hold. But I’ll keep searching for that better way and hope that I’m continuing to add value on my life less traveled.

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash


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