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After the fall

I had the second major fall of my life last week.

The first was years ago in Barcelona.  We were in the ancient part of the city.  My favorite part of being a photographer is the composition, and it consumes me in the moment.  Stepping onto some uneven pavement, I went down like a boneless sack of corn meal. One second I was taking pictures, the next I was lying on the ground on top of my camera.

But that experience didn’t trigger any particular kind of reflection or fear.  I just got up and went on about my life.

The second major fall has been different.  I was getting out of the Board Chairman’s car; we were on our way into a company meeting called by the CEO. I either didn’t see the curb (which I have stepped over successfully hundreds of times in the past) or I just didn’t lift my right foot high enough.  Suddenly I was halfway into a face plant onto a muddy sidewalk.  I had the wherewithal to grab a large planter to help break my fall. With bandaged arm and muddy clothes, I proceeded into the meeting and participated in a serious discussion about the company’s strategic pathways forward.

During the meeting, I stayed focused.  Call it reflexive professionalism. It wasn’t until later that I really acknowledged the fall to myself.

In retrospect, my three injuries were:

  1. A bleeding, butterfly-shaped gash in my left forearm (from the planter).
     
    Fortunately, I was immediately treated by a senior colleague who spent three unhappy years in medical school before abandoning it to become who he really wanted to be: a world-class chemist.  My arm was so cleansed, disinfected, and well bandaged that it felt like a holiday ham dressed in gauze.
  2.  

  3. Major bruises to my competence-centric identity, accompanied by a major dose of embarrassment.
     
    Ordinarily, I feel capable and self-assured. And I am.  I think of myself as the CEO of my career and my life.  But that trip and fall in front of a client made me feel like a clumsy fool—certainly not a CEO. Barely an intern.
  4.  

  5. A lingering, several-day level of doubt that I don’t usually experience.
     
    To my shock I eventually realized that the doubt was actually a deep, morbid fear of ageism, aimed at myself.  I already wear hearing aids to help with mild loss.  Now I have fallen.  If more age-related issues start stacking up, will people stop taking me seriously or question my competence? Will I stop worrying whether this is the beginning of an irreversible physical decline? It has taken several days for me to find my center again.

 
I’m a strong, capable guy committed to the quality of this phase of my life.  I’m running four small businesses simultaneously, my new book will be out in 2016, I have a virtual team of brilliant people working for me, I ride my new bicycle up to 30 miles at a time, am a committed board member of an NPR/PBS affiliate, have stimulating friends unwilling to coast at this time in life, and am married to a brilliant woman who challenges me every day on some front.  It’s a wonderful way to live.

I know I shouldn’t let a simple stumble trip me up this way. So why has it shaken me up so profoundly?  I think it’s because ageism – and the fear of it – wasn’t part of my past.  I don’t plan to let it be any part of my future, yet on some level I know it inevitably will be.  This is completely new territory for me.  I’ll have to work with what’s new as it arrives.

The fall was my first opportunity to adjust to the new normal.  I suspect it won’t be the last.

11 responses to “After the fall”

  1. Tracy Lamond says:

    Hi George,
    So sorry to hear about the fall. I wish you a speedy recovery.
    Everyone trips from distraction and uneven pavement. I did it last year moon walking in China. The embarrassing part is that’s it’s taking longer to get back up!
    Thanks for sharing. Your life is inspiring.
    Tracy

  2. Rachelle Pachtman says:

    I came tripped on a step and came crashing down onto my chin while blissed out after lunch on my dream trip to Morocco. I am lucky to still have my teeth. It was humbling but made me realize that while I am busy doing the exciting things I’ve always wanted to do, I just need to be a bit more conscious. Blissing out is fine, just not on the steps!

  3. Mary Laxague says:

    Knowing you, you will rebound. It may take a different turn, but you will figure it out and once again have the control you desire. Trust you have recovered and making the best of your experience.

    Take care,
    Mary

  4. Cheryl says:

    George,
    Your self-assurance is awesome, you carried on with the meeting. It could happen to anyone, so I don’t think you have to worry about ageism. I belong to a professional organization and there are many attendees in their 70s and 80s. They do move a bit slower and perhaps that is the reality to be faced. Personally, I prefer not to be embarrassed. The positive is you will be empathetic to to others.

  5. MBW says:

    … of course it may not be your opportunity to adjust to a new situation, but a situation forced on you to become aware of these issues so that you can help others adjust, both in people getting older and in younger people becoming more tolerant….

  6. David Lubert says:

    Hi George:
    When we were youngsters, we fell all the time and no thought was given or if we did think about it, it was because we were running too fast or simply not paying attention. I am not sure why it would not be any different now!

    Age is relative as I think you have said! As well one could also say that mature adults have more time to reflect on the fall as opposed to when we were youngsters and time for reflection was not in our mindset!

    Just a thought!

  7. Mike Monroe says:

    Hey George,

    Stuff happens…..but look on the bright side. No broken bones / hip / arm etc. No concussion to rattle our brains and your ego will heal in due time. I wear hearing aids too and use them when attending meetings, going to restaurants or meetings so I hopefully won’t miss anything. Glasses, hearing aids etc. may or may not be part of our aging process. Best thing is to just try to integrate it all into the daily log and be thankful each morning you woke up on the right side of the grass

    Mike Monroe

    SF

  8. Rick Searns says:

    Sorry to hear about your fall. Hope you didn’t suffer any serious damage and are recovering quickly.

    I emphasize with your distress about the impact of growing older. It is something I relate to and was previously distressed about it as well. I found that if I accepted the fact that I am getting older which comes with many negatives that I could come up with adjustments to help me deal with the fact that I no longer am “30” years old and physically and mentally am not the person I used to be. By accepting that I can’t change what is taking place I learned that I could understand that I have physical changes which necessitate that I be extra careful to avoid doing things that could hurt me physically and to double check many of this I do that require memory so I can counteract or protect myself from errors made because of the changes in my memory or mental capacity. As a result I can avoid many of the things that have negative or detrimental impacts even though I am not the person I used to be. I suspect professional athletes who don’t recognize when it is time to retire experience the same physical and emotional issues, but as a result of accepting the facts of life and coming up with strategies to make the best of it and protect myself from errors, I don’t suffer from aging as much and enjoy life more.

  9. Judy Chermak says:

    I’m so glad to hear you are on the mend. It would be just like you to carry on with your meeting in a professional manner, let alone with a bleeding arm and with splattered mud. I get it with the incident acting as a reminder of our age. No matter how involved in life I am at this age, I do have to recognize that my life span is shorter than when I was 30, 40 or 50. I can meet it with grace, dignity, and gratitude or with denial. My ego can get in the way of the former if I let it. Thanks for once again sharing so eloquently. Take good care and heal quickly. , I have no doubt that Brown Eyes will help with that 🙂

  10. Jari Searns says:

    Hey George!

    I’m so sorry you had an embarrassing spill and glad to hear you are recovering. Candidly, I think that fall had less to do with your age and more to do with your mind which was undoubtedly actively on several topics simultaneously.

    Yes, we’re not as young as we used to be but so what…we’re here, we’re happy, we’re active and we’re smart enough to learn that when an accident such as you had occurs, you take just a tad more time doing things (like walking up or down stairs) and place just a tad more concentration on the activity rather than on what’s coming next.

    Getting older is really a joy for all the new doors that are opened and all the new adventures to be tried…AND a reminder of the importance of CONCENTRATION regardless of what you are doing!
    And, oh yeah, write things down because being more forgetful is a burden we increasingly have to bear!

    Love ya and look forward to seeing you soon!!!!
    Jari

  11. Barbara Bechelli says:

    Oh, Dear George –

    A rough and tumble fall, and you with the dignity and carriage to proceed on, muddied, bandaged and all the rest. I am proud of you. You took your REAL self into that meeting, others probably thinking “Would I be able to do this with the same composure, not making apologies, no need to explain the obvious?”

    I fell in love with a guy like that in 1977. We had 35 great years together. I loved his honestly, his character, intelligence, great sense of humor, the way he put others first, come muddy clothes or a cast on his wrist. Onward! Our emotions don’t age, but ‘age’ does follow us around like a shadow with little reminders it’s for real, a stumble here, a fall there. Not quite as it was when we were kids, “No broken bones. No active bleeding. Get back in the game!”

    You’re the best, George. Keep fighting that battle and keeping your legions of friends, admirers and fans encouraged.

    Your friend, fan … who happens to admire you, too!
    Barbara

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