At the age of 13, Sean Swarner was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgins Lymphoma, the most advanced form of the disease. He’d twisted his ankle during a baseball game, and now was given just two months to live. Miraculously, he battled back and, 10 months later, went into remission.
But at the age of 16, Swarner was dealt another blow. Tests revealed the presence of Askin Sarcoma, a totally unrelated, but just as deadly form of cancer. This time, the prognosis was just two weeks. Again, Swarner fought back. He survived, but the radiation treatments cost him the function of his right lung.
Having defied the odds, and amazing his physicians, Swarner began contemplating the meaning of his experience. Surely, he though, he was here for some greater purpose. He decided that his story could serve as inspiration for others battling cancer, and he set his sights on capping things off in a big way – he decided to climb Mount Everest.
On May 16th, 2002, Sean Swarner became the first cancer survivor to summit the world’s highest peak. He carried with him a flag bearing the names of fellow survivors as a symbol of hope.
But he didn’t stop there.
Swarner set a new goal. One by one, he climbed each of the 7 Summits, the highest mountains on each continent. Having accomplished that, he traveled to the South Pole in 2015 and, on April 11th of 2017 arrived at the North Pole. He is the first cancer survivor to achieve the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
Researching Swarner’s story leaves me feeling embarrassed. Here’s a man who didn’t let his circumstances hold him back. He set a goal and achieved it. Then he set another one, and another. He fought to achieve his goals despite his past struggles, despite being short a lung, and despite the incredible hardships each challenge represented. Yet, I am all too ready to let some minor difficulty keep me from finishing what I start out to do.
Yet Sean Swarner’s story, and others like it, also inspire me. If people can overcome this degree of difficulty to accomplish great things, then I can as well. Who am I to squander the opportunities that I have been given? Who am I to let minor inconveniences hold me back? On the contrary, I feel a responsibility to reach my full potential. It’s my duty to perform at the highest level possible.
Here, at the beginning of the year, is when millions of people develop resolutions for themselves and professional goals for their teams. Yet, within weeks the vast majority will have allowed something to get in their way. They’ll abandon their resolutions and decide the goals just aren’t worth fighting for. Odds are, you will too.
What a waste.
I have big plans for 2018. I just turned 50, and I want the next year of my life to be the best one yet. But the year has already started. Time is already slipping by. I have to act now in order for my dreams to become reality. I have to take steps today if my goals are to be met. I can’t afford to let anything stand in my way.
Neither can you. What goals do you have for this year? What mountains do you want to climb? Let’s accomplish our goals together. Let’s take the first steps today.