What Kidney Failure Taught Me About Success

Can a serious health problem change your perspective on life and success?

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Can a serious health problem change your perspective on life and success?


What Kidney Failure Taught Me About Success

Can a serious health problem change your perspective on life and success?

Share this article

Ah, success! What everyone wants. But what is it? Everyone’s idea of success is personal and different at least at a superficial level. Success for some means being wealthy, for others it means reaching the pinnacle of the corporate ladder.

Others regard success as finding a truly worthwhile vocation. I could go on, The different definitions and metrics of success are infinite.

However, I suggest that if you probe beneath the surface you will find that, in truth, everyone has the same essential desire - the desire be satisfied and fulfilled regardless of materialistic externalities.

To realize the goal of being in a state of satisfaction, the individual must allow him or herself to be deeply affected by the ups and downs of life and learn the lessons that arise from doing this. Especially the lessons that can be derived from adversity and even catastrophe.

Five years ago I was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Prior to that I had enjoyed a long and successful career coaching corporate executives to become better leaders of people.

I used to enjoy working in different continents and cities and found my work very satisfying. But suddenly I could no longer travel or build a book of business due to my kidney problems.

Shocking news, like being told you have CKD, can feel like the ultimate failure, the opposite of success. In my case, my body had failed and therefore I had failed. I was terrified of losing my career, my very way of life and, most importantly, the love of my life Karin.


When your body fails, it can feel like your own fault

Yet I was able to turn this negative into a positive. This made me more successful in the deepest and most enduring sense. I measured this increase in success as an improvement in my state of being rather than a state of ‘having.’

Here are some of the things I learned about success from my kidney disease.

Don’t try to force it

There is a natural timing to all things. Timing is everything. Trust that nine times out of ten you will get what you want even if it’s often later rather than sooner!

I remember coaching a senior executive at a global tech company. He was very ambitious and wanted to be the future CEO. However, he had alienated his colleagues with his forceful and even bullying style.

When he let go of trying to dominate proceedings he was surprised to find that people began to like him and, instead of distancing themselves, sought him out to lead them. Losing my kidneys caused me to take a massive ‘time out’ and when I began to return I was way less ‘pushy’ about getting ahead and acquiring success.

There is power and magic in allowing things to unfold

Who would have guessed that I would achieve a long-standing goal of writing a book as a result of my kidney failure? Life doesn’t have to be an endless struggle.

Have you ever noticed how success often comes easily to those who are most laid back, kind and considerate? I have a friend who is one of the most successful businessmen in the UK. He is on the board of many companies and has achieved all the corporate and financial success you could wish for.

However, he is the same easy going guy that he was when I first knew him thirty five years ago. He is, and always has been, a gentle man and I’m sure that is why he has become so successful in business. People love him andI’m sure he would say that his definition of success is giving more than he receives and experiencing love from his friends and family.

Again, this is about an experience of satisfaction and fulfillment aside from achieving corporate and financial success.

Loss has its advantages too

Letting go leads to having a much higher degree of Emotional Intelligence. You often find characteristics such as lightness, kindness, concern for others more than self, in people who have suffered serious loss.

This can, in turn, lead to the experience of being appreciated, respected, even loved. Is not this state one that is universally desired? And does this not represent the essence of true success in life?

My success teacher was my kidney failure but for you, it could be any major health issue. Or indeed it could be a life-changing event such as getting divorced or fired from your job. These times in our lives force or catalyze us to move along new paths and try different projects.


Life is full of setbacks, including getting fired

If you analyze the various episodes and chapters in your life you’ll find that a new way forward is often magically revealed by the catastrophe, the pain, the adversity.

Kidney failure made me more humble, vulnerable and not so sure of myself. In a funny kind of way this helped me to let go of my ego driven attempts to impress, shape and control people and events. What a relief! In fact, humility and vulnerability are strengths.

Who wants to be around a tense, uptight, stressed out person? The opposite is also true: people are attracted to and love to be around those who are relaxed, open and accessible.

The power of community

In order for the hospital to proceed with my transplant operation I had to guarantee that we could afford the aftercare.

Medicare and Medical in the USA paid for all the medical expenses up to the end of the operation. So we set a goal of $65, to cover all the costs of our aftercare. We achieved $75,000 with about 150 individual contributors.

This episode illustrated how if you’re willing to reach out and ask for help people will step up to the plate. Success cannot be achieved on one’s own.

So, going back to my initial premise, I can certainly say that I am more successful than I used to be because of how I feel and think about myself and my life. Success for me is realizing the inner life that I have always wanted.

That is an experience of myself that I’m happy with and in which I feel authentic and ‘realized’ as a human being. And this experience tends to translate into external success.

More important for me than having lots of money or fame (even though those things would be nice to have!) is the quality of my relationships, giving and receiving love and being part of a community.

Success is not so much about what you ‘get’ in life. It’s about being satisfied with your life.

Gotta Kidney?! A Journey Through Fear to Hope and Beyond by Michael Banks is out now, available from Amazon and on Kindle. See www.gottakidney.com.

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What Kidney Failure Taught Me About Success

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