Getting on with it

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on May 16, 2016

A recent piece in the Sunday New York Times on the topic of reinventing yourself as you age ended with a recommendation. Whatever new adventure you embark upon – learning Italian, say, or opening a chicken franchise -- get a coach. A coach both speeds up the learning curve and keeps you on track. You don’t want to disappoint your coach so you tend to do your homework. I find that it’s the same thing with physical therapy. You don’t want disappoint your PT by not making progress. In essence, you start working for him or her, not the other way around.

There are coaches for Italian and there are coaches for life. You’ve heard of them. Frankly, I never quite understood what a “life coach” did or why anyone would need one. Then I met one, a good one, and it turned my head around on the subject. Her name is Laurie Gerber and a few weeks back she spoke to a group of writers with disabilities about how to go about designing your life to achieve maximum results. (In that crowd, it meant sitting down at the computer and starting to write a script.) I was suspicious at first – “Is this some kind of calorie-light self-help bunk?” --, but by the end of the session, I was won over. Coaches are valuable, even ones who teach “life.”

Let me back up a second. As I’ve mentioned in columns past, there is an enormous amount of evidence that indicates that finding a purpose in life (shorthand: PIL) can be highly beneficial to your state of mind, sure, but also to your state of health. This is not that guilty voice in your head saying, “Get off your duff and do something with your life!” That usually means a job, which in most cases is not health-enhancing.

As Dr. Adam Kaplin, a psychiatrist and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine puts it, “finding a “psychological construct to derive meaning from life’s experiences” is “neuroprotective.” It can protect the brain from the biochemical processes that contribute to Alzheimer’s, cognitive impairment, and depression. There is even evidence that people with a high PIL are less susceptible to heart attack and stroke, up to 50% less so.

The point being– this is not some Calvinist dictate you have to follow to please others. This is a gift to yourself. Find that core purpose and treat yourself to both personal satisfaction and better physical health. A winning combo.

Now back to life-coaching. Laurie began by asking people to write down a dream, meaning something they’d like to see manifest in their life in, say, a year’s time. I’d call it a goal or ambition, but I’m not a coach. Laurie even suggested the way to write it down – say it in the present tense, like it was happening right now, make sure it elicits an emotional response, and make it real, not “I’m getting married to Julianna Margulies.” I said, for instance, “In a year my first book of fiction is published.” Why aren’t I doing that instead of sitting in a room dreaming I’m doing that? This is where I think Laurie’s counsel can prove most valuable.

As she’s kindly allowed me to delineate in part, she has developed a special language to identify those attitudes that block our dreams. I’ll only mention a few. One is seeing yourself as a “passive passenger” on your own train. I guess you’re hoping that the train pulls into the right station, you get off and voila!, there’s your path staring you in face.

Another road block is what she calls “the genetic argument,” i.e., “I simply don’t have the God-given talent or smarts or whatever to do that.” I hear my own children fall back on this defeatist stance, not mention myself on more than one occasion. One more: “I don’t care anymore.” “Yeah, sure, I wanted to get a college degree, but you know what – I let it go. Too much hassle. I want to enjoy my life right now.”

There is much more to Laurie’s approach, but you get the idea. Rather than bemoaning your fate – something all of us in wheelchairs can do with ease – or employing delay mechanisms like making sure the dishes are done before sitting down to design that web site, there are ways of thinking, or maybe un-thinking, that can speed up the process of getting on with it. If you feel like you need guidance or reassurance, maybe find a coach. Or, hey, maybe becoming a coach! There’s a PIL right there!

Remember, we’re not talking about pleasing your parents or impressing your friends here. We’re talking about your life. Make a plan. It’s good for your health.

(To learn more about Laurie Gerber and her work, go to

© 2016 Allen Rucker|

Purchase Allen's book:

The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.