I’m going to start this blog off on a bit of a sad note, but please stay with me until the end. I think it will all become clear.
Recently my aunt passed away. This was my dad’s sister. I remember growing up and spending an entire day at her house in Worth, IL, on the weekends playing cards. Yes, before video games, smartphones, and tablets, families actually spent time playing cards and board games. I remember being around 10 years old and playing poker for pennies, Rummy Royal, Pinnochol, Group Solitaire we called Heck (because the name of the game was Hell, and we weren’t allowed to say that word).
My uncle's job took them to Iowa City around 1975, but that didn’t stop me from visiting. My mom and dad would pile us into the van for the 3.5 hour drive. We would spend weekends there, playing poker, Euchre, and family games for hours on end. All amazing memories to cherish for a lifetime.
About 10 years ago, my uncle passed away and my aunt lived there alone. For the most part, it was good; she had her group of friends that she would hang with, and they took care of each other. We would still go out there every January to celebrate Christmas with everyone, and play games and cards at all hours. Throughout her later years, she battled diabetes and, about 8 years ago, lost the toes on her left foot, but she persevered. About 2 months ago, she developed sores on her right foot. They were on the pressure points where she walked, so it was hard to get around.
After trying several doctors, medicines, and treatments, nothing was working, so they decided to put her in the hospital for a more intense treatment. She was 85 years old and had become a bit cantankerous to say the least. She did not want to be in the hospital, so nothing was good enough for her, the nurses weren’t helping her the right way, etc. About a day later, she saw a specialist. After reviewing everything and doing some testing, he tells her and my cousin that he believes the only way to save the foot is to perform surgery on the veins in the foot to open up the blood flow, thus allowing the wounds to heal. If that doesn’t work, they would more than likely have to amputate the foot.
This comment did not sit well with my aunt. As a matter of fact, she told my cousin, “If they have to amputate I’m done, I don’t want to live like that.” My cousin replied, “Don’t worry mom, we’ll figure it out. Let’s just get through the surgery first.” So a couple of days later, she goes through the surgery and the doctor is able to open the blood flow in 2 of the 3 veins and feels that the surgery was a success.
A day later, they talked about getting her into a rehab facility. Also, that same day, the wound nurse came in to look at the sores on her foot. Now it was only my aunt and the wound nurse in the room at the time. We think the nurse said, ”That doesn’t look too bad.” My aunt heard, ”This looks bad.” When my cousin came in, my aunt told her what the nurse said. My cousin said, “Mom, it’s looking better. Are you sure she didn’t say it doesn’t look too bad?” My very agitated aunt said, “I know what I heard, no one believes me, the next time I’ll record it.”
That was July 15th. By July 20th, my aunt had died of natural causes. Based on what she thought she heard, she decided she was done and it didn’t matter what any of the nurses or doctors told her; she had made up her mind that she was done and she willed herself to die.
The Will To Live
This hit me really hard; how could someone will themselves to die? I did some research and according to a U.S. News article called “Yes, People can die from giving up on life,” it’s called Psychogenic Death. Yes, it’s a real thing. According to the article, It isn’t suicide or linked to depression, but the act of giving up on life and dying usually within days is a very real condition.
Here is the real kicker, once they’ve made up their minds, nothing can make them want to live.
Then I started to think about the stories where people willed themselves to live beyond all human possibilities. The will to live or 'Wille zum Leben' is a concept developed by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Will being an irrational "blind incessant impulse without knowledge" that drives instinctive behaviors, causing an endless insatiable striving in human existence, which nature could not exist without.
In psychology, the will to live is the drive for self-preservation, usually coupled with expectations for future improvement in one's state in life. The will to live is an important concept when attempting to understand and comprehend why we do what we do in order to stay alive, and for as long as we can. This can be related to either one's push for survival on the brink of death, or someone who is just trying to find a meaning to continuing their life.
The Will To Succeed
This bizarre event led me to wonder about what drives success in a business or peoples’ will to succeed. Let’s face it, if you have a business (whether just starting out or you are several years in), I think we can all say it’s a journey with highs and lows. How we deal with the journey is the task at hand.
Having a strong will to succeed can enable you to endure and survive the rougher parts of that journey, which in turn allows you to enjoy the better part a little more because you know what you had to do to get there. I have had multiple business ideas over the years. Some good, some not so good. That’s the fun part of being entrepreneurial.
But I have to tell you that I really struggle with people that listen to an idea, and, instead of asking questions or adding thoughts to the idea, they immediately say, “That will never work.” When I hear these words, I think of people like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates. They were successful because they never let anyone tell them that their idea would never work. Just like many of us, they had some good ideas and some not so good ideas. But in either case, they had the will to be successful.
They had an idea that became a vision that became legendary. Not all of us are going to have a Disney, Apple, or Microsoft, but we can all be successful if we want it badly enough. You just have to will yourself to succeed. When things get tough, don’t give up or walk away. If you believe in the idea that led to your business, find a way to make it work. It may not be exactly as you envisioned, but nothing in life ever is; you just need to be open minded to where the journey takes you.
I am reminded of Fred Smith the founder of Fedex who wrote a term paper in 1965 as an undergraduate at Yale describing how companies could deliver items faster if they changed their shipping strategies. Smith Professor didn’t think the idea was possible and gave him a C on the paper. In 1971, Smith bought controlling interest in Arkansas Aviation Sales. By the end of 1972, he raised $80 million in loans and investments. He began operation in April of 1973, and the company started to grow, but rising fuel costs caught up to the young company, putting FedEx millions of dollars in debt.
Smith was on a trip to raise more money and decided to stop in Las Vegas on his way back home. He took the company's last $5,000, played Black Jack and won $27,000 so he could pay his fuel bill. It was the will to succeed that led to additional investments that allowed FedEx to become the giant it is today.
Now, I am not advocating going to Vegas and betting your company’s money in hopes of hitting it big. What I am saying is that if you believe in something enough, you will find a way to succeed. This is called willpower.
Do you have the will to succeed? I believe that if you do, the future is yours to command.
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