The other day I watched what used to be called a "meter maid" — (what's the PC version these days, parking enforcement associate?)— give a ticket outside Starbucks.
The owner of the ticketed vehicle came running out screaming a stream of obscenities all too easy to imagine if you've ever been the ticketee.
Thing of it is; this happens to the parking enforcement guys all day long. It's part of their job. It's what they do. They deliver bad news. No one invites them in for coffee and a Krispy Kreme. No Christmas envelope for the parking enforcement dude.
Which has got to be pretty deadening to a person's soul. Would you like to have a job in which all you got to do was deliver bad news which people didn't want to hear?
You wouldn't? Well, me neither.
I'm not sure what I told my high school guidance counselor when she asked me what careers interested me, but I'm pretty sure "health police" was not on the list. Yet, it's a job my friends seem to think I want. I go out to dinner and everyone looks at me and says, "Oh boy, I better watch what I order!" Friends ask me all the time about their health conditions. One has heartburn and is taking antacids. A completely healthy woman of 32 has "high" cholesterol of 238 and her doc wants to put her on Lipitor. My closest friend just had a baby and is following her doc's nutritional advice which — surprise — does not include the fish oil supplements I recommended for both of them.
Get my drift?
This is not a fun job.
So I'm resigning.
See here's the deal. Staying healthy in America ain't easy. And telling the truth about what we're doing to ourselves isn't pretty. Yet, fact is, the majority of Americans spend the last five years of their life deep in the medical system with some kind of serious health problem, ranging from being merely medically wounded, to winding up in a nursing home unable to remember the name of that sweet young woman who comes to see them every day. And what we do — right now in this moment — has a huge bearing on how things come out.
Let me give you an example from another field. One that everyone is interested in. And everyone has an opinion on.
Now it's pretty much an established fact that the savings rate in America is under 1 percent. Last quarter 2005 we Americans collectively spent 531 billion more than our after-tax income. And you'd have to be living under a rock to not know that pension plans are going belly-up, no one can retire at 65 anymore, the health care system is completely broken, and social security may be unrecognizable in a couple of decades. You'd also have to be pretty good at living in the town of Denial not to know that those "creative financing 1% mortgages" or "interest only" loans are gonna come due in the not so distant future leaving people who have been using their houses as ATM machines up the proverbial creek.
One day the bill comes due. Whether it's your Mastercard or the federal budget defecit.
Just like with your body.
But how popular are the folks who point this out?
For example, take Ben Stein, a very funny comedian/economist who shows up on Comedy Central from time to time (Win Ben Stein's Money), and has been scolding America for its spending habits for years. Trust me, he's not giving Jon Stewart a run in the ratings.
No one likes a killjoy. You didn't like them when they chaperoned your high school prom and you don't like them when they talk about the dark side of sugar, NutraSweet, antacids, credit card debt, Grandma's cookies, Lipitor, interest-only mortgages, or any other of a million other conveniences, pleasures or band-aid solutions that we cut-and-paste the documents of our lives with, blissfully believing that computer crashes are something that happen to other people. At best people think you’re a nag. At worst, you begin to sound like a deranged conspiracy theorist, drooling spittle and talking in hushed tones about the Warren Commission and the second gunman on the grassy knoll.
Not for me, thanks.
As Holman Jenkins pointed out in the Wall Street Journal the other day, acquiring information is costly. People look for shortcuts. Say there's a bunch of gift boxes, half of them red, half of them blue. You don't know what's in either one of them. They're being given out at random. If someone of high prestige or status or visibility or talent — (even if the talent is only the ability to get their picture in the Enquirer) — starts grabbing for a red one, so will other people, till everyone thinks the red one is the hot one to buy. You're familiar with this phenomenon if you've ever heard the name Paris Hilton. But it exists in the real world too. Why do you think "everybody" knows that cholesterol gives you heart attacks? Or that we "shouldn't" eat egg yolks? Or that grocery store milk is a health food?
We live in an environment where 90,000 commercials annually plus expert advice, drug company propaganda, big food and tobacco ad campaigns and a scazillion other influencers are telling us to eat their foods, take their drugs, play now, worry later. No one wants to be the guy who reminds everyone that the check is coming due. Least of all me.
As I approach the last laps into my sixth decade, and my medicine cabinet remains empty of any pharmaceuticals, and I wake up without an alarm clock, and I can leave most of my friends who are 20 years younger in the dust on a hike in Runyon Canyon, and my bodyfat hovers around 12 percent, and my happiness and joy in life is unabated, and my drives and ambitions and energy are that of a 30 year old, I want to continue to inspire people by example.
Note the term well: Inspire. Not scold and reprimand.
Building optimal health and staying at the top of your game — being as powerful and vital and energetic and disease-free as you can be — isn't easy. Nor is playing big in the world. Nor is making a difference. Nor is building wealth, wisdom, great relationships or anything else worth having. It takes work. It takes a willingness to drill down a little deeper into some of the stuff that "everybody knows" and "everybody does." And — particularly in the case of good health — it takes going against a lot of conventional wisdom, even when that "wisdom" is repeated by doctors, health authorities and television commercials.
And that takes a lot of strength.
No one likes a proseletyzer. But everyone loves an inspiration.
I resign the former and aspire to the latter.
It may not work all the time, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun. And you don't have to scold everyone at the dinner table.