Five years ago my sister needed a kidney. I had two. So I gave her one of mine. Simple, right? Not exactly. While I'd love to recount a tale of unhesitant valor, the truth is not that straight-forward. I was initially terrified by the choice I faced. Should I place myself (and people who depend on me) at risk through invasive surgery? Could I bear to see my sister suffer on dialysis? What if something goes wrong? What will people think of me if I say no? What will my family think of me if I say yes? I agonized over the situation internally for weeks before publicly committing to going through with it. It was the best decision I ever made.
The surgery wasn't straight-forward for me, but it all worked out. After four weeks of prolonged recovery, I felt normal again. My sister began to thrive almost immediately and, in the years since, gave birth to two beautiful girls. The time I spent in and out of the ER during my recovery period was difficult. I often felt weak, defeated, discouraged and depressed. Eventually, my health returned and with it came a renewed sense of gratitude and focus.
I realized that, as kids, my sister and I both had an equal chance of developing kidney disease. Ultimately, I didn't and she did. I simply lucked out. Prior to this experience, I had taken my health for granted. My sister, however, knew the value of health. She graciously dealt with her kidney problems for years prior and never complained. She was (and is) the epitome of a fighting spirit. I am confident I would not have fared so well in her shoes.
So, first and foremost, I'm grateful that I was (and am) generally healthy. I'm keenly aware that people deal with limiting health problems (inherited or otherwise) every day. I truly admire those who persevere despite the limitations their health imposes on them.
I re-commit, daily, to being thankful for the health I enjoy and the advantage it gives me in life. I will not take it for granted again. I do my best to support others at work who are facing health difficulties personally or within their family.
Second, I gained perspective. Life and work bring their share of challenges, drama and let-downs. However, most of the 'problems' I had dealt with prior to the surgery just dissolved away as the experience unfolded. In reality, nothing matters more than the people we care about and the collective health and well-being of our friends and family. A few trips to an ER and the sight of a loved one in a hospital can remind you of that pretty quickly.
The renewed perspective I found caused me to think differently about how I spent my time and what kind of person I wanted to become. I wanted my life to be less about "stuff" and more about "experiences". In work I sought out opportunities to help others, to create, and to improve things I thought could be better. I didn't always succeed, but my focus and intentions were more refined than before.
Third, I learned how ironically wonderful it felt to be generous. You see, we think of 'generous' people as those who give selflessly to others and go above and beyond to help a friend in need. Although donating a kidney is thought of as a selfless act, I'm not afraid to admit that I received tremendous joy from the experience. I'm proud of what I did. However else I fail in life I know that one act made a positive difference for someone I care about, and her growing family. Nothing can change that.
Today, I try to find ways at work to be generous too - with advice, support and guidance to others. As I begin a new chapter in my career I'm looking forward to helping and supporting as many people as I can. I'm more energized than ever about my career, and more grateful than ever for the health I enjoy as my journey continues.