If a mixture of talent, hard work, and persistence in fighting with internal struggles while growing as a person pertain to your reading taste, then Michael J Fox could easily be your role model of choice.
Most people probably recognize him out of his numerous roles in both television and cinema – As Marty McCfly in Back to the Future, or Alex P Keaton in family ties. Younger generations though probably watched him in Spin City, a marvelous situation comedy following the life of Michael Flaherty, a young and ambitious deputy Mayor. We’ve seen him in the political arena for a while, lots of interviews, magazine covers, commercials…
His career, his professional life, looks like a kaleidoscope run wild – challenging projects, opportunity to work with a range of interesting people, lot of success. In what seems a happy-go-lucky approach, he had his mixture of luck, opportunity, getting the right type of roles, but also a great deal of talent, hard work, and both curiosity and passion to explore the limits of it.
Yet for all this, it is the other part of his life many people associate him with – perseverance in what started as a campaign but transformed into advocacy and ever growing support for people fighting Parkinson’s; a face of hope and role model when it comes to overcoming adversity; as well as a society figure that, through his way of life, instills high values to those who would care enough to observe, listen, or read what he has to say.
Refusing to quit
His early career alone is an example of how betting the farm on your passion eventually pays off. For it was precisely through taking the non-linear approach that he made opportunity find him. Fast forward three or so decades, and you have the once high school dropout now among TIME’s 100 people “whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world”.
On March 5, 2010, Fox received an honorary doctorate in medicine from Karolinska Institute for his contributions to research in Parkinson’s disease. He has also received an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of British Columbia. In the significance of background to achievement though, his success plays havoc with thinking conservatively. By and large, without any background in education or politics, he entered arenas way over his head at the time, contributing with achievements equally surprising.
Whatever else might be said, his involvement into politics and advocacy punches a jagged hole in the belief that we are what we do for a living. Through his contribution, he made such assumptions to go up in smoke over and over.
Reading his memoirs, one will get the feeling it is all due to his resolve to continue while refusing to quit. This same pattern of thought reflects both in his career as well as personal life – Which is why his books tend to tilt towards the motivational side. In this grand sense, he was given the honor to be among the faces of the opening ceremony at the winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Continuing in this direction with some trivia, he is a proud Canadian, and has both Canadian and American citizenship. Having the occasion to mention the Olympic Games though, it is also interesting to know that he is quite skilled in hockey.
When Lucky Man: A Memoir; came out it very quickly made the bestseller lists. And it is easy to see why. For it is not the book that captivated readers, but rather the stories of one part of his life that he finally felt ready to share.
At the peak of his career he was faced with a challenge of an entirely new kind. Though, at the time, as Fox himself said, he never felt it is a challenge but rather a nightmarish projection. Regardless the spin he tried to put, the scene seemed quite stark. Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease made him cave in and search for peace of mine elsewhere. Finding comfort in alcohol for a while, it became clear that loss of purpose, and not stark circumstances, were responsible for the loss of heart.
When he finally decided to confront his situation, he tried to reevaluate his life by searching for purpose again. What was the focus of his entire adult life and his biggest passion, he was now ready to let go.
Later in his second memoir – Always looking up – he takes us back to his retrieval from acting, describing a family vacation where he felt in tune with what was now his new and even more important purpose.
The purpose that you wish to find in life, like a cure you seek, is not going to fall from the sky. …I believe purpose is something for which one is responsible; it’s not just divinely assigned.
And purpose, he believes, can be pursued no matter the circumstances. Much the same is increasingly true whether you are rich or poor, in good health or not. By extension, purpose can be strengthened, rediscovered.
Ironic that in order to do my life’s work, I had to quit my day job.
Curiosity, not some crescendo of regret, made him overlook what seemed important then, and go look for a new, more profound purpose.
Always looking up
Lucky man was a memoir that will, in all likelihood, serve as a sympathetic guide whenever one is confronted with adversity, for generations ahead. The second book though, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, is something different in substance. “Lucky man” is preserving chronology, whereas “Always Looking Up” is more of a collection of essays dealing with Michael’s own views of four distinct areas of his life- politics, work, family, faith- through which he touches important questions you might have asked, at one point or another, for your own life.
What additionally delights, apart from the stories and anecdotes from his colorful lifestyle, is the way in which they are written. He is surprisingly articulate, and just the style of writing alone will captivate you and then some.
His stories though, all share a very similar tone. They all pertain to hope, gratitude, optimism and never nostalgia.
If you were to rush into this room right now and announce that you had struck a deal – with God, Allah, Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Bill Gates, whomever – in which the ten years since my diagnosis could be magically taken away, traded in for ten more years as the person I was before – I would, without a moment’s hesitation, tell you to take a hike
The narrative through these books as a whole and even unrelated and seemingly naïve stories, all hint towards being content with what you have now as opposed to obsessing over something that might have, should have, or would have been.
Any present we live in today, is better than all the scenarios for how life might have turned out. And while this comes at odds with how most people operate, it helps ignite some lateral thinking.
When life takes away, something of greater value is always given in return.
Catastrophe offers the most promise for an even richer life
Mentioning part of his thoughts on these moral topics, it becomes hard to return back to discussing roles and career moves smart or otherwise. For majority of people, once they hear Michael J Fox, they easily set their minds’ eye to see either this actor with a great career, or activist who has made such an impact. It’s no wonder people are almost always pleasantly surprised by his books.
To continue with the topic from the books, after the initial acceptance, Michael rarely does stretch his fabric of concern. We are, according to him, what we decide to do with the circumstances we’ve been dealt with. Our actions define us, not our circumstances.
By extension, as happens increasingly, the disease helped him transform towards being a better person. Paraphrasing his words, he is now a more attentive father, a better husband, far more focused on his work when the stakes are high. And they almost always are. For fighting for a cause, helping people and motivating them, requires constant drive, passion, one set example after another.
It may seem hard to believe, but it’s catastrophe that offers the most promise for an even richer life. This is the gateway to the good stuff. In other words, you never truly know which way the wind is blowing until the shit hits the fan.
And it is through his wit, and such unexpected style, that he makes you pause and reflect back, or moreover reflect into what is happening now.
Doing what he knows best
But what is now a positive attitude has been shaped through getting to know many people from different walks of life. Influencing him, some more than others, to continue doing great things.
One meeting in particular gave him foretaste of how his life is going to be, and it was like nothing he previously pictured in regard to his condition. This happened in France, when he met with Lance Armstrong, who despite circumstances decided to show up day in and day out and still come up with larger-than-life goals.
The disease, instead of breaking him, gave him additional reason to be stronger. Having witnessed this, from there on, nothing gravitated around his condition. It was just something that had to fit in into his day, his routine.
After all that I’d been through, after all that I’d learned and all that I’d been given, I was going to do what I had been doing every day for the last few years now: just show up and do the best that I could do with whatever lay in front of me.
Dreaming big but living in the moment
No matter what is going on, Michael is a person that wants to dream, to plan his next step, his next project. Have something to set his alarm clock to in the morning. Currently he is staring in his new show “The Michael J Fox show” where he plays the role of a news anchor living with Parkinson’s.
When prescribing one of the drugs I take, my doctor warned me of a common side effect: exaggerated, intensely vivid dreams. To be honest, I’ve never really noticed the difference. I’ve always dreamt big.
The intent behind the show is to familiarize people with how individuals and families cope with this condition, by trying to portray his own personal and professional challenges. It is all done in good humor, which speaks volumes about how he decides to approach life with all its challenges.
When you read any of his books, you will come to understand his notion of happiness. And while he often says that his life isn’t perfect by any stretch, it is acceptance that allows happiness to sink in.
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.
Living in the present moment, the line between what is ideal and what is already here will start to progressively blur. Events occur that might cause significant unknowns in their wake, but narrowing our focus on the now allow us to be happy regardless.
Personally, I didn’t take a single photograph while I was there, but that’s not all that unusual for me. I suppose my aversion to snapping pictures may have something to do with shaky hands and blurry results, but there’s another reason: The act of lifting up the camera and positioning it between me and the object of my interest separates me from the experience. ~ Michael J. Fox, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned
How important is family
Family is not an important thing, it’s everything
The moment you start reading about what he has to say about family life, and there is a whole chapter of it in Always Looking Up, you are experiencing this staccato sequence of family principles and values being suddenly realized.
We routinely underestimate what a family stands for and, having someone delve deep enough into this substance from what is personal experience and years of introspective, it somehow plays with your perception.
Hanging out with Sam or any two-year-old is basically one big suicide watch. Their mission is to find one new way after another of offing themselves – piss in an electric socket, lick a pit bull’s nose, chase an ice cream truck into traffic – and your job as a parent is to step in before it happens
Honest as it is, this and other examples alike paint you an image of what is like to be a parent in a somewhat literal sense- when something is being portrayed as simple as that, perception changes. Either that or you add more humor to your daily life.
And humor, hand by hand with simplicity, provide for a sanity safe net. He is a family man enjoying anything family related, receiving and offering support, understanding, learning a great deal about himself as he passes lessons to his kids.
Some of the best friends you’ll ever meet in your life, you’ll meet through your children–mothers and fathers of their friends, parents from school. You’ll see. That’s the way it was for Bill and me. It’s one of the many gifts of parenting
Family life, careers, pursuing passions… They are never mutually exclusive, but rather complement one another. And through series of stories about how his goals and family situations overlap, you will be soundly convinced. The premise of an ideal family is just that, a surrounding where everyone can grow in more than one aspect of his true potential. Through series of stories he inspires you to reach for such ideal.
Mentioning his wife Tracy whenever something important comes up, it also shows how crucial it is to have a partner who is there to give support, mutual understanding, unconditional love. Through relationship improvement, there is more self-improvement that one might think.
If you are looking for inspiration when it comes to work ethic or going buck wild over something you feel passionate about, Michael J Fox can easily be your role model of choice. His stories, and somewhat frightening lack of anxiety, might put things into perspective and by off chance make you want to recalibrate aspects of your own life.