Living with Enthusiasm 
by Mary Marcdante

Chapter 5

Keeping Enthusiasm Alive During Challenging Times

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You have the opportunity to choose enthusiasm every moment of the day. For the past 14 days, you’ve been choosing whether or not to wake up with a 16-second smile. Yesterday, you chose how much good you could stand to give yourself in one day. How did it go? Were you excited or overwhelmed with the possibilities? Did you use any of the techniques throughout the entire day? Which techniques will you use more often? Write a few of your thoughts below.



     Everything you’ve learned so far will help keep your enthusiasm bank account earning interest so that when tough times show up, you have extra energy to draw from. But sometimes 16-second smiles, 30-second laughs, and the “Ohhh Effect” aren’t enough. You need stronger, more powerful and sustaining strategies to meet your needs and keep your enthusiasm alive.

      In our last seven days together, you’ll learn how to get through times of confusion, crisis, and transition. You’ll be introduced to the most meaningful and life-changing principles and techniques I’ve worked with in my 20-plus years of being a teacher and student in the field of personal growth. You’ll meet inspiring people who have overcome tremendous obstacles and hear in their own words how they kept their enthusiasm alive when faced with life-threatening or life-stretching challenges.

     If you’re sailing in calm waters now (which I hope you are), it doesn’t mean you should stop reading. These next seven days are also “preventative.” Start using these techniques now and when a crisis hits, instead of going into fight, flight, or freeze, you’ll stay in flow. You’ll know what to do in difficult situations and how to stay healthy, happy, loving, connected, creative, prosperous, and enthusiastic.

Maintaining Hope in the Midst of Despair

Enthusiasm is not just being a cheerleader or walking around in dazed delight, although that’s a great start. It is also about maintaining hope when you or others are in the midst of darkness and pain. It is remembering that when it’s raining, the sun will shine again and, in the meantime, you might as well sing in the rain, find the silver lining in the clouds, and jump in the puddles. You can always cry later.

       Some people are very good at showing a happy face – no matter what the circumstances – and calling that enthusiasm. That is not my definition. Enthusiasm includes first acknowledging pain and then helping yourself or others mentally shift toward what is good and healing and supportive in the moment.

Yes, There’s Baseball in Heaven

My friend Henry Gardner died in March of 2002. I miss him. He was 88 years old, a widower for his last ten years, father of three children and grandfather of five. He was also an avid tennis player, current events enthusiast, and joke-teller. Eighteen months before his death, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

      At a family dinner a few months before he passed away, he told this joke: “A man prayed to God asking him if there was baseball in heaven. God said, ‘Good news, bad news. The good news is, yes, there's baseball in heaven. The bad news is, you're pitching tomorrow.’” Henry laughed his usual hearty laugh when he finished telling the story. We all laughed along with him. Silently, I realized that in his wonderfully unique and humorous way, Henry was modeling the power of using humor to acknowledge that this cancer could end his life sooner rather than later.    

      After dinner, I mentioned that I'd known him for eight years and vividly remembered his 80th birthday. He said, “Yes, this year I’ll be 88. They're going to trade me in for an Oldsmobile [Olds 88 is a model of car].” He laughed and then, in a serious tone, said, “Did you know Geraldine Ferraro has the same condition – multiple myeloma? Doctors say you have two to four years. I just want it to be fast. Well, everybody's got to go some day.”

      I said, “I know, can you believe that! Who made those rules?!” We laughed again. And in between the laughter, we had acknowledged the reality of death.

      The evening Henry died, I had the honor of being at his bedside in the hospital with his immediate family. He knew that he was within hours of death. When the rabbi arrived to say prayers, he asked Henry, “How are you?” In a quiet, raspy voice, he smiled and said, “Could be worse.”

     As I reflect on Henry, I am reminded again and again that what we do and say in moments of difficulty – or any moment really – can be transformative, not just for ourselves, but for others, especially when we say and do what comes from our hearts.

Enthusiasm is the language of the heart.
                                     ~Mary Marcdante


The Power of Holding Hands

Sometimes our hurt is so heavy, we simply don’t know what to say. That’s when enthusiasm can be as simple as just being there, holding a hand.

      I experienced this first hand in Juneau, Alaska, several years ago at one of my stress management seminars. When I’m invited to speak, I introduce myself to as many individuals as I can before my program begins. That day, as I said hello to one woman and shook her hand, she started to cry. I kept holding her hand. As the tears rolled down her cheeks, she said, “My name is Linda, and I don’t know if I can stay here today.”

      “I don’t know what has happened to you, Linda,” I replied, continuing to hold her hand. “But whatever it is, I’d like to support you and I think today’s program could help.”

      “It’s just so painful, I don’t think I can talk about it.”

      “That’s fine and if and when you’re ready to talk, I’m here,” I said and began to pull my hand away, my eyes brimming with sympathetic tears.

      She pulled my hand back holding tightly and said, “I’m ready.”

      We laughed through our tears and I sat down next to her, still holding her hand.

      “Our supervisor registered four of us employees and herself for this seminar over a month ago,” Linda explained. “Juneau’s a small community. Everyone knows everyone else. We work in a child abuse center and had a rough winter with some very tough cases. We were all so excited about coming here because we knew how much we needed this. Then a week ago our supervisor committed suicide. I still can’t believe it. There were no signs, no notes, no nothing. We had no idea things had become so bad for her.”

      I squeezed her hand again and said, “Let’s take a deep breath.” We did, and in that moment I became aware of how hopeless this supervisor must have felt. This is the antithesis of enthusiasm – the belief that there is no hope, no possibility, no option.

      She went on, saying, “My co-workers just couldn’t face being here today. But I thought it might help me feel better. If I don’t make it through the day, I hope you’ll understand.”

      “Of course. And I hope you’ll stay,” I said. “When you find yourself overwhelmed, just look keeping looking at me and I’ll smile. That’s my sign to you that you can get through this.”

She chose to stay through the whole day. At the end, she said she was so glad she had reached out to me and that she wished her supervisor had been able to do that.

     There may be someone in your life right now – a client, employee, friend, or family member – who feels as desperate as this woman’s supervisor did, but you’re not aware of it. Considering busy lives, need for approval or privacy, and desire to be in control – to name just a few reasons – people put on a “happy face” that hides their pain. Sometimes, simply by connecting and holding hands, your enthusiasm shows. Your energy lets another person know that, no matter how bad it gets, he or she is never alone. Keep holding hands and keep choosing enthusiasm. You make a difference.

          This rock is more than 200,000,000 years old. That's how
          long it will take before I give up on you.
                          ~A Mother to Her Runaway Teenage Daughter


The Ride of Her Life

Sheri Rush discovered the healing spirit of enthusiasm while experiencing the roller-coaster ride of a life-threatening brain tumor. She was introduced to me through Pamela Maurer, one of the readers for Living with Enthusiasm and Marketing & Public Affairs Editorial Manager at Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Sheri also works there as Director of Web Communications. Pamela shares this story about Sheri:

She had been getting headaches for years, her vision had recently become blurry and now she was lactating, even though she wasn’t pregnant. After several tests, her doctor called with the results: “Sheri, you have meningioma, a usually benign type of brain tumor.” Without a moment to react, Sheri heard a tiny gasp on the line. Her six-year-old son Tucker had been listening. “I rushed to him and found him slumped on the floor,” she said. “Mommy, does it have tentacles?” he asked.

In a way, you could say her tumor did have tentacles – it was pushing on her optic nerve and pituitary gland, and wrapping around her carotid artery, putting her at risk for a stroke. Initially told the tumor was not operable, Sheri eventually found a doctor who reassured her that surgery could be done. She felt ready – until her pre-op testing. “That’s when I freaked out,” she said. “I just wanted to grab onto life with both hands and not let it go.”

She would do just that on a trip to Disney World with Tucker before her surgery. “My great fear is roller-coasters, and my son wanted to ride them all,” she said. “I thought, ‘If I can face this thing growing in my head, I can ride any roller-coaster.’”

Grasping onto the handlebars on Space Mountain, Sheri kept thinking, “This won’t last forever.” By the time her son was roller-coastered out, her mantra was, “Let’s take on the next one!” She said, “That set my attitude for the journey I was facing. And the next step, the day of surgery, was filled with love and laughter.”

She asked her anesthesiologist and nurse anesthetists to take an oath:  “Have fun, have somebody stay by my side during surgery, and don’t bump that tray that holds my brain,” she laughs. Four hours later, Sheri awoke in the surgical intensive care unit. Her tumor was gone, her family was by her side, and the chaplain prayed with her. She was pleased they didn’t cut her hair and that her nurse woke her up to watch “The Osbornes” like he promised.

Sheri’s own healing spirit is strong. In her six weeks of recovery, she reconnected with herself and found a new love in making jewelry. But her most special moment was on Mother’s Day, the day she promised her son she would be home. Tucker served her breakfast in bed – orange juice, jelly toast, water crackers, and Teddy Grahams.

All of us know people like Sheri, Linda, and Henry. Their stories of courage and healing, even in the face of death, remind us that we can live with enthusiasm even in challenging times, that we are all in this together, and that the sun will shine again.


It’s a precious opportunity we have to be alive as human beings. It’s been said that the chance of having a human life is something like being picked up as one grain of sand out of all the grains on the beach.
                                ~Charlotte Joko Beck


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Copyright 2003 Mary Marcdante