Accepting (or Embracing) Mortality

The other day, my team uncovered some videos of the news interviews I had done back in the 1980s. Those were heady times. It was the start of the corporate takeover and shareholder rights era, and I was not just in the thick of it, I was driving it. And communicating clearly and effectively was critical to our success.

Strong communication has always been my core asset. I’ve always believed you can trace every problem to a lack of communication or lack of clarity in communication.

These days, I sometimes find myself literally at a loss for words. Over the Christmas holiday, I had several strokes. But with a little determination and some aggressive speech therapy, I regained 90 percent of my speech.

However, last week, I had a Texas-sized fall — one that required hospitalization. I am still mentally strong, and I comprehend and process information like I did before the incident. It’s just a little hard to find the words I’m looking for to speak clearly. Speech therapy will fix that, I’m confident.

Just as I exercise my body daily I will exercise my brain and continue with rigorous speech therapy to regain what I can. I am always up for a good challenge.

Back in 1996, at age 68, I left Mesa Petroleum, the company I founded and directed for close to four decades. Walking out, I had a goal headline: “The Old Man Makes a Comeback.” Years later, I made my first billion dollars.

Many of those who face adversity like this at 89 choose to hide it. My life has always been an open book. Some chapters of my life have been great. Others not so much. Regardless, I’ve appreciated the resulting accolades and criticism as I faced different personal and professional challenges.

Just a year ago I felt immortal, wearing my age with pride, even joking about it. Last year I opened a speech with this: “The other day I turned 88 and realized my life was half over.” I refused to call my 2008 autobiography “Life in the Fourth Quarter” because, well, hell, I wasn’t in the fourth quarter. But things have changed for me since the strokes. I clearly am in the fourth quarter, and the clock is ticking and my health is in decline, much as it is with others in my stage of life.

Now, don’t for a minute think I’m being morbid. Truth is, when you’re in the oil business like I’ve been all my life, you drill your fair share of dry holes, but you never lose your optimism. There’s a story I tell about the geologist who fell off a 10-story building. When he blew past the fifth floor he thought to himself, “So far so good.”

That’s the way to approach life. Be the eternal optimist who is excited to see what the next decade will bring. I remain excited every day, engaged and thrilled in the office and on the road. I thrive on that activity, and I’m going to stick to it, no matter the setback. And I am grateful to have such a strong support network that makes it all the more easy.

I’m fond of “Booneisms.” Number 15 on my list is this: “Don’t ever let age be an obstacle.” And I won’t.