It was a year ago that Roneet and I, along with her parents went on a trip of a lifetime. We took a five-week cruise that stopped in 11 countries in Africa and Asia. I am so glad that we took that trip as we were able to spend such a glorious time together and I ended up with such beautiful memories and hundreds of pictures to remind me of our special time.
February 3, 2018, leaving on the trip of a lifetime
It takes on even more significance and meaning now that she has passed away. It has also reinforced for me that investing in experiences over things can provide so much more meaning and joy in life, especially as her passing proved that life can be so fleeting. So if you’re on the fence in terms of investing your time and money in an experience, I would strongly recommend taking the plunge. Regret minimization is a powerful force. And although this was a situation in which there was absolutely no regret, it’s possible that regret may have materialized had we been contemplating taking such a trip and decided not to because it was too much time, complex planning, and an inconvenience. It’s because it was all of those things that it made the trip that much more memorable. I’m so happy that we didn’t let these stop us and we took the plunge. I am especially grateful to my amazing partners Steve Sherwood and Mike Engels for being so supportive of me taking that much time away from work and having this experience with Roneet that I will always treasure.
At Shwedagon Pagoda
It was on this trip that I first read the Harvard Business Review article that has had a huge influence on me over the last year. It was the article that discussed research in the Netherlands showing that people who take cold showers for at least 30 seconds after starting off in hot water have 29% less sick days than those who do not. The results are even more profound when combined with regular exercise. The number of sick days drops by approximately 54% if one exercises regularly as well.
I decided to test this research and first put it into action on the cruise and since then I have not missed one cold shower and, in turn, have not had one sick day. It was not easy to start this habit and stick with it initially, but once I did it’s now something that I never want to stop doing as it is extraordinarily invigorating and not having taken a sick day is the icing on the cake. I must also add, however, that I was not inclined to get sick much anyways. Therefore, I did not have many sick days, to begin with. Nevertheless, I view this habit as a low-cost insurance policy with very little cost and high payoff.
Just as I was so proud of myself for having reached the one-year milestone without having gotten sick, what happens? Of course, I got sick. It started off just before I left for New York and then I regressed while there. It ended up hitting its lowest point on the six-hour flight home with a fever that seemed to get worse as the flight progressed. Despite this, however, it wasn’t really enough to keep me away from work or doing work that could be done remotely. I don’t say it to be heroic but I only point it out as it’s consistent with what the researcher discovered.
Participants who took the cold showers actually reported feeling ill just as many days, on average, as the people who showered normally. But either their symptoms were less severe or they felt more energetic, so they were better able to push through the sickness and function anyway.
This was my experience. The days I haven’t felt that great or I have been really tired were not enough to keep me from going to work or to the gym as I was revitalized after the cold shower. I think there is an additional factor as well that I will now discuss.
Since I have been fortunate to have so few sick days I was wondering whether my situation was an anomaly or the norm. I found some data regarding the average number of sick days taken by age group in 2017. I was particularly interested in the data related to zero sick days taken. One would think that the youngest cohort would have the least number of sick days and, conversely, the oldest cohort would have the most number of sick days. This seems intuitively obvious because younger people are more healthy relative to older people. But when it comes down to the percentages of people who have zero sick days during the year it’s the opposite of what one would expect and seems to potentially correlate with the research done in the Netherlands.
The following chart shows the breakdown.
Source: Statista 2019
The youngest group between 18 and 30 has the lowest percentage of zero sick (14%) days whereas those over 61 have the highest percentage of zero sick days (44%). The youngest cohort takes the most number of sick days while the oldest the least. I think this is largely due to the young, new workers not being resilient enough because they do not yet appreciate and recognize the importance of consistent attendance and not letting feeling under the weather get in the way of showing up to work and doing one’s job. I think that older people learn how to pace themselves and probably lead to healthier lifestyles. I’m much more cognizant of getting older and wanting to be healthy as I age so I am much more focused on exercise, eating better, and other tricks that can have a high payoff for my health, such as taking cold showers. And while I’m sure that the focus on health consciousness has resulted in less number of sick days, I think the most important factor is recognizing the importance of work and showing up consistently and not succumbing to illness that can keep one away from work.
Just like we commit ourselves to our spouses in marriage through sickness and health, I think as people get older, they tend to make a similar commitment to showing up to work. I know in my case being there for Roneet in sickness and health, and she for me, and doing the same for CWS, have paid invaluable life dividends. And when I couldn’t be there because I was with Roneet and needed time to heal in the wake of her passing, CWS was there for me in ways that I will never forget and will forever be grateful.
So if I were to leave you with one piece of advice, it would be to be there for those you love in sickness and health if you can possibly do so. And, if older workers are any indication through their consistent attendance, it can extend to one’s job as well.