A few months ago I traveled from Canada to a school reunion in England. As events go, maybe this does not rank as amazing. But amazing it was and taught me more about how we develop as adults than reading a ton of books on the subject. Here was a group of fifty or more men and women, most of whom were fairly normal in most respects (whatever that means) and none of whom I had seen for 48 years. It was an extraordinary opportunity to see how our emotional fitness defines our lives.

Let me tell you about four particular schoolmates I bumped in to. Scott was one of my closest confidantes when we were in our younger teen years. He is now a bald, fairly heavy-set and very successful entrepreneur. The first two qualities were a surprise to me. I recall his mop of dark brown hair and his slim figure as a boy. His success in whatever he chose to do was no surprise. He had always been a solid student with a creative flair and a manner that, while open and friendly, set him apart from the rest of the class. Scott lived up to his promise of success. What I noticed about him now were his leadership skills, his self-confidence and his ability to relate his own stories.

Fiona was somebody I recognized immediately. She still had the same long, lank, dark (but now graying) hair and that same forlorn expression that I remembered. She was now, as then, sitting on her own. Fiona had been an academic star, always in the top two or three in most subjects. I am often drawn to people who are on their own, so Fiona and I started chatting. After about two minutes she told me, in her gentle way “I’ve always been depressed you know.”

Another person I recognized straight away was Jack, then a boy with a mop of ginger hair and a clinging habit. We often took long, winding walks home from school along the riverbank while he spent much of the time complaining about his father, the teachers, his inability to make friends, almost anything. Now he revealed to me that he had lost his business, had heart problems and, almost flinging his arms around me, told me how good it was to talk to someone who would listen.

The fourth person was Tim. Tim had been consistent in his schoolwork. He was always at the bottom of his class, always appeared to live in a world of his own, oblivious to anything or anyone else around him, and always had a smile on his face. Now, he wandered around the room, a beer in his hand, looking disheveled, vacant and happy. “What a strange thing this reunion is,” he said as he wafted past, smiling and spilling his beer.

Later on, thinking about the afternoon, I recalled that each of those four, and a few others, had told me that they were envious of me. When I asked what they meant, they each replied that they had never really done what they wanted in their lives. They had been dissatisfied.

Scott, certainly a millionaire, confided wistfully that he wished he had a better relationship with his children. Fiona declared that she had never found anyone who could understand her, that she hardly understood herself and why she felt unhappy. Jack mournfully complained that he never had any support from anyone to help him be successful. Tim, still smiling, mused that he had dreamed of being many things but never got around to anything. They each saw me as having fulfilled what they had apparently missed.

I felt sadness. Each one of them, and all the others at the reunion, gradually displayed the exact characteristics they had shown fifty years earlier. This is not what made me feel sad; on the contrary I celebrate that. My sadness is in the revelation that hardly anyone there seemed to have fulfilled their dreams. Being the same person on the outside is one thing, becoming who you really are inside is a tougher and infinitely more satisfying process.

School taught us nothing about being emotionally fit. Where would anybody have learned that? My own path was a tortuous one. It led me to discover much about myself and eventually to learn the tools that empower people to bring out the best of everything they have to offer, and achieve a state of self-love, happiness and satisfying relationships.

I learned above all else to listen to myself and to others. This simple tool is also the hardest to perfect. Recently, Stephen Covey was in Calgary, talking to an audience of over 2,000 people. He asked if anyone had been on a listening course. Less than twenty people had. “Everyone should go on one,” he said, “It’s the most valuable skill you need.” Listening Power is the first in the nine steps that I have taken towards my own emotional fitness.

The second step is to be able to learn from your experiences. Stop and reflect on what you have done and how you have done things. Then see what you have learned from that and what you still have to learn. This will help you to discontinue the same patterns that, oftentimes, do not work for you.

The third step is to understand the things that satisfy and frustrate you in your life. How much pleasure do you have in life? How much pain do you feel? If there is a healthy relationship between the two, you probably feel emotionally healthy. Our emotional health has an enormous impact on our physical and mental health. How much peace of mind do you feel? How much pressure do you feel is on you? What is the balance you have in your answer to those two questions? If you feel more pressure than peace, you need to change this before it affects you and others around you seriously.

In all there are ten questions that help us to make sense of the emotional balance we have. Listening to ourselves as we answer those questions, especially with the help of an emotional fitness coach, is a life-enhancing experience. I had not realized how much this kind of self-discovery has made an impact on my life until I came face-to-face with those old school buddies of mine from fifty years ago.

The real lesson of the reunion was that I faced myself across those fifty years. Just like all the others, I was still who I had been; although it was often a surprise to me to hear how people had experienced me. Unlike the others, I have taken a path that includes a great deal of self-discovery and self-enhancement courses. This eventually led me to my chosen profession of teaching to others what I have learned.

Perhaps if Scott, Fiona, Jack, Tim and the others had learned what I had, they would have a different view of themselves and the world. Scott used what natural abilities he had shown as a budding entrepreneur, but he has forgotten the other side of him that I had experienced – his ability to listen and to make close relationships. Fiona has absorbed herself in her work so that she has missed the opportunities she had as someone whom everyone else respected for her intelligence and gentleness. Jack has never dealt with his unresolved anger at authority or his view of himself as a victim, missing his natural strengths as an adventurer and his role as a friend. Tim is wandering through life, dreaming without reaching for the stars. He has not yet discovered that his natural sunny nature is a joy to others for he has not yet paused to listen to others so that he can find out.

We are still taught that mental and physical fitness is important to our health and success. Looking at the snapshots of lives fifty years apart it is clear that we need to pay far more attention to our emotional fitness.

The good news is that we are all capable of experiencing ourselves in a different, more satisfying way. It is no harder (simply less familiar) to have a lifestyle that includes emotional fitness than it is to have one that includes physical exercise or mental stimulation. Waiting for that school reunion to hit you might be the trigger, but why wait when you can imagine it now?

Author's Bio: 

Warren Redman is President of the Emotional Fitness Institute and author of fifteen books including the award-winning “The 9 Steps to Emotional Fitness – A Tool-kit for Life in the 21st Century”. He trains coaches and counsellors in the use of Emotional Fitness techniques, which he developed over a period of 25 years. He now lives in New Brunswick, Eastern Canada, with his wife Nicole. He has two daughters who live in England and New Zealand.