March '19 | William A. Cohen, Ph.D., Major General, USAF, Ret.

attitude-and-success.jpgDrucker’s believed that if we view something only as an issue which cannot be changed, there may be nothing to be done. It’s not what happens, it’s how we react to any occurrence. Not many know that Drucker encountered severe medical challenges toward the end of his long life. However, he was still productive and accomplished much despite the disabilities which he could not control.

My Challenge

My own challenge has been far less than has happened to many others. Still, it has been an event that challenged me. I suffered a major stroke which almost killed me. It did paralyze me on the left side and took away my speech. This was a big issue for one depending on speaking for a living. I tried and although my speech returned, I couldn’t speak coherently at first. That took some weeks.  I was laid out prone and could not move to sit up. I spent several weeks in a hospital in a rehab ward for stroke victims after paramedics brought me in. I was released from the hospital in a wheelchair. I could do almost nothing for myself. I slept little. I was able to walk about 15 feet with a walker, and I was extremely proud the first time that I was able to do this although the fifteen feet wore me out completely. This for someone who did regular heavy-duty exercise and was very active physically previously was a mental and physical challenge. I had no stamina at all. My happiest event was when I left the hospital for home. Yes, I was in a wheelchair, but I could at least use the walker to a limited extent.

Restrictions, Restrictions

I was restricted to the first floor of our two-story home and slept in a spare bedroom which was on the first floor. I could bathe and use bathroom facilities only with the help of a caregiver. The caregiver would wipe me with a cold, wet, washcloth with soap while I manipulated a flexible shower head. 

Our new life was not easy. Not only could I do little by myself, but even small events could have a big impact. For example, I fell from the walker and scraped my right elbow. It took almost two months to heal. I was in plenty of pain, but because of my anti-stroke medications, could take no effective painkillers. Even an aspirin made my blood too thin and could cause a major problem if I took it. I could sleep only for about four hours before pain woke me up.  Finally, I found that if I watched TV for several hours, I might get tired enough to return to sleep for two or three more hours. According to reports I read on the Internet, stroke survivors tended to be depressed and had a high suicide rate. That I could understand. Meanwhile, my wife Nurit tried to keep things together and worked full time. To the best I could, I tried to take care of myself so she could sleep at nights.

I was determined to return to work. I re-started the Institute of Leader Arts to conduct international training even before I could speak. Previously I had been in excellent health and prided myself as being stronger than almost anyone I knew. But despite my strength and apparent good health, I had had this major stroke. I didn’t know what caused it, but that was irrelevant.

My First Big Goal

My first big goal was to move back to the second floor where I had my office and could get back to a computer. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do much work, but I could still write. I had three speeches previously scheduled for Mexico City. Of course, there was no way of doing those, and I canceled them and my flight. I had another that I had accepted in China in six months. I thought that I’d be able to make that one. I was wrong and eventually, I had to cancel that one too.

Kaiser, my HMO, sent a physical therapist at home twice a week for several weeks. First, I had to learn to stand up and get out of the wheelchair by myself and get to my walker and to sit down in the wheelchair again afterward. The therapist showed me how to do this and some exercises to learn how to stand up from and to sit down on it. On the days that she didn’t come I exercised on my own with the help of my caregiver. After several weeks, I regained enough upper body and leg strength to get upstairs by putting both arms and pulling on the single banister we had as I went up and eased myself down with both arms on the banister when I went downstairs. My physical therapist was amazed at my ability to do this. When the physical therapist completed her hours, I hired a Ph.D. student therapist for one day a week. Eventually, I could walk. I was even able to dispense with a leg brace I was told was mine for life.

Taking a Shower

I decided I could take a shower by myself in a shower stall using my cane which was nickel-plated if I dried it after drying myself. The shower stall was small enough that there was no place to fall, but at first, my caregiver stood outside the shower in case I did fall. Anyway, I got away from the chilly water that my caregiver used to soap me down with. 

When I first started working on the computer, I only had the energy to write for about a half hour a day. But as time went on, I built this up to about five hours. 

Of course, I also received immense help from friends who helped Nurit prepare my room downstairs when I came home from the hospital and another who gave me acupuncture treatment for several months and freed me from considerable pain in my paralyzed leg when it occurred.

Work at the Computer

What kind of work did I do at the computer?  First was my writing. I wasn’t writing a book at the time, but I had several projects in mind. I had used many of Drucker’s techniques that he had taught me regarding his own self-development and which he had used to reach the pinnacle of his career as a teacher and consultant. I thought that he would appreciate the fact that his ideas were still helping others.

Drucker kept busy with useful work even when he was in his 90’s. To deal with the depression and hopelessness that tends to go with strokes, I got busy with my own work as soon as I could. 

I was eventually able to walk with a cane with an 8” base. And one day, I managed to walk for several steps without the cane. I looked like a version of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. But I walked!

Speaking Again

My next goal was to make a live speaking presentation. I learned how to drive again, and I created a one-hour presentation and gave it publicly to an audience of students and faculty at the graduate school I started, at the invitation of the current president, Jennie Ta. I was worried that I might get tired standing for an hour and asked for a chair. However, I presented on my feet for an hour without difficulty.  The presentation went well. I also said a few words as a guest of a national Korean military veterans’ group of about 500 in Los Angeles at their first annual meeting. A few months ago, I flew across the country and gave a three-hour workshop on innovation combined with a book-signing to VA executives in Alexandria, Virginia.

A Miracle?

I had a different perception and attitude. I set successive goals and continually worked toward achieving them because I had an intense desire and motivation to reach my goals. My attitude was different. I hope yours will be when you encounter adversity as well. 

How am I doing now you may ask? I am not yet fully recovered. But I am progressing and getting stronger every day. I continue my workouts several days a week. I have not fully recovered my strength and stamina, but my body looks almost the same as before the stroke. Some call me “a miracle” or an “inspiration.” I know others that have overcome far more difficult challenges and they are my inspiration.

In any case, I have recovered enough to work at almost the same level as before the stroke in both my professional speaking and writing. No, that isn’t accurate. I think that I can work at a higher level now. I can only add that if you will adopt Drucker’s techniques and exploit the opportunities that you have while maintaining a positive attitude you will be amazed at what you can do. 


*Adapted from Peter Drucker’s Way to the Top: Lessons for Reaching Your Life Goals by William A. Cohen (LID, 2019)


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William A. Cohen, PhD
Major General, USAF , Ret., President​​

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