Why pigs don’t fly (truth revealed)

Updated to Business on December 29, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

There are some things you just take for granted.


eating chocolate torte every night will catch up with you (in a bad way),

adding the cute barista at Starbucks to your contact list is a bad idea, and

pigs don’t fly.

It’s the same with a lot of things in life…until it isn’t.

For example:

It wasn’t long ago we drove to a store to buy music (not to mention: books, shoes, cameras, etc.),

your working career ended at 55, and

evening entertainment was the whole family watching The Wonderful World of Disney.

Okay, back to pigs not flying.

You might think pigs don’t fly because they don’t have wings, or webs between their short stubby legs – like a flying squirrel (now, there’s a visual).


The reason pigs don’t fly is because snorting and standing around in mucky-muck is what they do. I guess the other reason is their nest would break most tree branches.

That brings me to why I speak and help other people who want to become speakers.

It’s what I do.

It’s what I do

I’ve tried building businesses, consulting, even a stint at construction (good for stories, bad for the body). And I keep coming back to teaching. It’s what I do.

Discovering what you’re meant to do can feel like driving a beautiful country road with no road signs – you have no idea where you are, but it’s a great ride.

I remember after high-school, taking some kind of career-test (I think my father arranged it in a fit of sheer desperation). I had to fill in 12 pages of what seemed like ridiculously nonsensical questions.

Questions like:

“If you were lost in a desert, would you rather have a hammer or a straw?”

“Are you more similar to a lamp post or a flashlight?” and

“Why are manhole covers round?”

It was painful.

In the end, my career was destined to be (wait for it) a cartographer.

I remember pulling out the Encyclopedia Britannica, looking up “cartographer” and feeling my throat tighten at the thought of hunching over a drafting table (as I imagined it) fussing over elevation lines and annual precipitation patterns.

Maybe you’ve been there as well—good advice, but it’s not what you’re supposed to do.

I like that author Gretchen Rubin has a ‘commandment’ about living hers:

“My first commandment is to ‘Be Gretchen’—yet it’s very hard to know myself.  I get so distracted by the way I wish I were, or the way I assume I am, that I lose sight of what’s actually true.”

Turning Point Year

This is a turning-point year for me.

I’m entering my last year before the big 6-0, and I’m sticking to my semi-retirement goal of no office, no staff (both changes happened in the last 30 days).

That’s going to open up a lot of freedom and time.

What I do with it is still unclear.

All I know is I absolutely need to do what I’m meant to do – not some contrived BS idea of what other people think I should be doing.

There are lots of things that simply weren’t meant to be – like pigs flying – the trick is to find what is meant to be and keep stepping towards it.

Are you doing what you are meant to be doing?