Friday, January 15, 2016

What's Going On: Chris Eggert on Everydayness and Passion

One purpose of my multi-authored blog is to share in the power of personal narratives. I've known Chris Eggert for several years as a super strong rock climber, and I'm really psyched that he accepted my challenge to help build this archive of human experiences. For those wondering how others pursue their potential, you'll appreciate Chris' realistic expression of balancing his life with family, career, and passions.  It's one thing to know someone as a climber, but to know pieces of their history and everydayness, really adds depth to who they are as a person. I enjoyed interacting with Chris through these questions, and know him better today than I did the day before. Enjoy!

Just the Basics: where you're from, family, birthday, marriage, education?

I’m from Twin Cities mostly, after spending a couple years living on an Air Force base in California when I was little.  I’m the middle child of 3, and that’s supposed to mean something about my personality I’m sure.  I’m a Virgo which apparently also makes me  practical, modest, and quiet yet persuasive.  I married Cari whom I met at Loyola medical school  in Chicago.  Traveling, camping, canoeing, fishing, and hiking make us tick in sync.  We have 2 boys, ages 5 and 10 and moved to Madison about 8 years ago after carefully looking all over the country for places that had both good schools and great rock climbing nearby.  

How would you describe yourself as a child?  I questioned authority freely, but was able to toe the line for the most part.  I was also a bit of a slow thinker.   I was in soccer for several years as a kid before I started to wonder why I was in it.  I really never enjoyed it all that much.  I remember asking my mom if I really had to be in soccer again one summer.  I think she was surprised to hear me ask since she assumed I was in it because I enjoyed it. After that I became sort of stubborn and wanted to know WHY I had to do  things, it wasn’t good enough to just say that I needed to do them.  I suppose this attitude persists to today.  

Do you think characteristics or temperament or interests as a child inform your passion(s) today?  Definitely being outdoors as much as i was influenced my adult choices.  Additionally, a slow plodding pace through life eventually lead to discovering climbing as a pursuit that I really enjoy and have been doing for 13-14 years now, and recently rediscovering my love of cross country ski racing.  I skied on the XC ski team in high school but it’s a hard sport to dabble in if you race.  You’re either all in or you’re not doing it.  Now that I think about it, that’s part of my difficulty with all my passions.  I don’t like to do them half way, despite the necessary nature of compromise that permeates any personal pursuit when you are married with kids.  

What is a favorite memory as a child/adolescent? Any memory where I was outside.  I have vivid memories of hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing at our lake cabin.  Still feels like home when I get the scent of a pine forest.  My parents took us canoe camping in Canada every year growing up.  We weren’t allowed to bring a walkman or any other electronics.  Being unplugged for a couple weeks at a time nowadays is heaven.  I dropped my cell phone in a hot tub on vacation last year  - best vacation ever.  My kids are now calling that “going old school” on vacation - no electronic devices.  

What is a story you remember? When I was 18 or 19, I  ran out of money in the Sao Paulo bus station in Brazil.  I just miscalculated the amount of money I had.  Of course this was 25 years ago, long before cell phones and easy access to credit cards.  So, I did what I had seen others doing: I asked others for money to get where I was going.  It was an incredibly humbling experience.  It took a long time to get enough to get a ticket out of there.  You never know how others ended up at a point in their lives, so when you see someone asking for money or help that could be you next week.  I’ve been very lucky on this journey around the sun; I acknowledge that every day, and try to instill that thankfulness in my kids as well.  A funny ending to that story -- I was finally in line to buy a ticket with all my spare change, and I ended up right behind a guy I knew, who said “you should have just asked me for some money!”.  

Tell me about your education -- do you have a favorite or strong memory of school? Can you tell me about a teacher who influenced you?  Ralph Leischner was a professor in medical school that I really admired.  He taught our pathology course and also was one of my small group physician mentors.  He was perhaps the smartest and most humble teacher, while also being very sure of his convictions.  He nailed me on the head once by saying I was “respectfully irreverent”.  You could never walk away from meeting with him and not be awed and feel better than when you started.  I wanted to be like him and enjoy my job as much as he clearly did, and not lose sight of what motivated him to be a physician in the first place.   I miss him.  

Who else in life has influenced you?  Two coaches have really struck chords in my life.  First was my cross country ski coach in high school, John Strand.  He was able to connect differently to each person on the team, pick out what they needed to do to improve, and encourage them to get it done.  Not only that but he still does the Birkie every year - I hope I can do that at his age.  Ray Obermiller was my college swim coach.  He was an incredible man, able to walk the very fine line between coach, teacher, friend, and mentor to anyone who walked through the door.  I was not a very fast swimmer but that never seemed to matter to Obie.  He believed that I could be, and that was enough to improve.  The common thread was inclusiveness and belief that someone could achieve something that even they weren’t sure they could.  That’s powerful.  

What do you think we can do to encourage and support equity personally and professionally?  If by equity you mean treating everyone with respect and dignity, I think that starts young.  We ought to be teaching kids that everyone is the same despite how we look, where we came from, or where we happen to be at that moment.  When I was in about 4th or 5th grade, a friend of mine said to me “you had that black lady for a 1st grade teacher didn’t you?”  I had to stop and think about that before I could answer.  It had never crossed my mind that her skin color was different from mine, she was just my teacher.  Until you tell kids that someone is different, they just accept that person for who they are.  

In what ways does community influence you and your decisions personally and professionally?  I think of community as a woven tapestry, and each of us is a thread running through it.  But this tapestry is constantly changing as our life circumstances change.  I think we surround ourselves with people who share similar interests and goals, and as those change, our thread through the tapestry moves to touch different lives.  Sometimes I feel that I take more away from the tapestry than I give, and sometimes I feel that my thread is holding part of it together.  Every decision you make has some influence on someone else, and that in part should guide how you make your decision.  Who is your thread supporting?  Who is supporting you?  

In what ways did your family influence your own family values and traditions?  I think the best or most useful advice I got from my parents was that hard work pays off.  

What challenges do you experience as a parent?  I wasn’t convinced I would be a very good parent, but as it turns out it’s a lot more fun than it seems like it would be.  I struggle a little with the line between being a friend and a parent, as well as the usual battle of selfish pursuits versus parenting time.  Somehow we make it work, but some weeks I’m not sure how it will work until it’s over.  My parents definitely let me fail (a lot) to learn lessons the hard way.  This is something I know I will have to allow to happen, but I’m not looking forward to it.  

Questions your kids and wife have -- what do you think they’d want to know about you? I hope they see me as genuine, honest, and hard working.  As long as everyone tries their hardest the outcome doesn’t matter and I want my kids to understand that.  

How are your kid(s) like you? Or your wife?  I think our older child is more like my wife’s personality with my lack of a sense of danger or any type of fear, while our younger one questions every rule (like me) but has a very healthy fear of danger, or a sense of self preservation (more like my wife).  So they each inherited a bit of both of us, just kind of opposites.  It will be interesting to see how these characteristics evolve over time.  

Which aspects of your job do you enjoy? Feel challenged by?  I’m a physician - specifically I care for patients with kidney disease.  The people I take care of often came from very different backgrounds than me and or have very different values and perceptions of health.  My main challenge is how to communicate effectively to help change the things I can change, while attempting to carefully and empathetically manage the things I can’t change.  

What lessons has your work life taught you?  Every day upright and healthy is a gift.  

What did you imagine you'd be doing today?  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  I didn’t mean to blindly follow in my dad’s footsteps.  In fact I really tried to follow other career paths.  I just couldn’t get all that interested in anything else.  

What is/are your passion(s)?  When the snow is fast I feel like I am flying when I cross country ski.  A couple years ago I started competing in biathlon, which is cross country ski racing with sharpshooting stages mixed in.  It was something I always wanted to try and got hooked immediately.  My other personal passion is rock climbing.  I love the companionship, the places it takes me, and the fact that during a hard climb, absolutely nothing invades my thoughts.  It commands an intense focus that won’t be broken by anything else.  These pursuits are really perfect compliments to each other, seasonally.  I suppose I could climb ice as is the fashion around here, but that just sounds miserable.  

What makes you stop and go “Wow!”  A beautiful sunrise, seeing mountains again after a period of time without, and watching a bird of prey in flight.  I was skiing through the woods in northern Minnesota a couple weeks ago and a great grey owl swooped at me.  He then landed on a branch maybe 10 feet from me and we had a staring contest, until I moved to get my phone to snap a photo.  “Wow”.  

Short term goal related to your passions (athletics, training, or hobby )?  Someday I’d like to break back into wave 1 in the Birkie.  It might be a couple years before that happens.  

How do you incorporate your family/kids into your passions?  I try not to push them.  I figure if they see how much I enjoy something, they will at least want to try it (and they do).  But the minute it becomes a chore or a forced activity they will want to stop.  So I let them decide.  

High point in Life:  Wedding, kid’s births.  A random weekday off with my wife.  

Turning point in Life:  Failing to get accepted to medical school the first time around.  I applied late and didn’t take it seriously.  Lesson learned.  

What scares you?  Global warming and Donald Trump.  

What are 20 things you are grateful for? My wife and kids (that’s three), cross country skis, rocks to climb, canoes, meteor showers, cadbury cream eggs, coffee, friends, V8 motors, my kidneys (that’s two), a job I don’t hate, clean tap water, flush toilets, a furnace and A/C, the capacity to heal, and the southwest.  

*I love this picture of Chris and his family - it captures the spirit of his life and loves!  

1 comment:

  1. Nice. Thank you for this interview. I learned a little I didn't know about mt son. Chris' Dad