So there I was, coasting along, 35 years old, traveling the world, carefree, connected fully with my passion, and I had a brilliant idea. I was going to ask Amy, who no longer worked for me, to go away with me for the weekend, and suddenly, whooooo… POW … smackeroo . . . bing, bang, boing, voila, and I’m paying Ooopsie the Clown for performing at my six-year-old daughter’s birthday party. My now ex-wife Amy is there, my parents, Amy’s parents, my daughter Brooke’s friends, a mix of different-shaped moms, and the clown hit me. Hard. No, not with a rubber chicken, but with a question.

Ooopsie asked me when my birthday is, and I said, “Next month, April 25.” Then she asked how old I was going to be.

I thought I could answer, but I couldn’t. My lips didn’t respond as I expected them to. It sounded something like, “pffffftttt.” Imagine I’m standing in the parking lot with a fully costumed clown looking at me bewildered.

I tried again. I took a deep breath, concentrated, and said, “Pfffiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiifffffififififiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmm.” It wasn’t the number as much as the awakening. It was as if the moment I asked Amy to go away with me for the weekend, whoever is in charge of time kicked things up to turbo blast. And like in the old HG Wells novel, The Time Machine, I flew forward in time at warp speed, arriving at this odd moment in discussion with a clown.

How did I get here? I was 35, ripped, benching 365 on a whim, dating women from all over the continent, flying from airport to airport, appearing on stages, television screens and radios worldwide. Next thing I know, I’m a divorced dad in awe of my six-year-old daughter in a suburban environment I couldn’t have predicted would ever be mine, wondering where time went.

It wasn’t a midlife crisis, but more of a “stop and look around” experience, and the past 15 years — although they were filled with a wedding at the Breakers, a honeymoon in Maui, the development of Fitness 21, a split-up, a hurricane, a medical challenge, a few homes, a “get back together,” a pregnancy, a delivery and a divorce — were literally a blur. Yes, I was going to turn “pffifffm” in a matter of days, and I was affected. It wasn’t fear, it wasn’t regret, and it wasn’t disappointment. It was as if I went to bed one night and had a dream that 15 years had elapsed, only to awaken and find it had.

The days leading up to my pffiffifif birthday were emotional. I was getting emails from people I hadn’t heard from since high school and phone calls from people I hadn’t seen in years, and cards started showing up in the mail from everyone from relatives to my health care provider… and life insurance companies. I took time to reflect, time to wonder, time to dream and time to plan, but I had this unsettling resistance, this troubling sense that this birthday was going to matter.

My 50th birthday did matter. It was a great day. Beyond anything I’d expected. I went to one of my favorite places for brunch with my family, a place called Sundi House in Delray Beach, which is a combination of an inn and tropical escape with fine food and beautiful people. The pool there is called a “swimming pond,” and people swim alongside fish. It’s a very cool place, and walking across bridges that spanned streams in the bamboo forest with my daughter Brooke was one of those experiences that become etched in the mental landscape where memories grow. Later that day, I held a meeting for my staff at Fitness 21, and they surprised me with a celebration where I sat at a table as they handed me a cane and a Silver Sneakers membership and unwrapped gifts of Depends and Polident. It was lighthearted and fun, unexpected and appreciated. Then, that evening, an intimate friend planned a private dinner on a yacht for the two of us, joined only by a chef and a waiter.

I loved turning 50, but not because of the brunch or the yacht — because of the thank you’s. This, for me, was a milestone, and it was memorialized by over 1,000 expressions of well wishes and thank you’s. Personal trainers, consulting clients, training clients, seminar attendees, customers, students, associates, colleagues and friends sent emails, left voicemails, sent letters and cards, and every one mattered. It took away the sense of “How did I get here?” and replaced it with “I am so glad I’m here.”

I achieved so much of what I set out to achieve and I realize this is a new chapter, an awesome new beginning, and my dreams are bigger than ever. Yes, I do wish the last 15 years could have gone slower and could have been a bit less of a blur, but they led me here. And here is a great place.

One of the things we all seek is a sense of significance, and one trait we all treasure is the knowledge that we are capable of improving. Together, let’s embrace this moment in time and look forward with a blank canvas for the future, a canvas upon which you can paint and create virtually anything you’d like. Together, lets become connected enough to help our unwell nation find excellence and help those around us redefine and move away from disease, and let’s step up to a platform upon which fitness professionals are indisputably recognized as significant catalysts for betterment.

I thank all of you for being a part of this movement toward greater excellence and for allowing me to play at least a small role in driving you toward your absolute best.
Phil Kaplan is a personal fitness trainer with over two decades of in-the-trenches experience. Today, he's committed to helping personal trainers find career growth. His newest book, Commanding Yes: The Science of Compelling People, is available at www.philkaplan.com.

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