I often get asked, “How do you stay so motivated?”

The answer is always the same, my health. My health is my ultimate motivator. I can do the things I want to do when I’m healthy, and I can’t do the things I want to do when I am sick. Simple enough, right? The answer almost always stays right there, but today I want to dive further into it.

My motivation comes from a number of sources, mostly the sense of fulfillment. I hold high expectations for myself. I don’t think that’s a unique idea, especially because I get the sense most people living with chronic illness have the want and the desire to strive for “more,” since complacency is the enemy. At least it’s my enemy.

Fulfillment, for me, means a lot of things.

First, I want to be proud of myself. It is my hope that when I’m an old man with lots of gray hair (or probably none at all, who am I kidding?), I can look back on my life and smile. I want to feel like I achieved the goals I set for myself, or at least pursued them to the best of my ability. Cystic fibrosis doesn’t play a huge role in my sense of achievement; rather I think it’s the backdrop for how I choose my goals.

Whether I want to admit it or not, cystic fibrosis wields considerable influence over my life. It affects decision-making, short-term and long-term plans, and how I move through my life. The care is both active and arduous, and the condition’s aggressiveness is often debilitating, until it’s runs a person’s life into the ground.

Despite that, though, the illness has also shaped me, hardened me and forced me to be in a constant state of disciplined vigilance – survival skills, more or less. When I apply those survival skills to other parts of my life, I actually feel like I have an edge on the general population.

So while my goals aren’t, simply, “be the first person with cystic fibrosis to complete and ultra marathon,” something defined by cystic fibrosis, my goals are more wholesome, “start a family,” “pursue self-motivated achievements,” or “seek recognition for my loyalty to friends and family.” The same is true with my short term goals, “write X blogs in a week,” “launch a new podcast,” or “go to the gym 5 times this week.”

Just last month I achieved a long-sought goal – get accepted to grad school. Talk about fulfillment! After I achieve a goal, I celebrate it, reflect on the success and failures that led to the goal and then develop a new one. My newest goal is to graduate with both of my graduate degrees on time.

Achieving my goals is what makes me feel proud of myself, and hopefully by the time I am an old man, I will have achieved enough of them to look back on my life and feel the very same pride I feel today when I complete a task or succeed in accomplishing a goal. I also want the people in my life to feel proud to know me, or proud of the things I am doing, most notably my parents. I want them to feel confident in the way they chose to raise me, and I hope that some of the things I do today – whether it’s getting in front of a crowd to speak about my life with cystic fibrosis or coaching a high school hockey team – give them pride in our family, and make them feel proud of their son. I want the same from my friends, too. I hope my relationships with them feel genuine and personal.

I think pride is a combination of confidence, achievement and fulfillment, and if you can’t already tell, I strive for it in all parts of my life.

CF plays a role in all of this.

In the beginning, I said, my health is my ultimate motivator. I can do the things I want to do when I’m healthy, and I can’t do the things I want to do when I am sick.

Now apply that to the rest of the essay.

When I’m not healthy, I struggle to achieve my goals, hold up my side of personal relationships and feel fulfilled. Conversely, when I do feel good, I can pursue whatever goal my heart desires, and those are things I think about to get me through the tough days. I know that if I can get through my hardest days, days when I’m feverish, short of breath, coughing up blood, or anything else, I can get back on track to fulfilling my life’s mission, whatever it may be.

My health helps set my priorities, my goals and provides any extra motivation required to those goals through. If you’re facing a significant challenge in your life, use it. Use it to your benefit.