On an evening in January 2012, I was hit by a car while walking to the train station from my office. My memory of that day stops around 2:00 that afternoon and picks up again around 11:00 that night, so I don’t remember being transported to the hospital in an ambulance and treated in the emergency room; all I remember from that night is ‘coming to’ in a hospital room.
Although I was in more pain than I’ve ever been in my life, I was able to leave the hospital the next day. Ten days later, I went to the doctor, where my injuries were enumerated: severe concussion, non-displaced fractures on three vertebrae, a scalp laceration, a broken collarbone, a lot of bruising and what was essentially full-body whiplash. The aftereffects of the concussion I sustained took months to subside, but most of my other injuries healed reasonably quickly; all in all, I was incredibly lucky.
I’ve realized since then that while it’s a cliché that a brush with death changes your perspective on life, it’s true! This is what has changed for me:
- For months, I fought to regain all my capabilities so I could get back to the kind of work I had been doing before the accident. However, after a sabbatical in Europe, letting time pass and thinking things through, I no longer want to return to the life I had before the accident. I want to live my life differently – have more freedom and flexibility, live surrounded by beauty, have time every day for exercise, good food, good books, and good friends. Like most people, I need and want to generate income to support myself, but I want to use the skills and talents and knowledge I have in a different way.
- I don’t save stuff ‘for good’ anymore; I go ahead and use it. How many times do we buy a pretty candle, or a special bottle of wine, or a nice piece of clothing and say ‘I’m saving it ‘for good’’ or ‘I’m saving it for a special occasion’? You know what, today is the special occasion. So burn the candle when you and your family are eating takeout and watching a movie at home, open the bottle of wine with leftovers, wear that silk shirt to a casual lunch with friends. You may not get another chance.
- More than ever, I know we shouldn’t wait for life to be perfect before we do what we dream of doing. I had planned and paid for a trip to Morocco that was due to start a month after the accident. Although all the logistics were taken care of and I was traveling with a friend, I hesitated to go, knowing that I’d be hobbling around with a cane and that taking photos would be a challenge. I went anyway and it turned out to be one of the best vacations I ever took. I never laughed so much in my life and I give the 14 straight days of sunshine credit for helping my bones and spirit heal.
- My dad always told me that my health should be a priority and he was right. I was strong and healthy at the time of the accident, but I was 20 pounds heavier than I should have been and hadn’t exercised regularly in two years. After the accident, I lost the 20 pounds and have become more consistent about walking and strength training. I know there’s a lot one can’t control when it comes to disease and accidents, but whatever can be controlled, do it. Stop smoking, eat one more cup of fruits or vegetables each day than you do currently, walk 1000 steps more this week than you did last week.
- I try not to say things like ‘[fill in the blank] wouldn’t work for me’. When I was dealing with post-concussive syndrome, I would have tried anything recommended by one of the professionals in my life, including yoga and meditation, neither of which has ever topped my list of preferred activities. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you – whether it’s your health, your relationships, your job – try something different. You don’t have to do it forever – just give it a try.
I said many times in the first six months after the accident that I felt reborn. That rebirth has been messy and painful and ugly at times, but it’s also been wonderful and exciting and allowed me to see the world with new eyes.
This article was originally written for career coach Beth Kennedy’s (http://bethkennedy.com) newsletter, “Spark Your Success!”