The Pain Of This Day Changed My Life Forever


Tony Robbins famously said:

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

And I couldn’t agree more.

My life changed on a day that I will never forget.

For the first 15 years of my professional life, I had done everything I could for whomever I worked for. If they wanted an increase in sales, I went out and got one. If it was a larger customer base, I made it happen. I was good at what I did, maybe the best, and as a consequence, I felt invincible.

Part of my job was to travel all over my country. Living in the center of Canada meant that I would travel a lot. This translated to 3 weeks of every month on the road. Hotels, airports, rental cars, selling, and seminars became my life. At first, it seemed like a pretty cool way to live. I was able to travel all over on the company dollar, eating what I wanted and working as much or as little as I saw fit.

I quickly learned that it wasn’t. Hotel life becomes boring and dining out all the time isn’t fun. And that was just from my perspective.

My wife explained it like this. Each time I came home it was as if a tornado rolled through, upending everything she was doing, only to leave again. Every time I came home she had to learn to live with someone again. Counterintuitive as it might sound, she made a good point.

On the day mentioned above, I found myself visiting a city 1400 kilometers (870 miles) away. At first, the day appeared no different from any other. I met with clients, took them for lunch and dinner, all-the-while schmoozing and selling whatever I could.

8:00 pm

Just like every other night on the road, I went to the gym to work out my frustrations with the day. As I made my way back to my room I could hear a phone ringing. I quickly realized that the phone was mine and it was my wife. Within seconds of answering, I knew that something was wrong and this wouldn’t be an ordinary phone call.

She told me that she was experiencing pain and that it wasn’t getting better. We talked about it for a little while and decided that the best course of action would be for her to have a hot bath and relax.

And she did.

As difficult as it was, I continued on with my night.

10:00 pm

While traveling, 10 to 10:30 was the normal time for us to talk. In these 30 minutes we talked about our days, unwound, said our “I love you’s”, and got ready to go to bed.

On this day, that wasn’t how our 10 o’clock call went.

“Joel, I’m still in pain and it feels like it is getting worse.”

This was the hardest sentence I had ever heard. My stomach immediately sank. I can remember the sound it made against the carpet. She and I talked at length about her pain. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that she needed to call Health Links (a call in health service) and seek out professional advice.

Aside from, “Hello”, they said only four words…”Go to the hospital.”

Over the years I’ve learned that women are the epitome of tough. My wife is the epitome of a tough woman. Because I was out of town, she was home alone and had no way of getting to the hospital. Not willing to inconvenience any of her friends or family, she opted to try to sleep it off.

12:30 am

Once again my phone rang. By this time, my heart was pounding, my mind racing, and my sleep, the opposite of restful.

“Hello,” I answered.

“I’m on my way to the hospital.”

That sentence proved me wrong.

“Joel, I’m still in pain and it feels like it is getting worse” wasn’t the hardest sentence I had ever heard. “I’m on my way to the hospital” was.

I asked her to update me as soon as she heard something.

2:30 am

Barely able to sleep, I rolled over and answered my ringing phone.

“I’m going for emergency surgery.”

Never have I felt as helpless as I did at that very moment. Imagine yourself 1400 kilometers away from your loved one, unable to be with them in their greatest time of need. Above that, imagine asking yourself, “How did this happen? How did I let my career control my life?” only to not have an answer.

The next morning changed my life forever.

6:00 am

I called my District Manager and told him what was going on. I explained everything down to the last detail. Our conversation finished with, “Let me make some calls and see what the company can do.”

I felt pretty good about that. I loved the company I was working for and I was considered a rising star. I remember thinking, “They’ll take care of me. They have to…”

8:00 am

“Joel, you can go home, but we won’t pay for you to get there.”

In that moment the perfect life that I had constructed completely shattered. The company that I thought cared about me as much as I cared about them didn’t. Most importantly, with one simple sentence, my perception of the corporate world changed forever.

Due to the expense of this trip and other work-related trips, I had no money, and my credit cards sat at capacity. I was stranded. My wife was at home undergoing surgery, and I couldn’t be there with her.

I began to call as many people as I could, begging and pleading that they help me get home. Eventually, I raised enough money to pay for my flight. That flight, although only 100 minutes, was the longest flight of my life. Minutes seemed like hours and hours seemed like days.

I arrived at the hospital as my wife came out of her surgery. The doctor explained what had happened and assured both of us that everything was OK. With shame in my heart, I looked at my wife and promised her that, “This will never happen again.”

I quit that job one week later and have never looked back.

In hindsight, this experience led me to something greater. The feeling of absolute helplessness I had on that day gave my life purpose. I realized that living a life controlled by others is no way to live. Now I live my life to empower others so that they can escape from the control of others.

I don’t regret this experience. This experience became a blessing in disguise.

I ask you.

Are you living life your own way? Or does someone else control it? What are you doing to fix that?

13 thoughts on “The Pain Of This Day Changed My Life Forever”

  1. I congratulate you on taking a good decision to leave that job, which is controlling your life. I work in a company that takes partial care of me. I was allowed minimum 2 work from home and early leave options. So i feel ease with my family. But still i miss some important moments and events with my new born kid at times.

    1. I applaud you Shasi. Not too many people work under the circumstances that you do. Be sure to recognize those important moments and try to be there for them. Most only happen once.

  2. Hi Joel, I can’t really find a word to describe your story, but it made me feel very emotional. Thanks very much for sharing it.

    I’ve also had that moment when your faith in your employer is shattered, but fortunately the events that led to it weren’t nearly as serious as yours. It looks like you’ve come out of it stronger though, well done!

    1. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to read my story Stephen. I’d be curious to know what your moment entailed, if you were willing to share?

      1. Hi Joel, thanks for your reply. Without going into too much detail, it was at a start-up run by an old colleague of mine, and I found out things that made me feel undervalued and taken for granted, especially on pay and benefits. I know other people also felt exploited, and a few of us left at around the same time. But like your experience, it was all part of the road to finding my passion and creating something that was better for me.

        1. I’m glad to hear that everything worked out for you. It is interesting how things always seem to work out not exactly as we want them, but how we need them.

          Take care Stephen

  3. This was such a moving story. A lot of the times we work for someone else and feel powerless over our lives but can’t seem to find a way out because of fear. I think when something really hits you hard, it gives you that determination and strong will to take the power back and start a life of your own. Thank you for this inspiring story! It really gives me a chance to reeavaluate what I value in life.

    1. Yjung,

      Yes, you are exactly right. As I opened the article with, Tony Robbins has said that “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

      It is a shame that often it takes drastic events to change perception, although better to see it than never see it at all.

      Best of luck re-evaluating your life.

  4. Joel what a powerful story you’ve shared. I hope many others take the chance to read it and ask themselves if they are in fact in control of their own life – and if not, why? So many of us don’t understand that in work, our loyalty is rarely ever 100% reciprocated. We actually have the responsibility to take care of ourselves – that is called life. Thanks Joel

  5. Eve,

    You are exactly right. We have an innate responsibility to take care of our own lives. Hopefully, more follow down this path and begin to take care of theirs.

  6. Hi Joel,

    Very inspiring story. It’s true, we only realize the importance of those we love during time of desperation.

    As Tony Robins said, “In life you need either inspiration or desperation.” And most people change lives out of desperation.

  7. Hi Rodolfo,

    Isn’t that quote the sad truth. Obviously, in my situation, it was out of desperation. We change because we have to and not because we want to. I can’t help but wonder if we all changed because we wanted to, how much better the world would be.

  8. Hi Joel,

    It was good hear about your life. I had a similar experience. I am 25 years old and I am working as an analyst in a Finance company for almost 4 years now.

    I was too pressurised as there were some internal work structural changes from last year and I had to work for long hours everyday without even having enough time to have food and breaks. This impacted a lot on both my mental and physical health and my employer was not ready to hear any of concern. I had consulted doctor once I found that I was falling into earlier stages of hypertension (high blood pressure). Doctor told me that you are too young to have hypertension. And then I decided to quit my job last month. A week after I put down my papers and I was serving my notice period, to worsen my condition I met with a road accident and had a facial injury and I underwent surgery. I am under medication now.

    I realised how much my employer and collegues care about me though I worked with them for 4 years. No one even cared visit me to check how I was doing after accident and surgery. I just received a message from my employer that “Please let us know when you can get back to work and bring all the medical certificates once you are back”. I felt so bad that this all my employer cares about me they just want me back to work it doesn’t matter how much you are suffering.

    I also felt good that I made good decision by quitting this company. End of the day no employer cares once you are down, all they want is to get their work done and that’s all they care about.

    I am not a good writer am not sure how I could express how much I am actually shattered. But gave a try, I think you were able under my situation.

    I look forward if you can suggest me something to make me feel better.

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