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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
“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?