Why does it take a dramatic event or experience in our life to get us to wake up and pay attention to what is really important?


I hear stories in my work every day from people who have made dramatic, needed shifts in their lives only after a sudden, world-rocking death in their families, their own near-death experience, a bout with a life-threatening illness, or another such tragedy or calamity.   These events provide jolting “wake-up calls”, pushing us out of the stupor of our day-to-day habits and personal comfort zones to a new awareness of the meaning behind what we are doing and why we are doing them.


I had such an experience about a year and a half ago.


I was sitting with my family (in a church, of all places) when my heart started beating incredibly fast.  Not fast like after a workout, but pounding so hard that the only sensation I could feel was my heart beating away like a drummer in a rock band playing a solo.  It was surreal.


When I arrived at the emergency room, I was whisked in right away, ahead of the others waiting to be seen.


The EKG machine was hooked up to me immediately, and the alarmed look on the technician’s face as she announced the reading of “258 beats per minute” sent me into a panic.  The secret “code” language they were using to communicate with each other didn’t help—nor did the “get the doctor immediately” orders they were issuing along with their color code flags.


The doctor appeared with a needle, letting me know that my heart rate had been way too high for too long.  He explained that he was going to try an injection as an attempt to lower my heart rate to prevent the potential of my body spiraling into cardiac arrest.


Did he say cardiac arrest?


In my 40’s?


Needless to say, after that, everything was a blur.  The only thing I remember was the fact that in my mind, I was contemplating the prospect of death in that moment. I began telling myself what I would do if I survived.  Racing through my mind were thoughts of all the things I wanted to do, all the people I care about and what I wanted to tell them, and all the things I was currently doing that were stupid and unimportant.  I was pleading with myself to get through this, and promising myself to be different as a result. I vowed that I would be more appreciative of the time I do have here, and spend each moment more consciously and intentionally.


My heart rate was stabilized and weeks full of a battery of tests began, followed by a visit to a cardiologist.  The bottom line:  I didn’t die, didn’t go into cardiac arrest, and as far as the tests showed, I wasn’t at risk for a serious cardiac episode.  Tests were normal.  It appeared to be an isolated electrical malfunction—a false alarm.


Regardless, the alarm was sounded.  As I counted my blessings and pondered for a moment what could have been a different outcome, I remembered all the things that went through my head in that emergency room as I faced the reality of my own mortality.  I asked myself some hard questions and started making some big changes in how I orient myself to the world, what I focus on, what I choose to spend my time on.


I’d like to use my experience to pose three wake-up call questions to you:


Are you living each moment of your day fully present, aware, and in a place of non-judgmental curiosity?


I was introduced to the concept of “mindfulness” before it became a buzzword about 10 years ago when I stumbled upon Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Wherever You Go There You Are”.  The emergency room experience only renewed my urgency to continue training my mind daily in the discipline of focus and heightened awareness.  Try a daily mindfulness practice if you are serious about teaching yourself to focus more effectively and be more fully present each and every day.


Are you going through the motions without taking a deep look at what you have outgrown or is not serving you?


What struck me the most in those emergency room moments was how fragile and precious life really is. I vowed to take a thorough inventory of what I did on a daily basis, what I was doing in my work life, and what changes I needed to make to make to honor the limited and unknown duration of the time I have in this life.   I started making changes immediately. Take a look at the biggest areas of your life and work and identify what parts are not working.  Begin to make changes—now.


Are you coming from a place of gratitude or resentment?


There are so many people, relationships, and aspects of my life for which I am grateful.  I found a renewed commitment to honor the people and the joy I experience on a daily basis, rather than focus on the frustrations that come with our human experience.  So — do a reality check for yourself.  Count your blessings and let go of trying to control everything.  Are you appreciating what is right in front of you?


It shouldn’t take a wake-up call to push us to think about these things, but the reality of our busy daily lives is that we operate on auto-pilot, get settled in our routines, and relish our comfort zones.


Let my false alarm and this blog today be your wake-up call.

What would you do differently on a daily basis if it was real?