I am The Human WakeUp Call. My story reminds people that life is a gift and every day counts. It’s time to wake up to the fact that none of us have endless tomorrows, even though we might be living as if we do. Contrary to the frequent fear-driven messages we hear, this is a lesson of finding the possibility for change, then pursuing it. It’s the small, consistent changes we make that lead to big differences.
I wasn’t always on this WakeUp call mission however. Like so many others, during my career I never played a very active role in where I headed. The promotions and job changes were spaced out well enough to give me the illusion of progress, but in reality I simply ‘floated down the river’ letting life take me from one place to another. None of it truly felt like it was my ‘right’ work. I was not really happy, but moderately comfortable.
Then, one day when I was in my thirties, the ‘river’ I was floating in took me to another Fortune 500 company and I found myself in yet another meaningless job. I had just moved to Connecticut from New York City and the new office was all the way in downtown Manhattan, increasing my commute from 25 minutes to more than two hours each way! Each morning my wife would drive me to the station with our one-year-old daughter sleeping in back, tucked sweetly into her car seat. I would come home each night and my little girl would be exactly as I left her, asleep in the backseat as my wife waited in the parking lot for my train to arrive. Days would go by where I wouldn’t see her awake at all. Children look peaceful while sleeping, but seeing her mostly in that state started to remind me that this was not the kind of parent I wanted to be, absent from her waking world.
I soon found myself wishing away my weekdays, hoping for each one to finish sooner than the clock would allow, in favor of the weekend and time – awake! – with my family. I realized that my work felt unimportant to me yet AGAIN, I felt out of place AGAIN, and I didn’t know what to do about it. My wife was taking care of our daughter and upkeep on our new home so I was the sole financial provider. However, I didn’t know what would fulfill me and had no direction. So I did what many people in that situation do – nothing. After all, life was just fine… wasn’t it?
Then, one Monday afternoon, I was sitting outside my office having lunch. It was a beautiful late summer day in New York where the sky was a stunning cerulean blue with not a cloud in sight. As I sat there enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face, I felt more grounded than I had in a long while. I looked up at my office building and was overcome by the sense that somehow it controlled my life. I realized at that moment that I HAD to make a change… even if it was a small change. A new intention was born.
This time had to be different! I had to take action. So I decided that the next morning, instead of rushing to catch the early train in keeping with my new morning ritual, I would take a later train so I could have a nice relaxing breakfast with my wife and (awake) daughter. I remember smiling at the thought thinking this was a good first step. Not a big step, but at least a new beginning. One of the most important lessons I realized from that small decision was that nothing would change until I changed it. It was clear that I would never FIND the time. I had to CREATE it!
The next morning my wife, surprised to see that I was already dressed and ready to go, asked quizzically, “I thought you were taking the later train today?” She asked me whether we were still having breakfast together or if she should drive me to the station so I could make my normal train. Little did I know, at that moment, I was standing at the crossroads of my life and my answer to that innocent question would determine my fate.
The chatter in my head started: “Do I just take the early train and have breakfast together another day? Will my daughter even be aware that we’re having breakfast? Do I risk going in late? Will I get in trouble at work? I’ve only been there a few months, can I even do this?” But then I had a moment of truth and my true values came forth to guide me, stirring something inside me and stopping my hesitation. “No,” I said to her. “The whole point of the morning was to have breakfast together, so let’s have breakfast together. I’ll catch the next train.” It was a simple declaration; as innocent a decision as if made on any other day of my life.
So we spent some wonderful time together having breakfast in our small dining room. It was another beautiful morning and I looked at my family and just smiled. I had known my wife since we met on a Junior High School trip to Quebec in 9th grade and I knew the moment I saw her that she was the “one”. Here we were 18 years later and I was living the reality of my dreams. Life was good!
She dropped me off and I took the train into New York City, smiling the whole way. I’m sure I looked out of place among the cranky faces of so many other commuters who were beaten down by the many hours they had spent getting in and out of the city at such a cost. But nothing could bother me that day – I felt I had some control of my life! It felt great!
I got on the subway, and instead of being in my office, I was underground at 8:45am when the first plane slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, into my floor, hitting my desk. Most of the members of my group were up there when it happened, including my boss and team. The morning I had breakfast with my family just happened to be September 11, 2001.
So now you see why I feel compelled to share my story with you and why I recreated my career to serve as a WakeUp Call for others – so you don’t have to experience a tragedy or a near miss to wake up to the possibility of your life. So you stop drifting downstream looking back at your life asking ‘why?’ and instead turn around to look forward and say, ‘What now? Where do I want to go?’ So you and the many thousands of people I now work with can stop ‘losing’ precious days.
In many ways my life began anew the day before that memorable day in September, but not for the reason that you may think. Most people believe that it was my close brush with death that changed my outlook on life. Yet my feeling of being alive and having control over my life spread a smile over my face long before I arrived to see my office engulfed in flames. It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t die on September 11, but instead the reality that I had already begun living on September 10.
In the simple act of choosing a small step toward my larger goal, I had turned myself around to face downstream and take responsibility for the direction in my life. Sometimes we give in to the illusion that we have no control over our lives. Yet small decisions can make big differences in your life. Do you realize that life is a gift and every single day counts? You don’t have endless tomorrows and the ‘some day’ you are waiting for may never come.
I gave up my comfortable corporate life and chose what for me is a harder road. Today I am a business and personal leadership coach, sharing my message and empowering others through individual and team coaching, mentoring, workshops, seminars and keynote speaking. I have been blessed to have touched people across the US, in Canada, Europe and even as far away as Nigeria in Africa. I love my family and my life as much as ever (including my son who has since been born.) Now, I even love my work! How can you live any other way?
If you feel that you have no control over your life, it’s time to find one small thing you can do to move your life in a better direction. You may have continued down uninspired paths because you were simply stuck or afraid or uncertain of how to break this powerful spell. But if you can find one thing to change, one thing that makes you feel more alive, then you must do it.
September 10th was a day that looked just like any other day. Is today your September 10th? What are you waiting for?
Mike Jaffe, President and Founder, MBA, CC, CLPC (413) 854-2401.