Wisdom//

What Almost Dying Taught Me About Really Living

How facing death brought me closer to true health and happiness — on my terms

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I am a busy entrepreneur, mom, and wife. I have always been a driven, always-on-the-go kind of person.

As a child I was always thinking, percolating, and ruminating (sometimes to my benefit, sometimes not). I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity and a drive to seek more. From a young age, I had big dreams and plans for my life, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way (my parents can attest to this perseverance!).

I went straight from high school to University. And before I was even formally graduated, I was working a full-time position in the career of my choosing.

From the time I discovered running and triathlon at 19 years old, rarely did a year pass without me training for and participating in local running events and triathlons.

I quickly climbed the ranks with the corporate health and fitness company I worked for. I was respected by my employer and among my peers.

Within a one year period I got married, relocated, bought a house, and renovated a house – all while working full time and taking some courses.

Time trucked on, and so did I – at a hurried pace. I continued to climb the corporate ladder, all while building a little side hustle teaching running clinics and fitness classes, and having two beautiful boys.

When the company I worked for suddenly faced bankruptcy, I didn’t let that hiccup slow me down. Within a few months, I’d launched my own health and fitness company and was back in action. In the past six years, I’ve built that company into a thriving business.

While balancing a full-time growing business and a family life with two young boys, I wrote and self-published a book, and successfully got that book into Chapters stores across Canada.

When people (frequently) ask me how I do it all, I tell them I am driven by a clear passion and purpose, and I’m deeply inspired by my work and view it as a vocation: a calling.

I tell them I am living the entrepreneurial Canadian dream.

And I am. But there is a cost. And I didn’t fully see it, until I nearly lost it all.

On August 27th, I faced death.

I was stung by a wasp, and unaware of a severe allergy, I nearly died from shock on the side of the highway, just three minutes from my home and family. 

And in that moment, as I faced the darkness and realized that I may not see the other side of this, all I could think of was my family: my husband and two boys. All I could think was how I wasn’t ready to leave them, not yet.

And as I reflected afterwards, it really had me question: What is all this go-go-go, striving, pushing, and hustling for?

Facing death has a funny way of turning down the volume on all the noise, stripping away the things that really don’t matter and shining a floodlight on the stuff that does. 

We live in a culture that places immense value on a very commercial ideation of success. The things we can have, the revenues our businesses generate, the number of books or products we sell, and the impact we have on clients. Especially as an entrepreneur, there’s a cultural push to find your grit and drive harder, and to continuously push.

But when the curtain goes down, what really matters? 

This experience has been truly life-affirming and life-changing. I always thought that my passion-driven business was my core purpose. And while it may be important and inspiring work, this experience has afforded me an opportunity to see with greater clarity the forest for the trees, and realize there is so much more to living a meaningful, worthwhile life.

As I’ve distilled the swirling ideas down to their essence, it condenses into five cornerstones: priorities, purpose, presence, patience, and play.

When the ambulance came, my blood pressure was 60/0 (not good) and I had no pulse at my wrist. My body was going into deep survival mode. I was quickly descending into shock and I could feel myself slipping away. I had lost my vision and most of my ability to hear or communicate. I tried to speak, but no words came out.

It was terrifying.

But I was holding onto a kernel of hope. Once they gave me epinephrine, it would all turn around. That’s how allergy reactions work, right?

But it didn’t. The first shot of epi did (what felt like) nothing. I could still feel myself slipping into darkness — falling away from my life and everything I hold dear.

In the darkness, unable to speak, I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks and my breath quicken in panic.

This isn’t how this is supposed to go.

All I could think about was my husband Mike and our two boys. who were at home, just minutes away.

I told myself, This is not how this is going. Refocus. Fight. This is not my time.

The second epi shot was effective. I began to feel myself coming back. I could see again. I reclaimed a sense of control over the situation (even if that feeling was misguided).

It took time and therapy, but with reflection, it became clear.

At that critical juncture, I didn’t think about my business or my clients. I didn’t think about book sales or the “important” work I have left to do.

I thought about my husband and boys, and the life we are meant to share.

What a crystallizing moment about my priorities.

All this go-go-go, striving, pushing and hustling was for what end?

Since August, I’ve started to review my life through a new lens of priority. It may sound morbid, but here’s my clarifying question: If I die tomorrow, what would I most regret?

Spending more time working on this blog/ writing another book/ developing a new program for clients? Or spending time connecting with my loved ones and creating memories?

I’ve long been clear that when I say yes to one thing, I’m concurrently saying no to another. But, now, instead of defaulting from a place of go/ strive/ push/ hustle/ repeat, I’m pausing and asking are my yeses and nos in the right columns?

Sometimes it will be the blog/ book/ program. And that’s ok, too. But my intention is clear.

I’ve already said, I am really fortunate to do work I’m extremely passionate about, and genuinely feel as though I’m living a purpose-driven life.

Pre-wasp, I would have said I’m rocking my purpose. Post-wasp, I would say I have some work to do.

Because while I was absolutely rocking my purpose within my work, ultimately, that’s just one pillar of my life!

When I work with clients, I talk about five pillars: work/business, family, health, community and personal/professional development.

What became abundantly clear was that purpose wasn’t siloed within each pillar. Instead, my purpose needs to be all-encompassing and then direct my intentions and actions within each pillar.

It comes down to this singular question: What is my sole reason for being?

My answer: to be happy and fulfilled. Period. To live a life that leaves me happy and fulfilled.

Here’s how that fans out into each pillar (for me):

  • Work/ Business – I am happy and fulfilled when I make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Family – I am happy and fulfilled when I share real, genuine moments of connection with my family and close friends.
  • Health – I am happy and fulfilled when I have the energy and vitality to say yes to any adventure.
  • Community – I am happy and fulfilled when I make a difference in the lives of others (this happens to be the same as my work).
  • Personal/ Professional Development – I am happy and fulfilled when I am engaging my curiosity and learning.

By getting really clear on my true purpose, I’ve been able to better prioritize and cut down on the noise, and truly live a purpose-driven life — in all areas of my life.

There is truly nothing like a near-death experience to jolt you back to this present moment, and to help you see that this moment is the only moment you know you’ve got for sure. So you’d better embrace it — fully.

I hugged my husband and kids a little harder that night. I looked in their eyes a little more deeply. And I put my damn phone down because I don’t want to miss a single moment — because you just. don’t. know.

Honesty: I’m not perfect. Obviously I’m human (otherwise I wouldn’t have nearly died). Some days I get distracted working away on my phone, or get drawn into the scroll hole of Facebook. But it’s less than it was before. And I’ll take that progress. Much like everything in life, this too is a practice.

But I have a new commitment to the practice of presence.

I’m finding ways to embrace mindfulness at a whole new level, really savouring and experiencing my life one delicious moment at a time.

I’ve long recognized my tendency to push. I’m usually driven by the idea that time is running out, and that if I don’t do this now, then I’ll miss my shot.

I saw that as an asset: a deep internal motivator that enabled me to go, push, strive, and hustle.

I wasn’t willing to see it as an Achilles heel. But I do now. Now, more than ever, I’m willing to shift my go-go-go into slow-slow-slow, not just in business, but in life.

There is merit to slowing down. Sometimes slowing down affords you the opportunity to see things more clearly. Sometimes it helps you realize you’re headed in the wrong direction entirely, and gives you the space and time to course correct. Sometimes it just gives you the opportunity to practice presence a bit more. And more than anything, it creates a spaciousness in your life and mind that fosters creativity and connection: slow walks in the woods, slow snuggles with my babes, and slow sipping my tea. Patience, it turns out, is magic.

Possibly more than anything, this experience has reminded me how important it is to bring joy to the journey. You really don’t know when your time is up, so you’d better enjoy the ride!

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to work hard, or challenge myself — far from it. I love a little elbow grease and stepping out of my comfort zone — always have, always will.

But I’m going to make sure that there is a playfulness to my practice.

Whether it’s a killer playlist while I push hard on the treadmill, or putting in effort to make my work-space make my eyes smile, it all matters. Seek joy. Laugh more. Smile more. Play more. Life is short. Shorter than we know.

Life is ever-changing. I’m sure these lessons will continue to evolve as I evolve. But for now, I feel a greater sense of ease knowing that I’m intentionally protecting my priorities. I’m living more on purpose than ever before, and slowing down enough that I can really show up and bringing joy to the journey.

And this I know for sure: I’m happier and healthier for it – body, mind, and spirit.

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