It was early February – a few years ago – and I was driving to visit my mother who was in the hospital for another round of chemotherapy. The roads were still a bit icy from a snowstorm earlier that day as my girlfriend and I sat waiting at an intersection. As the light turned green and I made a left hand turn, I saw that the car to our right had gone through the red light and was sliding directly towards us. We were about to be side-swiped.
I was 22 years old at the time. My father was out of the picture; my brother lived hundreds of miles away; my mother and grandmother had both been recently diagnosed with aggressive cancers; and I had just moved home to be the primary caregiver. In short, I was in way over my head.
As their diseases progressed, we navigated through a handful of hospital systems, dozens of chemotherapy regiments, bone marrow biopsies, and stem cell transplants. Some of these treatments were over a thousand miles away. And with each day, each trip and each new treatment, the stress continued to build.
I was having a difficult time adjusting to my increasingly demanding role as a new caregiver. The anxiety and stress caused me to see problems everywhere I looked. Hours of my day would disappear helping my mother with routine tasks or sitting in a hospital room waiting for a scheduled appointment that had been pushed back three, sometimes four, hours. The negativity had slowly begun to creep in.
It wasn’t until I was introduced to the writings of Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill and Jeffrey Gitomer that I began to realize that the problem wasn’t all these outside factors. No – the problem was me. I had a bad attitude.
I was in a funk and had stopped working on myself. I wasn’t eating right and I had stopped exercising. But at least now I knew it. So I started with my attitude. I picked up any book on the subject I could find. I was reading every morning when I woke up and every night before I went to bed. I was working out in the morning and eating healthier throughout the day. I even placed a sticky note on my mirror, so that I could see it every morning, that said, “BAD ATTITUDE. FIX THIS!“.
Throughout the following weeks, I still had my setbacks. There were days when negativity, anxiety or hopelessness would still take over and drive. But every morning that message was staring back at me as a reminder that today was a new day. It was a fresh start.
On the day of the storm, before I left for the hospital, I was reading Jeffrey Gitomer’s YES! Attitude. There was one specific passage dealing with the fact that life happens to all of us. There will always be a mixture of good and bad events that occur throughout our days. But your attitude is tested and determined when you can maintain a positive outlook in the midst of the inevitable bad moments.
I’m not sure what passed through my mind as I pumped the brakes, fighting to find traction that night. But I distinctly remember the immediate calmness that followed as the other car stopped about a foot away. When my girlfriend started to shout something at the driver, I stopped her by saying, “It’s ok. The roads are really slick tonight. No one was hurt. I’m sure he was just as freaked out as we are.”
We drove on for a few minutes before she turned to me and said, “You’re right. That was a great response. No one got hurt. We’re ok.”
This near-hit and my new foundation from months of working with Dale, Napoleon and Jeffrey provided me with a fresh perspective. In the midst of it all – the illness, the stress, the anxiety – I realized that I was ok.
The trick to the whole thing, as Napoleon Hill once said, is to realize “that every adversity brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage.” As I took control of my attitude, I began to see the positives that I had been missing out on. Over the course of the next two years, before my mother passed away, I grew and learned more than I had at any previous time in my life. She went from being my mother, to being a mentor, to being one of my best friends. She passed along her passion for patient advocacy and showed me how to care for someone who is seriously ill. Through her example, I learned that things will only slow you down if you let them.
Adversity had given me a gift. I received two years with my mother where I got to know her and learn from her in a way that would never have been possible without her disease. But I had to change my attitude before I was able to appreciate the opportunity that lay before me.
Everyday I am reminded that I have a choice. There will always be factors outside of my control. Some big. Others small. Some will be more trying than others. But how I respond and my attitude towards these events will always be my choice to make.
Adversity will never leave you empty-handed. How it’s perceived is up to you. It begins with a choice and it’s yours to make. So choose wisely.