How to Respond When Life Throws You a Curveball

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My life stopped about a month and a half ago. Everything was normal before it happened. I mean 100% business as usual. I was going about my typical days and then it all came crashing down on me.

I had a lot going on, that’s for sure. I was a month out from announcing my biggest and most exciting project of the year (click that link. It’s a big deal). And my wife and I were a month and a half out from welcoming our firstborn into the world — the kind of event that you’ll never feel prepared for.

And then, on an idle Tuesday evening, on a walk with my dog, I started to feel a bit ill.

The next few days and multiple doctor visits culminated in an emergency surgery to correct an intestinal issue.

After a few days in the hospital, I was home. And after a few days at home, I was back in the hospital with serious complications.

I spent 14 days and 13 nights in the hospital.

And there was no way to see it coming. In a snap of my fingers, weeks of life were gone.

Whether it be a health issue, sudden job loss, or something else — sometimes life demands that you stop and make changes.

I had big dreams for this month, and I’m working hard to meet the deadlines, but there’s a balance that I’m learning. On one side we have hard work and hustle, and on the other side we have self-care, rest, and recovery.

Right now I need both, and it’s tough to know how to get them.

How do you respond when life demands that you stop?

While in the hospital I had a tube running in my nose and down to my stomach. It hurt to swallow and kept me from being able to speak at more than a whisper for much of my stay. It was painful.

A friend came to see me and we talked (quietly) about how hard things were and how there was no end in sight.

I said, “I don’t know how we’ve made it this far, and I don’t know how I’m still going.”

She replied with a smile, “It’s all that mindfulness shit that you do.”

I couldn’t help but smile. She was right.

There was so much that was well beyond my control and so little I was able to change. I couldn’t fix myself. I couldn’t even get out of bed without help. I felt powerless.

Even when everything is out of your control, you can still choose how you respond.

As bad as everything was, I still had one choice. And that’s at the core of what it means to live mindfully. Mindfulness breaks the cycle of stimuli → response. It becomes stimuli → choice → response.

And that makes all the difference.

I’ve learned, and I’m continuing to learn that while life may throw curveballs at us, and things may fall apart, and you may suddenly have to spend 14 days in the hospital, and all your deadlines may become moot-points, and your dog may have to lose her leg, and your relationship may fall apart, and loved ones may pass away, and disasters may come, and everything else bad happens— you can still choose how to respond.

In the comments, I’d love to hear if you’ve ever been through a similar experience or otherwise had the wind knocked out of your sails.  How did you choose to respond? How did you recover from it?


PS- Now that I’m back to work, I can’t help but tell you about the Calling Course. It is the most effective tool out there for finding your purpose and direction. If you’re asking questions meaning in life and work, I made this for you. I can’t wait for you to be a part of it.

PPS- This just in: I’m a dad! Our son was born last week and is the coolest kiddo on the block!

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 11 Comments On This Post.

  1. Jill Porco

    Congratulations on becoming a dad. Life as you know it has changed forever.

  2. Jill Porco

    Sometimes one gets the curveball all at once, as with you. It seems like you just gotta roll with the punches. It’s like a depressive episode. It will ride itself out. Just gotta let it happen, then move onto the next.

  3. Cathe Gill

    Dan – Great article, thank you for restating so well the importance of taking, and building in, time to pause before responding to crisis, or even annoyance. That hesitation, taking a breath, and grounding, mean all the difference in getting on a road to learn more about ourselves. And yes, the little guy is the coolest kid on the block!
    Cathe Gill

  4. This visual was SO good for me tonight: “Mindfulness breaks the cycle of stimuli → response. It becomes stimuli → choice → response.” A needed reminder when there’s lots of stimuli pulling at my attention and suddenly my days aren’t aligned with what’s most important to me.

    Although I’ve encountered some big events that have similarly “knocked the wind out of my sails” what seems to get me the most is the day-by-day stuff that takes too many moments right from under me. I’ll be writing your words some place that my eyes will see often. Love learning from your experience and wisdom Dan. Keep it coming and congrats on the little guy.

    • Thanks so much Katie. I often find visual representations of my internal process to be super helpful. I’m glad that one landed with you 🙂

  5. craig

    Dan, I read your story and have been wondering what happened. So glad you’re on the mend. I had a similar experience two years ago. I was finishing up a light chemo protocol to treat an autoimmune condition, when I was bitten by a mosquito … Four days later, I was disoriented and confused, my wife called an ambulance. I remember being transferred from a gurney and slipped into a CAT scan machine. I woke up four days later. I had no recollection of my family, friends, even what year it was (I thought it was 2008). A week later, I was diagnosed with West Nile Virus. Up until then, the doctors had no idea what was causing the meningitis and encephalitis. It was quite a scare for my wife and my two girls (one of whom was 8 months old at the time). My oldest lived with an obsession with doctors and people getting sick for about 18 months — the only way she could process the trauma. My wife still experiences some trauma from my three-week hospital stay and months long recovery. Would love to process some of this stuff with you at some point. It has changed a lot about how I think of myself …

    • Hey Craig! i’m super slow in responding, but I’m sure you can understand 🙂

      I had an intestinal volvulus, emergency corrective surgery, and then a handful of doctor-stumping complications.

      Your experience sounds similar to mine in many ways. I think my wife and I are both a little traumatized by the whole experience. And a bit paranoid about possible reoccurrence.

      Thanks for sharing. It’s good to know you get where I’ve been 🙂

  6. H

    Wow – such an important reminder!

    About 6 months ago, in a span of 2-3 weeks, I had back surgery followed by a nasty infection that left me immobile for weeks, I got let go from my dream job, and my girlfriend dumped me.

    I don’t know how I kept going, but I find myself on my feet and marching forward.

    It’s always nice to hear how others have battled back from less than ideal situations. Way to go!

    • Wow. What a crazy hard experience you went through as well. I’m sorry to hear it, and so glad you’re on the other side.

      Sometimes just taking the next step and living the next day (let alone hours or minutes) is all we can do.

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