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“At the time, I didn’t know it, but I was a textbook definition of post-traumatic growth.”

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By Heidi Siefkas

How can taking out the stinky garbage even compete with lessons in kindergarten or those you learned from your dog or cat? It sounds improbable, but doing something so ordinary gave birth to something extraordinary.

On a normal Sunday afternoon several years ago, I did something we all do: I took out the trash as my husband watched football. I had no idea that with last night’s pizza box I was enrolling in the School of Hard Knocks. In fact, I was quickly accepted with a full-ride scholarship when I was leveled by a thousand-pound tree limb falling from nearly forty feet. In seconds, I lay in the driveway unconscious and with a broken neck.

It sounds improbable, but doing something so ordinary gave birth to something extraordinary.

When I awoke five days later, I literally had no idea what had hit me. The ICU doctors put the pieces of my life’s puzzle together for me. I had fractured my C-7 vertebra and had severe brain swelling. My prognosis was uncertain. The hope for recovery would entail neurosurgery and an immobilization brace for four to six months. My life as I knew it was forced to screeching halt.

I’m extremely fortunate to say that I got a second chance. However, this second chance didn’t come without some major ripple effects in every aspect of my life. With normal distractions on pause, I looked at my situation under a microscope. I discovered that my husband had been living a double life. I added a broken heart to my list of ailments. If the one-two sucker punch wasn’t enough, I received an unexpected phone call from my employer, who was forcing me to resign. Simultaneously, I lost everything that I held dear: health, marriage, and career. 

It was a when-all-balls-drop moment. My juggling act was canceled.

Over my lengthy recovery and coursework at the School of Hard Knocks, I decided to do my dissertation on this very important question: Is there an upside to losing everything? The answer did not come quickly. In fact, my first months of research, with dozens of adult temper tantrums and pity parties, pointed toward the answer that there was no upside. I’m sure you can relate: when you have been down and out, you wait for the other shoe to drop. I did too.

But I soon realized that with a do-over opportunity, I had an important decision. I could rebuild my former life or create a new one. I chose the latter, a Life 2.0. Just like software and application updates, I became a better version of myself. I used the trauma and loss as a springboard for growth and positive change. At the time, I didn’t know it, but I was a textbook definition of post-traumatic growth. Most haven’t heard of it, but there are many examples, from Batman to cancer survivors and most likely all of the people who inspire you.

Find the upside in any situation, as all wounds, obstacles, and losses can turn into wisdom.

You can say the tree knocked some sense into me and some BS out of me. Yes, I kicked my husband to the curb. However, I did find love again as well as a new career. Although that is good news to report, I have even better news. The same results can be achieved without a thousand pounds of anything. I wish I would have known that sooner, but hindsight is 20/20. That’s why upon receiving my doctorate from the School of Hard Knocks, I created the mantra “Look Up.” These two powerful words allow us all to tap into perspective quickly and from anywhere. “Look Up” reminds us all to (1) be in the moment, appreciating the beauty as well as the hazards around us and (2) find the upside in any situation, as all wounds, obstacles, and losses can turn into wisdom.

So the next time you take out the trash, be aware of falling tree limbs. But, if you step in dog poop on your way to the dumpster or accidentally text your boss a picture you meant for your lover, remember to Look Up.

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Heidi Siefkas is an author, speaker, and adventurer. Originally from small-town Wisconsin, Heidi hangs her hat in South Florida. However, as an adventurer, she’s rarely home for long. The author of three inspirational, non-fiction books When All Balls Drop, With New Eyes, and Cubicle to Cuba, she has created the mantra Look Up and speaks to groups worldwide. You can connect with Heidi at www.heidisiefkas.com.

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