I had to nearly die in order to learn how to really live. On January 30, 2017, I got the wake-up call of my life when my appendix ruptured while vacationing on the remote Caribbean island of Dominica. I went into the operating room thinking I was having a simple appendectomy but learned after the fact that my appendix had ruptured, and I was within hours dying. An outstanding medical team saved me, and it took me the better part of five months both on the island and back at home to recover.
Everything that I thought was important before suddenly faded away. I had to surrender to the kindness of strangers to help me recover. The pain was bad. I felt like my insides were being ripped apart with a serrated knife every time I moved. I slept fitfully. My brain couldn’t focus for more than a few minutes at a time forcing me to slow down and just concentrate on each moment – one at a time.
Luckily, I was bathed in the light of pure love and acceptance when I found myself surrounded by people in Dominica and at home who were ready, willing, and able to help me heal. They fed me physically and spiritually and mobilized others who I didn’t even know to do the same. They jumped right in simply because I needed them and not because I was doing something for them. They wanted to help me as me, not me as the achiever. Imagine that, I was good enough just because I needed them. Period. I remain humbled by their compassion and their love to this day.
Embracing My Inner Great
My near-death experience helped open my eyes to the fact that I was prioritizing the wrong things. Like many people, I was overscheduled and prided myself on “doing it all” all the time.
On paper, I was a person of success, but when it came down to what's important, was I really a person of value?
My father-in-law used to ask me how I was doing every time we saw each other – which was often because he and my mother-in-law lived two miles from us for over 20 years.
I didn’t realize that my answer was always the same until he pointed out that I usually responded with a resounding “Great!” before going on to share news or something funny. I don’t think he always believed me because as optimistic as he was, he came from a generation who looks at life through the lenses of reality, discipline, and maintaining dignity at all times.
He’s been gone many years now, but I’ve often thought about that exchange and how it contributed to shaping my perspective about what “great” really means.
The Self-Worth Shuffle
We’ve been conditioned to think that “greatness” denotes some level of perfection. It means being singled out for something that’s better than good because we’ve won something, achieved something or thought beyond the ordinary. In short, we’ve succeeded in some socially acceptable way. While those are all common definitions, I think it’s something simpler and more intrinsic to who we are at our core.
For me, “great” is about defining my own self-worth and being present in my own life rather than letting my value be dictated conventional beliefs.
We live our greatness with positivity, presence and self-love.
I’m a high achiever by many typical standards. I have a college degree. I’m a successful public relations professional. I’ve been happily married for over 30 years and have two kids and two kids-in-law who are all educated and gainfully employed at work they like. Even with all of that, I’ve still felt on the inside that I wasn’t good enough – that my value was based on what others saw as important about me, which was usually some level of accomplishment or what I could do for them.
I Am Enough
How has my health scare experience changed me? My soul and spirit feel lighter. I’m no longer a me who is defined by how much I do and the level of success I achieve. I have a chance to celebrate that I’m enough just the way I am, and it feels so powerful. I’m trying to live the way I was meant to – moment by moment – and to be fully present in each one of them.
How do I embrace my new inner “great?” I try to make a difference - small or large – every day whether it’s recognized or not. Period.
Sounds easy, right? Well . . . it is, and it isn’t. Here’s why. It’s been hard to give myself a break. Life is often complicated and messy. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s wrong – we’ve all been conditioned to want to fix what we think doesn’t work.
I thought I had a positive attitude toward life, but what I was really doing was responding to the way I thought others defined my value.
My near-death experience showed me that problems won’t go away, but I really do have a choice about how I’ll respond to them. I started looking at the good of my life every day first, to see problems as opportunities and to become more present in the many moments of daily living. I call owning these steps “great-filling.”
Great-filling is a deliberate intention. It’s not about hiding from what’s hard. It’s that moment when I realize that I do have the power to fill my life with gratitude and service – even when life gets complicated – by simply choosing to make a difference every day. Every. Single. Day.
Some of these actions can be big. Some may be lifechanging. Often, however, they’re small. Maybe even minute. Sometimes I have to really, really, really look to identify any positivity. That’s OK. The beauty of great-filling is that it isn’t the scale of the action, it’s the fact that it took place.
As for my typical answer for “How are you?” Well, it hasn’t changed. I still usually reply with a hearty “Great!” Now, though, it comes from a place in my soul.