Seven years ago, I was on my way to give a speech at Columbia Journalism School when the driver of my taxi started to accelerate through red lights. He ended up running lights until we came to a major intersection, where we crashed, quite spectacularly. He never said a word: He just stared at me in the rear view mirror with dead, emotionless eyes. I knew he was running the lights on purpose, not out of tiredness or a mistake, and that made it worse.
The crash unfolded in slow motion. I took a number of actions to save my life, but eventually I passed out, awakening once again to the sound of my own screams. I was told the driver had died, my right leg was crushed ("powdered" they called it), and my face was broken up. I couldn't see through all the blood.
This event started an odyssey that is the opposite of what we all hope for in life. I suffered through unbelievable pain, and the possibility of losing my leg (or at best, never walking without a brace again). I would never again be able to do my favorite morning run on the treadmill. I was also leading my own company of twelve employees. The situation felt impossible.
I was hospitalized for over a month, where I was totally immobile, scared and on much-needed pain killers. Meanwhile, I needed to continue running my company. Prior to the accident, I had been looking for new offices and had found the perfect, once-in-a-lifetime, beautiful spot at Park and 59th. It was expensive, but worth it. The lease was due to be signed while I was in hospital, and would mean an extensive monetary obligation for years to come. I found myself questioning everything: Could I run a business while disabled? Could I spend eight hours a day making every client happy, eight hours a day marketing, and eight hours a day taking care of the business, while still finding time to recuperate?
I leaned in. The business was my passion. I had superb clients, and a wonderful team. I also had a supportive, if shocked, husband, and heaven-sent friends. If I signed the lease and took the office, clients would be able to come to me and experience a truly gorgeous environment.
I also felt extraordinarily lucky. Given that crisis is my business, I had inadvertently learned so much about survival and resilience through my own situation.
My incredible real estate broker (a former classmate) came to the hospital and set things in motion. My lawyers came to the hospital so I could sign the lease, and somehow we cut the necessary checks; the office was ours.
We moved into the office three months later when I was still immobile in a wheelchair. In the meantime, my dearest Dad had died unexpectedly, and my Mom had fallen seriously, fatally ill. We were all incredibly close, as I was an only child. It would have been so easy to quit given the pressure and sadness. But my clients were supportive, and so was almost everyone else.
Of course, there are always the few who will kick you when you are down. I found out later that one of my top people started lobbying with a client to go work with them directly, only days after my accident. Eventually she succeeded. I could have sued, but I decided not to focus on the small, unsavory stuff, as this woman was creating her own karma. Instead, I took the high road, and put all of my energy into recovery, resilience and positive work.
This experience has made me a far better crisis advisor and leadership resource. There is no end to the number of crises businesses, nonprofits and individuals endure. And while each situation is different, there are some commonalities. After going through my own crisis, I can be more effective, more -- to use an overused word -- authentic in helping others.
I've learned many things over the past several years, but one lesson stands out. Regardless of what happens, don't become obsessed with anything but the opportunity. Be strategic and smart, but focus forward and not backward. Bear the pain, but move beyond it, whenever possible, to joy, compassion and relentless good work.