When I was 22, (of course, just a few short years ago) I was running in the wrong direction, trying everything to fill the emptiness inside me. I tried everything from partying to over-achieving to fill the emptiness. Life was boring and mundane. I lived for Fridays and my next retail therapy opportunity. I lived for myself and no one else.
But then, one night driving home from work, God intercepted my life through a car accident that left me with a head injury, two years of rehabilitation, and a seizure disorder.
When I tell people this, their mind often jumps to a scene in the show ER or Gray’s Anatomy. But for me, my story didn’t read like this at all. Although I was in the middle of a five car pile-up, there was no blood on the windshield, no dramatic ambulance rush to the hospital, no coma. Many people have much worse traumatic injuries than me.
But what did happen was that the tire that was bolted down in the back of my car came unbolted and hit me in the back of the head. This caused the head injury that left 15% of my brain damaged (which is okay because people only use 7% anyways), making it hard for me to focus, read more than three or four words at a time and of course, writing was a challenge as well.
From the outside, I looked normal, but from the inside, I was pretty messed up. For the next two years I went to rehabilitation at the Virginia Mason neurology clinic. The program included physical therapy, help for reading and writing, and physiological therapy. But if I am honest, the transformation that was and continues to happen through this experience is more a work of the heart than of the body. In the book, Lead like Jesus, the author Ken Blanchard says, “Effective leadership starts on the inside; it is a heart issue” (p. 39) I believe this is a true statement.
In his research for the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins identified circumstances that develop personal humility in leaders. He says, “Under the right circumstances – self-reflection, conscious personal development, a mentor, loving parents, a significant life experience, a Level 5 [leader]…they begin to develop” (Collins, 2001, p. 37). Collins also notes “a strong religious belief” (Collins, 2001, p. 37) as a prime motivator.
In my case, the compost to grow my personal and leadership life was the significant life event that led to my relationship with God. I knew that if I was still alive, God must have a purpose for me. Faced with the fact that my inadequacies far outweighed my strengths and stripped of the ability to depend on the approval of others for my confidence, I had to depend solely on God for my approval and validation. I became aware that I could do nothing without His help, now that I was no smarter than a fifth grader. My life verse became, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Brennan Manning once said, “Humility grows through a stripping away of all self-sufficiency; It is accomplished by the hand of God” (Wilkes, 1998, p. 48). Today, when people ask me how I feel about the car accident, I will tell them I would be lying if I told you that being stripped of self-sufficiency is not painful, but I would never trade the reward of authentic relationship with God and others that have developed on this journey for anything. I am truly thankful for my crash into humility.
Blanchard, K., & Hodges, P. (2005). Lead like jesus: Lessons from the greastest leadership role model of all times. (p. 39). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Collins, J. (2001). Good o great why some companies make the leap..and others don’t. (p. 37) New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishing Inc.
Wilkes, G. (1998). Jesus on leadership. (p. 48). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.