That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger Or Does It?

This afternoon, I almost got wiped out by a truck running a red light. The other driver was speeding … doing at least 60 miles per hour. Way too fast for the road. She missed me by a hair. I had the green light. So what? I was less than a second away from being toast.

That’s not the only time I came close to dying. There have been several events over the years, but I’m still here, chugging along and enjoying life.

The first time was on a Saturday night in a workingman’s pub in Harwich, England. Smokey and noisy. Everyone having a good time, escaping from the drudgery of the work week.

Suddenly there’s total silence. The kind of silence where someone pulls the plug. Silence, except for the wild man holding a gun to my head and screaming, “I’m going to blow your f**kin’ head off, you Irish bastard!”

The weapon was a Webley. A revolver with a 6-inch barrel that fired a 45-caliber bullet. It felt much bigger. I knew it was more than enough to send me to hell. 

The guy holding it was a sergeant in the British special forces. He was a combat-hardened veteran, just back from the troubles in Aden. He thought I had been shacking up with his wife while he was away fighting for Queen and country. Describing him as angry would be an understatement.

Supposedly, in that kind of situation, you see your life flashing before your eyes.  You start praying. Some people pee in their pants. None of those happened to me. I just froze. I stood there thinking, “I’m going to die for something I didn’t do. That SOB I work with had all the fun, and I’m going to pay for it.”

Obviously, the soldier didn’t pull the trigger. His friends persuaded him he had the wrong guy and he left. He never found my co-worker. That guy was smart enough to leave town.

Look, stuff happens that we have no control over. Some of it is scary. Some of it is life-threatening. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Personally, I think that’s mostly BS. Sure, having a gun to my head scared the hell out of me. But, it happened very quickly, and I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.

The experience taught me that life is fragile. There are things we have no control over, so we can’t worry about them. However, there are lots of things we do have control over. It’s important to pay attention to them.

For example, take my experience with the dangerous driver this afternoon. I couldn’t control her speed or stop her from running the red light. However, there were several other things I could have done to avoid the near collision. 

First, I didn’t have to take off like a bat out of hell as soon as I got the green light. I should have anticipated someone running the red light … it happens all the time.

Second, I should have been paying more attention to the road. Yeah, I was trying to unscrew the top of a bottle of water … steering with my left hand, talking to my wife, and not giving my undivided attention to the traffic. Stupid!

Lesson learned: Drive defensively. It may save your life.

Look, I’m not making light of the effect traumatic experiences can have on people. We’re all different. The same experience can impact different people in different ways. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is very real and very debilitating. People who suffer from PTSD need help to overcome it.

Six years ago, I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit. I’d suffered from flash pulmonary edema, and I ‘d been in a controlled coma for several days. That also scared the hell out of me. In fact, it scared me enough to make me assess my entire lifestyle.

Before my wake-up call in the ICU I didn’t take very good care of myself. Sure, I tried periodically … different diet programs and lots of exercise. I’d lose some weight and gradually slip back into my old habits. Most of the regimens I tried were unsustainable. A year later I’d have regained the lost weight, plus another 10 pounds.

What the hell! What was wrong with me?

Eat less, move more. That was the advice from the doctors and the nutritionists. It was based on the FDA’s Food Pyramid. Eat more grains, it said. Fat is evil. Then you realize we feed grain to cattle and hogs, so they grow big and fat and provide us with great steaks and pork chops. Huh!

In any case, there are lessons to be learned from all of life’s experiences. The key is being open to learning them. Some of us learn quickly. Others, like me, need to be hit on the head with a two-by-four.

“When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

The first and most important lesson is we’re in charge of our own bodies and our own destinies. The big food companies and the big pharmaceutical companies exist to make money. Nothing wrong with that. Just understand their goals are different than yours.

I learned to eat healthier. Truth is, I’m still tweaking it. There’s a whole lot of confusion and misinformation about diet. Understand there’s no magic, no quick fixes. We’re all different. What works for one person may not work for another. I try to avoid processed foods, sugar and stuff with a whole bunch of chemical additives.

Hey, I’m not perfect but I keep trying. Understand I enjoy living and breathing and that’s worth a little work. I lost 115 pounds six years ago. It took me almost an entire year, but I’ve kept it off. If I can change my lifestyle, you certainly can too. For some solid nutritional advice, check out Dr. Jason Fung: 

Here’s the big lesson; the purpose of this article. It’s about the impact personal traumas can have on people, and how you can learn from your experiences. By the way, I’m nothing special. I have the same fears and weaknesses most people have. If I can navigate this minefield, you most certainly can.

  • Don’t be afraid to dream.
  • Turn your dreams into goals.
  • Build a plan to achieve your goals.
  • Understand not everyone has your best interest in mind. Not the food companies, not the big drug companies, not even your family and friends.
  • When you stumble, and stumble you will, pick yourself up and keep moving forward.
  • Don’t worry about what others think about you. They don’t live in your body.
  • Avoid obvious dangers … tornados, hurricanes, war zones.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Never stop investing in yourself. You are the best asset you will ever find, and you are worth it.
  • Be happy. Life is short. Enjoy the hell out of it.

Finally, here’s one of my all-time most inspirational poems:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

I’m Oliver Connolly and I help owners and sales managers build a sales force that consistently delivers results.

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Oliver Connolly