A Question That Changes Everything

In 2003, I was named President of Thomas Nelson. It was an extremely busy time. I made some major changes to my executive team and had two vacant positions. As a result, I essentially had three jobs.

An Undecided Businessman - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kaisersosa67, Image #2098327

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kaisersosa67

One morning on my way to work, I grabbed my computer case in my right hand, a fresh cup of coffee in my left, and headed downstairs to the garage to leave to work.

Four steps from the bottom, I slipped on the carpet. Without a free hand to grab the stair-rail, I tumbled forward. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my fanny on the landing.

I wasn’t immediately aware of any pain. However, my dress shirt and tie were soaked in coffee. I remember thinking, Shoot! I’m going to have to completely change my clothes. This was particularly frustrating, because I was already running late, and I had a very busy day ahead of me.

My wife Gail heard me fall and came running. “Are you okay?” she asked as she raced down the stairs to help me up.

“I’m fine,” I assured her. “However, I’m afraid I’ve made a mess.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she offered as she helped me up. “I can clean this up while you get changed.”

When I put my weight down on my right foot, I let out a yelp. “Oh my gosh! I think my ankle is sprained.” As it turned out, it was more than sprained. It was broken.

My day was, of course, scuttled. In fact, the next ten days were scuttled. I had to have surgery, including a plate and six screws to repair the damage. In addition, for three months I had to wear a therapeutic boot (in lieu of a cast). This couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

At this point, I could have asked myself several questions:

  • Why am I so clumsy?
  • Why did I have both hands full?
  • Why does this have to happen now?
  • Why did I have to be in such a hurry?
  • What did I do to deserve this?

The problem with these questions is that they are completely unproductive and disempowering.

They are natural, of course, and probably even necessary. It’s all part of the process of grieving a loss. But ultimately there are better questions.

One of the best questions you can ask when something negative happens is this:

“What does this experience make possible?”

Do you see the subtle shift? Suddenly, your attention moves from the past—which you can’t do a thing about—to the future.

It is also an acknowledgment that nothing happens by chance. Everything has a purpose. Even the bad things can have a positive impact, when we open our hearts and accept them as “part of the plan.”

In my particular case, a broken ankle had several positive benefits:

  • I couldn’t go to work for a week, so I got some much-needed rest.
  • I had time to set up a new blog and start writing on a regular basis.
  • I got to board first when flying and usually got to upgrade to first-class—for free.
  • I learned first-hand about the challenges you face when you are in a wheel-chair or on crutches.
  • I was forced to slow down and “smell the roses.”
  • I saw my colleagues take more initiative and gained a new appreciation for them.
  • I got to meet several people I would have otherwise never met, including an amazing surgeon who gave me a whole new perspective on what it means to integrate your faith with your profession.
  • I had a ready-made conversation starter, when I met people I didn’t know.

The bottom line is this: you can’t always choose what happens to you. Accidents and tragedies happen. But you can choose how you respond to those situations. One of the best ways to begin is to ask yourself the right question.

Question: Consider a negative situation in your life. Ask, “What does this experience make possible? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://www.leavingconformitycoaching.com/ Randy Crane

    This reminds me of something very similar that happened to Walt Disney when he was a child. He had received a pair of boots he’d desperately wanted one year for Christmas. His very first time wearing them, as he walked home he kicked blocks of ice along his path, but inside one was a rusty horseshoe nail. His foot was stuck; his precious boots had to be cut off; and he was laid up for two weeks.

    While he was stuck at home on the couch, unable to go to school and with no radio or other forms of entertainment, all Walt could do was read or sketch cartoons in a big pad given him by his aunt. The spark ignited and the rest is history.

    Thank you for this often-needed reminder.

  • Kristi Bothur

    I didn’t have the words that you used here at the time, but this is how my thinking gradually shifted after we lost our daughter in my 18th week of pregnancy. The “why” questions abounded, but gradually my thoughts shifted from finding the “reason” we lost our baby to the “purpose” of her life and mine. Two more losses followed in the next eighteen months, and today my husband and I have a growing ministry (www.naomiscircle.org) to other parents who have lost a baby in pregnancy or infancy. What did our experience make possible? It gave us the perspective necessary to reach out to others with the comfort with which we were comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4) and the hope of Jesus Christ.

  • http://serstkov.com/ Justas Serstkovas

    Brilliant post Michael! Just had to schedule it for Friday’s tweet/post. Thanks a lot for sharing your story. I get amazing amount of inspiration and super useful information from you.

  • http://aaroncouch.me/ Aaron Couch

    Thank you so much for sharing this insight Michael! And although I’ve thought the same, probably my whole life, I still fail to apply it. I’m currently struggling myself — thoughts from personal things overwhelm my mind and keep me from being productive. I struggle to accomplish much work since what I do is write and I’m sitting at a desk all day. I need a change in perspective — I believe that’s the only way to overcome this obstacle, but I still struggle with how I can obtain that.

  • cam garven

    my daughter was in a car accident and was killed in May and although tragic can we know she’s in heaven it does give us opportunities to share the gospel and the ministry’s that she was involved with