A Story of a Wake-up Call

by Simon Goland, April 13, 2011

Today’s Reflection is about an encounter in the air, and the resulting story of listening to a painful wake up call.
Here I am, sitting at the Toronto Pearson airport, having just arrived from Vancouver, and on the way to Israel. A few hours to read, write, and move around until the next flight in a few short hours. My eyes are tired, and I would love to take a nap. The fact is, I would love to have slept all the way from Vancouver, because it was an early morning flight and 4:30 AM is not my most preferred wake up time. Yet, I didn’t close my eyes for even a moment during the flight, being engaged in a fascinating conversation the whole way from Vancouver to Toronto.
“To live deeper, we have to go to the places that help us find a slower rhythm. But simply going to these places is not enough. We have to let these places touch us, change us, speak to us.”
I ended up sitting beside John (not his real name), and we started chatting before the plane even took off. The following is a story of John’s wake up call and the changes one goes through in the process of deep, impactful, painful, and transformational learning.
John was a financial broker, dealing with what I understand to be the most dangerous and risky areas of the financial markets – futures and derivatives – for over 20 years. High-paced life, with the primary focus on money and all the perks that come with it, like a million-dollar home on a lake in Ontario. The only other passions were hockey, playing and coaching his and other kids.
Wake up calls in life often come and hit us like a truck. John’s was a literal one, when a truck ran a red light and hit him, with two of his three kids still being in the car. Seemingly – and surprisingly – not much damage, other than bruises, a twisted ankle, pain in the lower back, and a bump on the side of the head. Seemingly.
Over the next 14 months, life started deteriorating for John. He became impatient and arrogant with people, both at work and at home. As someone who could hold several calculus equations in his head, and solve them at the same time, he found himself not being able to multitask, or even solve basic mathematical calculations; a crucial skill for a stock broker. His income dwindled by about 80% and more. He became angry with everybody, yet could not understand what is happening to him.
Until the day he sat with a lifelong friend who was a psychologist, who – after a few minutes of a conversation – insisted on taking John to the hospital. There, he was diagnosed with brain damage to his left hemisphere, which got punctured during the accident – 14 months earlier.
That was only the beginning. Because of his deteriorating behaviour (which nobody understood the reasons for at the time), his wife filed for a divorce, taking all his property and finances. While he was in a hospital, his company called all his clients, telling them that John has left the company, and took them over – without letting him know. They also found a way to avoid paying any of his medical bills, effectively getting rid of him to fight for his life on his own.
He lived on the streets for a while, hitting rock bottom, while at the same time learning to re-train his brain and restarting the parts that has ceased functioning. It took years. As part of this recovery process, when he was finally able to receive external help, he was advised to go and study philosophy, because it would be good for his logical reasoning. He got a scholarship and completed his undergraduate degree Cum Laude. From there, he ended up completing a graduate degree in Business and Ethics, with honours, and turned his life around.
He is now training and consulting to financial advisers and traders, teaching them ethics and how to apply it in – a world where the word “ethics” traditionally means “let’s comply with the law, while hiring a $450/hour lawyer who will find us loopholes to bypass it and make a few more millions.”
“Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” – Victor Frankl
When I asked him why he chose this direction, John replied that it is his “revenge” for all that is wrong in this industry – to bring the focus to the heart, soul, and happiness in life, balancing the desire for money and power. John is passionate, relentless, full of stories, and having come from a small mining town, does not hold back on his language and ways of expressing himself and what he is deeply passionate about.
It was worth not sleeping, though I am happy I am wearing my glasses right now and not contact lens.
A sunny week to you all, inside and out.