Over the Edge

This was originally posted in September 2011. It wasn’t a good year but had some interesting life lessons occurring throughout.

A business trip in Turkey had a rather surprising turn of events last week.  I started off in Ankara to deliver a Metaphors of Business workshop to a business group there, before flying to Antalya to speak at a medical conference (it didn’t go at all well), Laura and I travelled south along the mountain roads to Cirali for a few days break before flying home.

The car picked us up at 6 pm and we were looking forward to relaxing by the sea.

Having dozed off a bit, I awoke to discover that the driver had lost control of the car at high speed and we were veering dangerously out of control.  A crash was inevitable and we braced ourselves accordingly.  I think the first impact was as we hit the side of the mountain, the next two came a bit later.

What became immediately obvious was that we were going to go off the side of the cliff.  Absolutely no doubt about that.

Also, I had absolutely no doubt that we were all going to be killed.

It was a rather strange realisation and not one I care to have again.  I have heard people on the television talk about close calls with certain death, but always figured it was just an expression.  I now know that this isn’t necessarily the case and the realisation that one is about to die is a very special experience indeed.

The car left the road and over the edge, we went at considerable speed.  Now, from a psychological perspective, what happened next was quite interesting to me.  I was absolutely certain that this would be fatal and two thoughts occurred to me.

The first: “Well, at least this will be quick.”

The second was an overwhelming sense of disappointment as I thought, “But there was so much more that I had planned to do…”

This second thought was delightfully interrupted by a terrific crash and impact and a showering of broken glass as our freefall descent was rudely interrupted by a small group of trees into which the car landed, wheels down, perpendicular to the angle of the trees. This latter detail meant that deceleration/impact injuries were minimal and that our landing was actually not that bad at all.

We looked at each other briefly noting each other’s surprise at this fortuitous change of events before struggling out of a broken window to safety.  That was when Laura looked at me and said those horrible words, “I think I’m bleeding” before promptly keeling over.

What happened next was a whirlwind mix of the kindness of strangers, paramedics, blue lights, police cars and ambulances and sirens, CT scans and X-rays, blood tests and specialists with little torches and finally admission to the trauma ward of a central hospital where we got to spend most of the rest of our time in Turkey.

To say all this was a bit of a shock to the system would be quite correct, and the three days spent at the hospital gave us a lot of time to reflect on a few things.  I thought one of those things was worth sharing here.

From age 17, I spent a lot of time working in nursing homes and rest homes.  In part, this was to fund myself through my student days, and I also worked periodically doing agency shifts for extra cash after I was qualified.  As a 17-year-old, one thing that I noticed was that I was given an awful lot of advice from the older people who were keen that this young man looking after them didn’t repeat the same mistakes that they did.  Much of this advice reflected a consistent theme:

Don’t allow social and emotional fears from preventing you from doing what you want to do.

This is advice I have pretty much live by.  It’s partly why I have done so much in my life and explored so many different areas of human experience.

What I learned then, and still know to be true now, is that nursing and retirement homes tend to be full of people who know what they would do differently if only they could.

It might seem dramatic, but when you are about to die – either quickly in a car accident, or in a few years from old age, you can get quite a different perspective on what you were so afraid of all that time ago.  It is amazing what suddenly doesn’t matter any more.

I’m not talking about bungee jumping or playing with flamethrowers or wrestling lions, I mean those things that bring social and emotional risk, those things that challenge our own “comfort zones”, the things that challenge those rules we have somehow selected to live by and challenge what we consider to be normal and correct.  Social fear of being different from the way you are supposed to be, that is what I mean.

In my professional life, I am regularly asked by NLP practitioners, coaches and therapists for assistance in building their respective practices and helping them to, “put themselves out there.”  The most common reason people have for not doing so is fear – fear of being judged, fear of failing, fear of being successful, fear of being wrong, fear of being laughed at and so on.  Of course, the reality is that once one puts themselves “out there” there will be judgement, there will be failures, there will be errors and if you are very lucky, there just might be success.

What most of these fears have in common is humiliation, loss of face and loss of perceived status.

One thing I have learned in my own life is that very little trouble comes from others who themselves are successful, in fact, the amount of support and encouragement I receive from my peers is pretty incredible.  No, the majority of judgement and criticism that I receive comes from a small group who share the following characteristics:

  • they don’t know me, most have never met me.
  • they have never demonstrated anything original on any of their websites (those that have them) and in fact, most of what appears on their blogs appear to be little more than rehashing of my own blog posts and web pages.
  • none of them has ever presented any of their apparently acclaimed work in a written format, video, DVD or online presentation.
  • they make exceptional claims for their own brilliance and cynically deride and mock others.
  • in short, they judge, but make sure that they are unavailable themselves to be judged.

I knew kids at school that behaved this way too.  They hid in tight social groups and could be as nasty to each other as they are to those people outside their groups.  They appeared to feed on each other.

Luckily, most people grow out of that.  Most do, anyway.

One gentleman, I knew when I was 17 told me that he wondered how many people limited their lives so that the kids that laughed at them at school wouldn’t laugh at them again.  In childhood, we meet the bullies and the nay-sayers who teach us to conform to their own restricted ideals.  To survive school, some people change their behaviour in order to receive approval….from bullies, and then they live the rest of their life that way until they get to the nursing home.

I think I was lucky.  My experience of people in nursing homes so keen for me to not live like this affected me in such a positive way early in life.  I am so glad that as we went over the cliff that I did not have a single thought of regret about my life.  I sincerely hope others would have the same.

I don’t know any of their names, and I doubt that any of them will ever read this, but regardless, I’d like to publicly thank the army of helpers that assisted in our rescue and in the delivery of the excellent aftercare.  We are both still hobbling about a bit but Laura is recovering well and has no lasting damage.

We intend to return to Turkey for another attempt at a holiday in Cirali where we spent our honeymoon three years ago and I will probably request the same driver.  I’m just a bit like that.

One Comment

  • I hadn't really paid attention to this, but reading this article I realised how often I play a mind game with myself, where I imagine it is all about to be over and check for my "level of regret"… I guess I do it just to see if I'm "on track". I won't go into the results! One thing that really struck me though, is where you say …. "But there was so much more that I had planned to do…". I'm pretty sure I would have said "But there is so much more I want to do" – or "am desperate to do" may be more like it. I'm aware I have the desire, but rarely the planning to go with it. I think it's an important difference…

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