Have you had one of those landmark birthdays recently, the ones that cause you to look back over your life and wonder where all the years have gone?

Has your career progression come to a sudden halt, perhaps because of redundancy or re-structuring?

Has the death of a loved one made you aware of your own mortality and brought home the fact that you are not as young as you thought you were?

The shock when we suddenly realise the speed at which time is passing, and notice the opportunities now lost to us, can be significant.  But if we pay attention to our wake-up call we can use it to help re-focus our life and our work.

A couple of years ago I had my own wake-up call.  After a few years of strange symptoms I was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis), a chronic neurological condition.  Though he assured me it was not life-threatening, my neurologist couldn’t predict the precise impact it would have on me.

Hmmm – this was not how the plan for my fifties was supposed to turn out.  I had been looking forward to a new sense of freedom with my sons now grown and a mortgage (almost) paid off.   Instead I could see my world shrinking into a smaller and smaller space.

As I adjusted to the idea of being a person with MS I decided to take stock of my life and career.  Was I in the right career?  What did I want to do or achieve while I still could?  Who did I want to spend time with?  What could I let go?

After a period of reflection I decided that I was pursuing the right career – I still loved both one-to-one coaching and facilitating group sessions.  But I did start to prioritise and focus on the things I loved best – designing programmes and working with clients.  I let go of some activities and meetings, including early morning networking events, cut down on travel and learned to pace myself better to conserve energy.

At home I stopped worrying about the housework and hired a cleaner.  I began taking more exercise and eating more healthily.  And I decided to spend more time with people who are important to me – family and friends.  I learned to really appreciate my close friends who have been fantastic, offering just the right amount of support, and always there to chat or share a good laugh over a coffee or a glass of wine.

Generally I am much calmer now – I have let go of ‘sweating the small stuff’.  To help with this I practise mindfulness meditation.  And there have even been some positives.  I have met many fantastic people who inform and inspire me every day as they face the diverse challenges that MS can bring.  Some of these have become good friends.  And I have enjoyed offering something back to the MS community by volunteering for my local branch of the MS Society – using my training and facilitation skills to redesign and chair a course for the newly-diagnosed.  Whilst I would rather the condition went away, and though I recognise that life may become more difficult in future, right now I can honestly say that I have never felt happier.

A wake up call can be depressing and distressing.  It may take over your life for a while.  When in the midst of a crisis it can be difficult to take anything positive from the situation.  However when the time is right, as the clouds start to clear, it may be useful to put some time aside to reflect.

So if you have experienced a wake-up call why not take time to write down your thoughts about the experience and what you’ve learned from it?   The negatives will be obvious but what about the positives?  Ask yourself:

  • What has the wake-up call enabled me to let go?
  • What insights have I had as a result of this experience – about me and my life?
  • What opportunities has this experience opened up?
  • What will I do differently as a result of this wake-up call?  And when will I start?

Ambitious driven people often ignore the wake-up call and immerse themselves in work.  They put off doing things they really want to do, or taking time to work out what those things are, until they are less busy.   If you are one of these people, be honest with yourself – will that time ever arrive?

Remember the wake-up call has given you an opportunity.  It has offered a chance to get started on doing what you want.  If you imagine your life as a journey then your wake-up call may be telling you it’s time to change direction and head off to a different destination.  Of course to benefit from your wake-up call, the secret is to take action.  Unless you do something different then the opportunity will pass by and nothing much will change.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity”    Richard M. Nixon

If you need help to explore your own wake-up call then do contact me for a free informal consultation about coaching.  You can mail me at [email protected] or complete the enquiry form on my website at www.pathwaycoaching.co.uk


 Over 100,000 people have MS in the UK; around 50 people are diagnosed every week.  The MS Society is the UK’s leading MS charity.  It funds research, gives grants to support people affected by MS, campaigns for change, provides information and support, invests in MS specialists and lends a listening ear to those who need it.  If you wish to know more about MS or would like to support the charity by making a donation visit www.mssociety.org.uk