We all have a moment in our lives where we something happened that changed the course of our lives. Sometimes it’s a choice: to move house or stay put, and sometimes it just happens: a breakup or a death. We are all going to have a time in our lives where we look back and say that nothing would be remotely the same if it weren’t for X.
It doesn’t have to be good. Sometimes it can be a terrible thing that causes a terrible turn in life events. Sometimes it can be good thing that causes a great turn in life events. Other times it can be a terrible thing that results in a positive turn in ones life.
The latter is the one we struggle with the most. Something terrible happens and then months, years, or decades later we realize we wouldn’t be in this great situation or doing this great thing if that terrible thing hadn’t happened. Sometimes it’s more innocuous than others: you are in a terrible car accident and it’s not your fault (no one is killed) and the insurance money allows you to invest in building the company of your dreams; other times feeling good leads to guilt: a top oncologist who loves his job and has saved hundreds of lives, but who never would have considered that career path had his mother not died of cancer.
It is certainly something I’ve struggled with. The death of my younger brother led to a dramatic change in my family. At 10, I suddenly became an only child. My parents divorced soon after. I became privy to a much more grown up aspect of the world, and while this may not have always been good for me, it allowed me to become a more independent, analytical thinker.
After my parents’ divorce I spent more time in the U.S. (my mom is American and my Dad is British) and decided I wanted to go to University there. My mom supported me in this endeavor, and here I am 6 years after moving here for college, still in the U.S. and happier than I ever was in England (this is not meant offensively to England or my friends or family there). I was able to learn things at school I never would have if I’d gone straight to medical school. Having seen my friends in university and medical school in England, I know I would never have been happy with that. I was able to move to a new country and develop a whole new set of interests that will hopefully better inform my life choices and career in the future.
What does this have to do with “the turning point” and guilt? Well, this never would have happened had my brother not died. My parents would likely not have divorced in my early teens, allowing me to choose to follow one parent’s wishes against the other’s. They would have stayed together and decided “together” that it was best for me, and the family, if I stayed in school in England. Without a parent to support my endeavors, I would have never applied to school in the U.S. and who knows how different my life would have been? Maybe I would already be a doctor by now. All the negative events created a situation that allowed me to do what I wanted in this way.
But the thing is that I honestly can’t see myself being happy in that situation, and my life would be so different and so much more closed off. Having experienced the death of a family member has allowed me to relate to others in ways I wouldn’t have been able to, it allowed me to realize that life is short and to take advantage of what we have when we have it, it was not a good time of my life obviously but the sayings about “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “you need the bad to recognize the good” do seem to ring true for me.
If someone took me back in time and gave me the choice, would I choose his death? Of course not. But it did happen and I realize that despite all the trauma and misery it caused it opened up a whole new world for me. It was my turning point, and without it I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Should I feel guilty for not forever wishing it hadn’t happened and sitting in misery? I hope not. Life happens. We all have events that change the course of our lives forever and I don’t think anyone should feel guilty for being happy with their life now even if the turning point towards the happiness was a truly horrible event. Because life goes on, and if something horrible happens, it is right for us to mourn, but it’s also right that, like life, we continue on.
People can say that three and a half minutes is insignificant compared to the rest of our lives, but I know that three and a half minutes can be an eternity, and can change everything about me. Training six days a week, every week of the year, for the past seven years, all of that to come down to this last program, this last 3 and a half minutes. Those 3 and a half minutes better last forever. Six minute warm-up, then two and a half minutes of all the attention on me. Six minute warm-up, then three and a half minutes of all the attention on me.
Eighteen minutes in total, over two days. I tried to listen to my coaches’ last words of advice but all I could hear was the pounding of blood rushing in my ears. This is it, it’s now or never. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and when I looked up to my coaches, I could see the look of confidence in their eyes. In that single moment when I could see that they believed in me, I believed in me. The rushing in my ears disappeared, my nerves calmed, and I could hear my coaches again. It was time to ‘shake it, and then bake it’.
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With that final handshake I skated to center ice, took a deep breath, smiled, and began the program that would change me. As I began my program everything vanished, the crowd, the judges, even my doubts and fears. All that was left was the ice, my skates, my music, and I. It was as if a bubble had enveloped me, and every negative thought disappeared. No longer could I remember the pain, the tears, and the pure physical agony that brought me to this moment, because they were no longer important. What was important was that I prove to myself that I could do this, and for once I believed.
My body was on auto-pilot, it was trained to know exactly what to do, and I just let muscle memory take over. I achieved clarity in that time. I realized that every pain and struggle that I went through was worth it. That every sacrifice I made, and that my family made brought me to this point and that if there is one thing to learn in life, it’s that no matter what happens, no matter what we go through, we can survive it. In life we are not set up to fail, we make decisions that can potentially lead to failure, but we have every chance, and every ability to succeed.
There is no easy route in life; all anyone can do is face the storm head on. Our friends are our life boats, our family our paddles, and our morals our life jackets. There is no limits in life, only the ones we place on ourselves, and I will no longer let doubt and fear confine my dreams, because I can overcome adversity, I do it everyday. So as they placed that National Silver Medal around my neck, and I looked out at the crowd, I broke through the shackles of constraint and I believed.