6 Lessons My Car Accident Reminded Me About Work-Life Balance

All I heard was deafening silence.  For a moment my podcast cut out.  I felt an impact on my left side.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the front of another car tear my front end off.  My eyes followed as I watched my bumper bounce through the intersection.

The podcast broke the silence.

I looked down at the deployed airbag that apparently hit me.  I got out of my beloved Honda Civic for what would be the last time.

Being in a car accident is never any fun.  I spent the initial 24 hours worrying about my deductible, how much I would get for the car (I knew it was a total loss), and what a replacement vehicle would end up costing me.

Eventually, my mind focused away from the business and (most importantly) into the life part of the accident.  Here are six simple work-life questions I was reminded of as a result of being in a car accident.

  • What are you grateful for (and do you practice it)? At the end of the day I was just grateful.  I try and practice gratitude daily but after an accident I really focused on it.  I was grateful for my health, grateful I got to see my family that night, I was even grateful that the accident occurred near my house (vs the middle of a strange road or highway).  The next morning, I woke up as the sun rose over the pond in my yard and I just felt grateful for that moment of beautiful peace.   Although the experience was stressful, gratitude helped center me and even forced a smile out of my occasionally grumpy face.
  • Is your workplace supportive? Whether it be a car accident, illness, or other household emergency, having a supportive and flexible work environment has a value that goes beyond dollars and cents. Having enough sick/personal days to bridge any time off is helpful as is a system that allows you to work from home, shift hours, and generally make any reasonable accommodations needed.   Above all else, the response you want to hear is “Take care of yourself and we will find a way to work it all out.”

  • Are you financially fit? It has taken many years of discipline and education (and I am by no means wealthy) but having money to deal with emergency costs was helpful.  According to a CBS News report 57% of Americans don’t have enough money to deal with an unexpected expense of $500.  If the answer is yes, then great!  If the answer is no, then begin the process of building a reserve fund.  There are many systems out there.  I recommend Dave Ramsey’s financial education programs (I have no affiliation with Dave Ramsey) as a very solid and practical way to get financially fit.  I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a reminder to check your insurance policy and ensure you have adequate coverage and that you understand all the different elements that fall within a single policy.  In my case I quickly learned that auto insurance meant more than just collision.  There were also details relating to medical costs, car rental, and compensation for missed work that I didn’t initially think about.
  • Do you know your priorities? I only grabbed two things from my car as I exited: my cell phone (so that I could call my wife) and my briefcase which contained some handouts for presentations I was giving that week.   My family and my message are the two most important things to me.  I could have reached for my GPS, my San Francisco 49ers baseball cap, or the small award plaque in my backseat but I didn’t.  I could care less.  My instincts kicked in and I grabbed what I knew was most important.   Do you know your priorities and more importantly, are they second nature to you?
  • Do you have life insurance and is your estate in order? We’re mortal.  I am not going to pontificate on the benefits of life insurance (or debate whole vs term policies) but some sort of coverage in case the regrettable happens to help your family out is important.  It is a sobering thought.  In this case you’re not thinking about your work-life but the work-life of your household.
  • Is it time to declutter? Two days later I was at the auto yard cleaning out the car.  It was a total loss.  I will be the first to admit that I let items pile up in my car.  As I cleaned out the car I realized how much clutter and junk I was carrying around.  There were bags of items (mainly papers, brochures, and other literature) that I had not looked at in years….that and a heating pad that hadn’t worked since 2013.  I have no idea why it was there and why I hadn’t thrown it out.  I quickly decluttered and discarded the unnecessary items from my car.  On an emotional level I began to ask myself what was cluttering up my life?  October is always an intense month for me because it is disability awareness month and work-life awareness month.  I have a lot going on and I have habit of piling the speaking engagements on and saying yes to everything.  That day alone I had 4 different engagements.  They were not the reason for the crash but thinking and reflecting on how I was arranging commitments on my plate was very powerful.  Think about it.  Give it a try.

Cars can be fixed and replaced; your life cannot.  When a significant occurrence happens it is important to have as many supporting factors in place as possible.  Making strides in even one of these areas can ease stress and give you a little clarity.  Take some time and reflect on these six questions.   I did and it was one of the best ways I could have spent my time.