Our days are pretty monotonous. We get up, go to work, come home and do it it all over again the next day. We might throw in a few workout classes or dinner out with friends or a trip to the movie theater, but we don’t veer too far off the path from week to week. We are, after all, creatures of habit.
But for some, those daily habits can change in the blink of an eye or when they realize they just don’t enjoy what they used to. Making a life change can be difficult. It takes courage to say “so long” to something you might be comfortable with. But these people did it—some out of chance, others out of choice. One thing’s certain: They could consider the jolt a lucky circumstance. These are true stories of turning lemons into lemonade.
‘I quit my engineering job to become a comedian’
I was a senior engineer, and my job required me to travel the world with the company’s executives to do technical demonstrations on stage at events. I was incredibly nervous speaking to large crowds, so I took a comedy class to get over the fear. Well, the comedy took off.
Since leaving my engineering job to pursue comedy full time, I have performed in almost every state and 27 countries, at two Democratic National Conventions, a TED conference and several presidential inaugural galas. I’ve even appeared in an Apple commercial and did voiceover work for Family Guy. Quite the change from engineering!
– Dan N., New York, N.Y.
‘I almost died from sudden cardiac arrest’
On December 24, 2012, I went into sudden cardiac arrest at 3 a.m. My wife and I were sleeping when I reached over and shook her. She began calling my name because she thought I was having a bad dream, but I did not respond. She immediately called 911 and began doing CPR, only to witness me take my last breath and die in her arms. Over 16 minutes went by when I did not have a pulse or oxygen going to my brain. When the rescue team arrived, four firemen did 300 chest compressions each and I was shocked six times with a defibrillator. I started breathing on my own, but I never regained consciousness.
After being in a medically induced coma for two days, I awoke with no brain damage. The doctors told my wife that the likelihood of my survival was slim to none or, best-case scenario, she would be my caregiver. But they were all wrong. A higher authority must have stepped in and took over from where the doctors left off.
Four years later I’m strong and healthy with a normal functioning heart for the first time in over 10 years! Only five percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims survive, and I’m one of them.
– Johnnie D., Charlotte, N.C.
‘I got hit by a car and had to stop dancing’
The luckiest moment of my life was when I was hit by a car. I was a professional dancer until that day. It ended my career, which was my life’s passion and work. To cheer me up, my parents took me on a trip to Europe, where we saw a show featuring a man playing music on a carpenter’s handsaw like a violin or cello. If it wasn’t for the accident I would have never discovered this art form or pursued it. Today, I am a musical saw player and the founder and director of the annual NYC Musical Saw Festival. My music is heard on movie soundtracks, and I’ve performed at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center. I realize now this is a much better life path than the one I thought I wanted. All this wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t hit by a car!
– Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz, New York, N.Y.
‘I went home for a funeral and found true love’
I was led home from the West Coast to the East Coast when my mother passed away suddenly. After many sad moments at the services, I decided to take a break, but my original plans got cancelled and I instead headed to a restaurant by myself. It was there that I ran into a man I knew from 20 years ago and used to have a mad crush on.
We saw each other from across the deck and sparks flew. This five-minute window of time of me arriving at the restaurant and then spotting him changed my life forever. Joe worked out West and asked me for a date the following week. We took our time developing a strong bond, fell madly in love and got married a few years later in our hometown. That was my lucky and magical day, and I know my mother guided me home to find my true love. I believe that love can happen anytime and anywhere if you take chances and have an open heart.
– Renee P., Marina Del Rey, Calif.
‘I was in the World Trade Center on 9/11’
I hesitate to see or describe myself as a victim, because I feel blessed in so many ways. I was in my office at the World Trade Center on 9/11. As the volunteer fire warden for the floor, I was one of the last to leave the South Tower and, while exiting, I encountered countless firefighters who were making their way up the emergency stairwell—powerful and devastating to learn that just moments later, they perished. Once outside, I witnessed nameless individuals who courageously jumped to their deaths. The loss of my office and my business in a matter of minutes paled in comparison to the loss of life and the anguish of families whose loved ones would never return home.
That moment in history was a turning point for me. I was long overdue for a career change and this was my wake-up call. I realized I had accumulated a vast knowledge of Wall Street, and although it took some convincing that I was a strong enough writer—plus encouragement from a Today show executive producer—I knew a career in books would be the best way to reach the broadest possible audience. Writing my book felt natural, and its release also coincided with the worst meltdown in the financial markets and a roller coaster environment at most Wall Street firms. It became a best seller and received positive feedback. Quite frankly, I am humbled by the book’s success and the vast numbers of people whose lives it has touched.
Fast forward, I now have an emerging media career, am a corporate executive coach and wrote another best-selling career book. Above and beyond all else, my goal is to show my clients, and a much larger audience through my writing and media appearances, that the need to be bold is essential in a world where the rules and technology are evolving at an unprecedented pace. That change is possible at any age, and it can be achieved successfully. Life is precious and a gift that we can never take for granted.
– Roy C., New York, N.Y.
‘I walked away from a near-fatal car crash’
October 6, 1999, was the luckiest day of my life. I was 19 years old, driving way too fast and crashed my car going 125 miles per hour. We flipped over nine times and I walked away with only minor cuts and a concussion. I loved driving with reckless abandonment everywhere I went, but this accident made me realize I needed to slow down if I wanted to live to see another day. Since then, I haven’t even gotten a parking ticket.
– Gene C., Nashville, Tenn.
‘I signed up for culinary school on a whim’
I’ve always wanted to pursue a passion, something that I loved, something that meant more than a job or a title or some facade of success. I enrolled in culinary school on a whim. I had already been accepted into Columbia’s MBA program and was planning to continue my path of management consulting. I thought food would be this creative sabbatical of sorts. But one day during a midterm, I got into this incredible, musical rhythm in the kitchen and realized how free and clear my mind was. It was an interesting point of self-realization. I didn’t know when I made the decision to arrive, but my new future was already waiting for me.
I’m now 26, a professional chef running my own culinary consulting firm and the co-founder and executive chef of a popular dinner tasting restaurant in New York City. I help food businesses launch and grow strategically, develop innovative menu offerings for new and existing restaurant groups, and design memorable experiential concepts for culinary brands. It’s been such a crazy journey of ups and downs and I’m excited to see what the future brings.
– Jenny D., New York, N.Y.
‘I messaged a stranger online’
On August 4, 2001, at 1:13 p.m., I met my wife. I was roaming online chat rooms looking for a friend I hadn’t talked to in days, and in one particular room a person posted, “Somebody say something profound.” This person, screen name tazwoman86, replied back so I sent her an instant message.
After a few different conversations, we met in person a month later and the rest is history. We will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this summer. We’ve helped each other through hospitalizations, surgeries, blindness, joint replacements and innumerable other issues, and through it all I’ve been the luckiest man on this planet to have Eileen by my side the whole time.
– Robert S., Scottsdale, Ariz.