I know, because I’ve been there. By my late thirties, I could definitely feel that something was wrong.
I was living a successful life by most standards. I’d been married for seventeen years to the love of my life. We had four beautiful children. I’d built a successful law practice and was enjoying all the perks that came with it. Sure, I was working seventy to eighty hours a week in my law firm, occasionally even sleeping in the office, but I was making bags of money and life was good.
But something was wrong...
I would wake up in the morning with a sense of dread about the day. I started losing my hair, and my body began to change in ways that I didn’t like. Once a fit, healthy athlete, I was losing energy and vitality almost by the day.
Worse, though, was the increasing sense that something was missing. Even though I was earning great money, I was unhappy with the daily grind. I was always working. And every day it seemed as though my soul was shriveling. Some part of me, some spark, some purpose, was dying on the vine.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I began to believe, for the first time, that my life was not my own.
I started to wonder: Is this all there is?
I wasn’t nursing the hurt of missing out on a dream of being a rock star or an athlete or an animal trainer or a missionary. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I was missing. I just knew I was missing something.
Despite the obvious cracks in my life and the ever-present voice telling me to admit to having problems, I did what most people do: I ignored them. I hushed the voice, I put my head down, and I kept going. After all, there were bills to pay and clients to see.
I needed a wake-up call, and, naturally, I got one...
My call came on a clear October day in New Jersey. I was driving with my wife, Randi, when a feeling overcame me: I need to stop this car.
I pulled over and asked my wife to drive.
We switched seats. “Do you need to make a call?” she asked. “Just make a left up here, honey. I’ll tell you what’s going on.” What was going on was that I was having pain in my chest.
Randi’s face paled, but she followed my directions until we arrived at the medical center not far from our home in Freehold, New Jersey.
We pulled up to the emergency entrance, and the next thing I remember is sitting in a wheelchair with wires running to my chest. My hands tingled. I was in a cold sweat as I struggled to fight off the waves of dizziness that left me veering between the edges of vomiting and passing out.
All I could think was: I’m going to die today. I’m never going to see the kids again.
My mind, like my heart, was racing. I couldn’t stop thinking that I had never become the person I expected to be. I wasn’t the father or husband I had planned and promised myself I would be. I was a slave to my eighty-hour-a-week job, and this—this—was how it would all end.
I cursed under my breath and thought, I’m not even forty, for crying out loud.
And now I was going to die.
The only thing more palpable than my fear was my deep sense of remorse. I had screwed it up.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I’d gone from being an idealistic teenager and dream-filled twentysomething to a cynical middle-aged lawyer.
I’d gone from the prime of life to being a small, scared, shivering man in a hospital gown, wondering, What happened?
Later, when a man in surgical garb appeared at my bedside, I was so filled with regret that I could barely speak. I simply waited for him to deliver my sentence.
“Mr. Markel,” he said, “you’re not going to die.”
I almost cried. The words sent a wave of relief through me so deep that it’s difficult to describe.
I realized that the doctor was still talking.
“I asked how many cups of coffee you’ve had today.”
“I’m a lawyer,” I replied, “and I’ve only had five or six cups so far today.”
The doctor held back his laughter. “You were lucky—this time.
You’re experiencing an anxiety attack brought on by too much caffeine and too much stress.”
Both my wife and I began to cry.
His tone turned more serious. “You need to lay off the coffee,” he said, “and you need to take a look at where your life is headed. You might not be as fortunate next time.”
I left the hospital that day holding my wife’s hand. As we walked outside, I looked up to the sky, and without thinking I simply said, “Thank you. Thank you, God.”
Up to that point in my life, I had been anything but religious. I was open to the idea of spirituality, but I’d never spoken a word to God that I could recall. But in that moment I felt I’d been given a reprieve, a second chance to make real my dreams of creating a meaningful life. I felt such overwhelming gratitude that I had to thank someone.
As we drove away, I made a vow: I would not go back to living the same way. I would not lie down again on the job of living a life that meant something.
At that moment I had no idea what to do. But I knew I had to do something.
That “something” was to reinvent my life.
And that’s what I did. Now, less than a decade later, I’m a Bestselling Author, International Speaker and a transformational trainer. And although my hair never did grow back, we left our old life and routines in New Jersey and moved to a beautiful community in California. I still appreciate my roots in the East Coast, but here there’s no snow and I can surf instead of shovel.
What matters, though, is that the voice is quiet. Rather than tolerate my old life any longer, I chose to reinvent it.
I chose to pivot.