Have you ever pushed yourself so hard that a setback breaks you? One minute you’re feeling invincible, like you could accomplish anything, and the next minute you feel like your life is broken.
In those feelings of invincibility, I feel like Bruce Willlis’ character in the movie Unbreakable. A character that can never be injured, never broken, always superhuman.
But in real life, every person and family have their breaking points. My wife and I tend to push ourselves to the limit. We both work demanding careers (she as a doctor and me as a consultant), we have three children with demanding school and activity schedules, and we prioritize health and fitness with whatever excess energy we have left (some weeks are better than others). We’re constantly making extra commitments, scheduling visits to relatives, and squeezing every ounce of what remains of our energy in order to accomplish the next thing or seek the next goal. It’s fun, but exhausting. And the unexpected can send us into a tailspin.
One July morning, I was doing some personal financial planning on our home computer while my kids were watching Saturday morning cartoons (apologies to all you super-parents-who-never-let-their-kids-watch-tv!) while my wife went for a run on the wooded trails near our house. Out of nowhere, I was shocked to hear her open the front door, screaming in pain. She had popped her ankle on the trail, badly tearing the lateral ligament in her left ankle. She had hobbled back a full mile before hitching a ride with a generous stranger. Her ankle quickly swelled up to the size of a small grapefruit:
Yikes! Not exactly full strength
Eight hours and two ER visits later, we confirmed that the ligament torn all the way through. The diagnosis was 6 weeks of crutches just to begin walking again. Exercise? Forget about it. Carrying your kids? Yea, right. What a disaster. It turned out later that her ankle was not back to full throttle for a full year.
It didn’t really sink in until a few days into the injury how much this would affect us. Suddenly, my wife couldn’t pick up our 2-year-old or 4-year-old. Just bathing the kids and getting them dressed became an impossible task for her. Overnight, I went from managing 1.5 other humans at a time (sharing 3 kids with my wife) to managing 4 (3 kids plus my wife, who now needed me more help than ever). Physically caring for our kids was simply not an option for her.
I started thinking about the next week, when I would be in Los Angeles for a week-long trial. Our nanny had been planning a summer vacation at the same time (good grief, the timing of this killed us), and my wife was to be at home, alone, and on crutches, with all three kids while working full-time and relying on a substitute nanny. This was a recipe for a potential disaster, and later revealed itself to be a true disaster (the nanny turned out to be unreliable and unsafe — another story for another day — so my wife spent the week scrambling and working with fill-ins. I don’t think I’ve ever received so many sad and angry texts from her as I did that week!).
Add this to the mix: we had been planning a weekend getaway for just the two of us out West to meet our new niece (my sister) and nephew (her sister). We were set to leave just 3 days after the injury. But we’re Superman and Superwoman – we can still do this, right?
Well, it turns out that Superman and Superwomen get broken too. We woke up at 3am for our 6am flight to Denver. Bone tired, my wife hobbled out of the shower and tried to get dressed. We played in our minds the pending airport, car rental, and hotel, all with my wife’s crutches. At about 4:30am, way behind on packing and right when we needed to call our Uber, we both broke down crying. The injury, the stress, all of it had finally broken us. We cancelled the trip, disappointing both ourselves and our siblings who hoped we would meet their newborns. Forget Superman and Superwoman, now we were barely making it through the day.
But every cloud has a silver lining, I suppose. I had already scheduled to take the day off work, so I decided to take a personal day. The kids were going to school, the nanny was on her way, and my work commitments were low that day. I spent the day going for a long walk, going to the gym, helping my wife heal. She slept most of the day, so I used the time to read and think.
I spent the rest of the morning (still dark after missing our 4:30 Uber) sipping coffee and reading Internet content on healthy living, parenting, and investing. I was thinking about our lives and realized that something needed to change. We can’t keep pushing ourselves to the limit like this, because falls are too hard to handle. There are too many people depending on us.
I kept asking myself: why do my wife and I do what we do and always push to our limits? What is it for? What are we trying to achieve? We constantly question our own decisions in life. We’re doing our best to make good choices, but sometimes I worry that they’re the wrong choices. Raising kids in a dual-career household, well, something has to give when a wrench gets thrown into the machine.
I ended up making major changes in the next 6 months. I left a highly successful position in an economic consulting to start my own firm and work more on my online business. It would mean less money, but more time at home, more time with the kids, more time to be human. But also more time to think, to write, to create.
Sometimes the unbreakable get broken. But what are we to do, except pick up the pieces and march forward? Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing, with a few more scars but a bit more life experience under our belts.
Readers: Have you ever pushed yourself so hard that you’ve been broken? What happened? How did you respond?
Originally published: July 2016. Republished: February 2018.