A Devastating Car Accident Left This Entrepreneur Unable to Speak or Walk for Months. Here's How She Rebuilt Her Life and Her Business.
When the only choices were "adapt or fail," I set myself a goal of rebuilding and improving rather than letting events overwhelm me.
We are undergoing a seismic psychological shift from the sensory-rich normality of pre-COVID days. We’re a tactile society, but now hugs and handshakes are off-limits, and almost everything is virtual. Our senses are experiencing a form of starvation and the effects are knocking many of us off balance. Study after study reiterates the conclusions of one of the earliest investigations into sensory deprivation, conducted in the early 1950s at McGill University, which came to a dramatic early conclusion when subjects reported severely disrupted thought processes, uncontrolled visions and distressing hallucinations.
Because of Covid-19, many of us have also seen our cultural norms evaporate, leaving what appears to be a void in their place-a state of culture shock, which sparks a turbulent emotional cycle. We are all going through a version of this process now. The longer we resist the need to change, the harder becomes the journey to acceptance.
But there’s an upside. The way we manage these twin attacks of culture shock and sensory deprivation can also have a profound effect for the better on our personal and business lives.
In my own experience, as CEO of a growing virtual business and as a survivor of a traumatic injury, I have faced isolation and culture shock in many forms. When the only choices were ‘adapt or fail’, I set myself a goal of rebuilding and improving rather than letting events overwhelm me. The lessons I was forced to learn are a useful example as we attempt to pivot in our business and personal lives around the fallout from the pandemic.
Just a few years after I founded my virtual PR agency, I was badly injured in a car accident. For a period of about eight months, I was unable to talk properly or walk without support. Overnight, I had become isolated physically and mentally and shaken to the core by the sudden changes to my life and the impact to my business. To some extent, what I went through then mirrors the experiences we’re all going through today.
My first step towards recovery was to acknowledge that life had changed. That acceptance gave me permission to embrace the way I would need to adapt.
To keep the business afloat, I delegated much of my work, a task I would have found impossible before. Because I had to write down my ideas and instructions since I couldn’t speak, collective discussion and teamwork became key strategies.
My colleagues became closer allies than ever before. Instead of just me setting goals for the clients, and the team supporting me, we, as a collaborative team, set well-defined goals around delivering the results our clients were paying us to achieve. Project management and accountability systems became far more important and they also allowed flexibility around individuals’ different circumstances. We prioritized creativity while maintaining core disciplines of timeliness, accountability and courtesy. And it paid off. The clients saw stellar results, and the agency thrived.
What I discovered from this was the immense value of having a great set of people sharing a commitment to high standards, working with self-discipline and creativity to achieve a common goal.
As a CEO and a former attorney, I have an analytical mindset and am task-oriented, which lends itself to logic instead of creativity. My accident forced me to let go of the old ways, work within the limits of my innately human makeup – flaws and all - and reawaken senses that enabled me to think differently about my company.
Evolving the company into a new type of environment that was more intuitive and collaborative required a new way of thinking. To create and access that creativity in this time of change, we had to choose as a company to substantially shift the way we thought about work. I realized that we could tap into greater reserves of creativity by working with - not in conflict with - our natural instincts.
In addition to adapting, prioritizing, teamwork and collaboration on my journey to rehabilitation, I looked inward. I used a number of techniques designed to recharge the creative spark and use my own inner resources to re-orientate towards a more intuitive, creative working style:
Panasonic, Toyota, IKEA, Beiersdorf, Bosch, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Google, Intel, Royal Dutch Shell, SAP, Target, the UK’s Parliament, and the US House of Representatives are among the organizations that have turned to mindfulness, meditation and movement programs to enhance employees’ senses of curiosity, openness and enthusiasm for continuous improvement. The payback is economic. Annual productivity improvements are estimated at $3,000 per employee. In fact, a study conducted in a Dow Chemical company calculated potential company savings of up to $ 22,000 per employee based on average wages at the time due to reductions in stress and burnout and increases in workforce productivity.
Sports psychologists have long since understood the value of the imaginative exercise we call ‘visualization’. Visualization is widely used by high performing athletes as well as business people, artists and academics to envisage success and make it feel familiar and achievable to individuals. Studies such as PMC’s 2016 paper, “Thinking, Walking, Talking: Integratory Motor and Cognitive Brain Function” show that people who imagine themselves flexing a muscle achieve actual physical strength gains because they activate the same pathways in the brain that relate to the actual, real-life movement of the muscle.
Memorization is often used in conjunction with techniques to help the brain remember and repattern the way it functions. Memorization is, of course, a classic conditioning technique used in advertising and marketing; its proven success should not be discounted as a method for adjusting to new situations. I used these techniques as I recovered from my accident to repattern the way I communicated by instilling in myself the innate discipline required to marshal my thoughts and re-establish normal speech and cognitive processes.
In Asia, movement has long been associated with the workplace as well as personal wellbeing. Organizations across the globe are starting to understand the health and productivity benefits of exercise. One study showed that not only does workday exercise improve well-being, but participants also reported a 72 percent improvement in time management and workload completed on days when they exercised. Even short bursts of movement boost productivity, which is why many Japanese companies have mandatory exercise programs for employees. Research also indicates that when companies prioritize employee health and exercise, it becomes a big cost-saver over time. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report has estimated that weight-related health issues cost the Australian workplaces $477 in absenteeism alone - plus a staggering $544 million in lower productivity “presenteeism.”
These techniques can help all business owners reinvent and enrich their company cultures and business practices both now—during this time of collective sensory deprivation and culture shock—and when we are finally able to put Covid-19 behind us. They helped me to achieve not just physical recuperation but also a new inner balance that enabled me and my business to survive and thrive in what previously seemed insurmountable difficulties. I discovered a better sense of wellbeing - and I’m running a company that’s thriving in the teeth of today’s difficulties.
Valerie Chan will be presenting on the topic “how to thrive beyond a virtual culture” at TedX Farmingdale on October 10th, for more information, click here.