Guest Guru: Gil Ahrens – The Journey On The Road Not Desired

The Journey On The Road Not Desired.

By Gil Ahrens, of The Whether Vein accessible at

There are things in life that we never hope for and certainly never imagine, unless in a bad dream. Or, we think, “won’t happen to me, maybe someone else, but not me.” Have you recently had some of those bad dreams turn into reality? Have you become, “someone else?” If not you, then no doubt many around you have. Whether through an accident or an injury, an unforeseen malicious illness, the death of a loved one, financial devastation, or a job loss with paltry replacement prospects, the adversity index for this generation is at an all-time high.

But adversity is simply a fact of life and it does not play favorites. Your rich uncle may have financial security, but he cannot save his wife from cancer. You may be an elite athlete, but you cannot prevent a drunk driver from slamming into your car and paralyzing you forever. And you cannot prepare yourself for the trauma and challenge when your child is born developmentally challenged.

Adversity doesn’t alert us before it strikes, but rest assured that its sights are trained on each and every one of us. We don’t know when it will strike or in what form, but we will all get hit eventually. Often hard, sometimes frequently.

Of course, the key is how we respond, because we certainly can’t prevent it. Why bother putting 50 deadbolts on the front door when the thief can enter easily through the back window? Sure, we can prepare, but only to a certain extent, provided we know what to prepare for. It would be a waste to steel your mind for a mental battle with cancer only to have Alzheimer’s wipe out your ability to think. And you don’t want to drive a tank in order to avoid a horrible car accident. It’s not very efficient and life – on many levels – will certainly pass you by.

So how should we respond? Well, the first suggestion is to breathe, if you can. If you cannot, then you either have bigger problems or are already in heaven, which is actually a good thing and cause for rejoicing. But, assuming you can breathe, please do so. The easiest way is to first exhale. It takes much less effort than inhaling and provides both physiological and mental clues that the next step is to inhale and take in air (unless, of course, there’s sincere desire to go to heaven, in which case inhaling is counter-productive).
But seriously, breathing helps enormously. Long, deep breaths help calm the mind and bring new life to the body. Focused breathing can create at least a temporary sense of space – a buffer zone – from the thorny issues and weighty challenges that can press down and seem to squeeze the air out of us.

With some good breaths and fresh air in us, it’s now easier to really assess our situation with a more balanced (or at least slightly calmer) perspective. It’s important to focus on the world around us, not simply our own unique situation. While we shouldn’t minimize or sugarcoat our predicament, it’s very easy to overstate its severity unless we contrast it with how others are faring. While most adversity stinks, it probably stinks a little less for those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States. Despite our many challenges and shortcomings, it’s still far better to be living in the U.S. than most any other place in the world. So, with the benefit of this perspective, the next response, despite its potential irony, is to be grateful: there’s probably always someone who has it worse, and almost certainly you’re better off than many of the world’s population.

Equipped with a grain of gratitude, however, does not really help you confront your adversity or, ideally, to overcome it. No, you need to harness the resources around you in new ways, and tap into new resources you wouldn’t have previously thought of.

The best resource, of course, is people. The friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues around you who will help you through your adversity. There is something innate in the human condition which understands that none of us can survive in this world entirely on our own, especially when we’re in need. Mothers get this at a core level because of how they nurture and raise their children.

So the people around us are our best resources. But in times of challenge, many well-meaning people who want to help do not know how. There is no training manual for how to care for and support others during unexpected adversity, and even if you knew yourself, you certainly don’t want to tell lots of people what you need and then have to manage them all individually.

Thankfully, there are great new online resources that can guide people in how to help and enable them to do so more efficiently and effectively, whether individually or as a group. For content and information, you can’t beat WebMD and HealthCentral, including its Wellsphere site that has an abundance of practical advice, tips, and expert content.

Nevertheless, how you connect and reconnect with your network is what it’s all about. Sure, there’s FaceBook and LinkedIn and MySpace and Twitter and Flitter and Ditter. But for my money, the best site available is LotsaHelpingHands. This is the only site I know of on which people can actively participate in the caring of a friend or loved on. The free website enables people to schedule and coordinate activities, and manage volunteer involvement.

Once your team of support is organized, you can move mountains. Having help is the first step in confronting the situation. Only with the help of others can you truly begin to clean up, re-organize, and rebuild a life of meaning. You’ll then be able to own the road you’re on, not as someone else wishing to be elsewhere, but as yourself, fully aware of who you are and not alone on the road you’re traveling.

About the Author
Gil Ahrens ( is the author of Shattered, Shaken, and Stirred a personal account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles after a teenage drunk driver slammed into their car — head-on — at 95 mph and paralyzed his wife. He spent the last 15 years as an investment banker, most recently as a Managing Director at J.P.Morgan. Gil is passionate about ice hockey, Formula 1 racing, University of Texas football, and good cigars…a vice he acknowledges freely. His blog, “The Whether Vein” accessible at
Visit Gil online at