When Life Screeches to a Halt
December 16, 2008
As I read Gayle Bu’s email, my jaw dropped and stayed there. Once a time-crunched executive assistant for the head of babyGap in San Francisco, she suffered a severe brain aneurysm at the tender age of 27.** Her story of recovery and slowing down is a wake-up call for us all.
“As I lay in the hospital bed drifting in and out of consciousness, trying to make my last will and testament, and deciding on surgical options, I had attempted to give my husband instructions on what to do with my manager’s expense report and travel arrangements! My job had consumed me that much!”
CLH: Your story is incredibly inspiring. Can you tell us what happened?
Gayle: I was an Executive Assistant working for the head of babyGap in San Francisco in 2002. I loved my job. It paid well with upward mobility and unlimited career paths. There was always so much energy and activity that the days flew by. But as much as I loved what I did, I began to resent leaving home in the dark and coming home in the dark. It was becoming exhausting. I toyed with the idea of starting a business where I could do the same type of work from home and re-gain some work/life balance. But in the hustle and bustle of my crazy life and the stereotype that one could not possibly be a high level secretary from home, the idea was pushed to the backburner.
Then, on May 15, 2002, my life came to a halt. After a usual day of work, I came home, had dinner with my husband and went to bed. At around midnight, I awoke to the loudest, most shrill noise I have ever heard that caused me to sit upright in bed. I looked over to my husband who was watching TV with noise-canceling headphones and realized that there in fact was no noise in the room. Then all went blank. The next thing I remember is being carried out my bedroom by a big burly firefighter and feeling like a helpless rag doll. Shortly thereafter, as I lay in a hospital bed, I found out that I had a brain aneurysm and had experienced a subarachnoid hemorrhage. I was only 27 years old with no prior medical history.
I would spend the next two weeks in the neurological intensive care unit being monitored 24/7 and being fed by a tube. Interestingly, it was bought to my attention later that as I lay in the hospital bed drifting in and out of consciousness, trying to make my last will and testament, and deciding on surgical options, I had attempted to give my husband instructions on what to do with my manager’s expense report and travel arrangements! My job had consumed me that much!
After two life-threatening surgeries and a stroke, I wasn’t sure if my life would ever be the same and knew that I needed to make changes. The chance at a total recovery for someone in my condition was merely 5%. The subsequent months of fatigue and physical therapy (I had to learn to walk again) left me unable to go back to work in a corporate environment. I had to seriously re-assess my life and was able to find the clarity I needed to slow down. I then started working as a Virtual Assistant from home. Fast forward six years – I have fully recovered and now have two beautiful children – a one year old and a three year old and still love working as a Virtual Assistant. I not only get to enjoy more balance in my own personal life, but I also get to help others do the same. One of my favorite clients is a working mom who also has two small children – I have the privilege of helping her with day to day items so at the end of the day, she too can slow down and enjoy her family.
CLH: How do you view work-life balance today?
Gayle: It’s so important. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of work and the stress of everyday problems that it’s hard to find time to slow down. But it’s in those times when we make ourselves slow down that we’re able to figure out what our priorities truly are. Perhaps we’re being overly consumed by issues that are draining us. Five years from now, those issues may be insignificant, yet they consume so much of our time right now. So why not focus on areas of our lives that will significantly impact ourselves and those around us in five years instead? I always wonder – if I hadn’t suffered something life threatening – would I have slowed down? Probably not. It’s unfortunate that for so many of us it has to take something so drastic in order for us to stop, slow down and enjoy the life that we’ve been given!
CLH: What advice can you offer others who are struggling to manage it all?
Gayle: Set aside some quiet time alone in your favorite place to journal about what is truly important to you in your life. What do you really want to do with your life? Where do you want to be 5 or 10 years from now and what do you need to do to get there? What is draining you? Do you need support from others and in what areas? What do you need to do to create a nurturing and supportive environment for yourself? Then you can establish goals for yourself and figure out your own personal roadmap. If you take the time to care for yourself, you’ll be in a better position to manage the other relationships in your life and you’ll be on your way to creating a more enjoyable life for yourself.
CLH: Thank you so much for sharing your incredible story.
Gayle: Thank you!
**Gayle Bu is now a Virtual Assistant (www.buvirtualoffice.com) who provide administrative and personal assistance to executives and small business owners so that (in her words) “they can recapture precious time in order to focus on the important things.”