Biggest “Oh Sh*T!” Moment of My Life

25 years ago today, I had the biggest “oh sh*t!” moment of my life. Let me give you some context.

One month earlier, a huge hurricane slammed the Caribbean, and I was among a group of dedicated responders aboard the last chartered flight to arrive on Puerto Rico before the storm struck.

We hunkered down in a “hurricane-proof” shelter for the night, tending to a colleague who fell while getting off the plane and broke her leg. This so-called “hurricane-proof” shelter wasn’t so “hurricane-proof.” The roof came off during the storm and the shelter filled with about three feet of water.

But the next day, the storm moved on and we got busy providing relief. This is also where I learned (the hard way) that I cannot eat rice and beans. I had never been so sick in my life for an intense 3-day period, hospitalized among those injured by damaged structures during the hurricane.

But I soldiered on and continued working 20-hour days, 7 days a week, until…

The night of October 17, 1989. I was feeling pretty good getting off work early on a Tuesday night when I was dropped off at my hotel before 8:00pm. I saw some colleagues watching the World Series on TV in the hotel bar, and stopped into say hello. Not 5 minutes later, we gasped as we watched TV and saw that a massive earthquake had struck in California.

The colleagues I was with were from San Francisco. As the images and heightened fearful news continued to flow from the TV, we collectively turned to each other and said, “Oh Sh*t!”

Not 30 minutes later, my colleagues had arranged to charter a plane to fly back to California overnight.

LomaPrietaEpiHaving had enough of not being able to eat anything on Puerto Rico, I asked my boss if I could transfer with my colleagues to an alternate and what became massively larger, earthquake relief operation.

So just two hours later, I was packed up and aboard another jet as we made our way to San Jose, the closest airport to the affected area that was open (they had closed San Francisco and Oakland airports pending a safety inspection.)

25 years ago today began a new chapter in what defined my entire career. I lived and worked in the Bay Area for five years after that event. I learned a lot and I think I made a difference. Or at least the hundreds of community-based organizations that I supported did.

Life is short: make the worst “oh-sh*t!” moment a career-defining outcome.