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That Time I Got Punched in the Face

About a year ago, I was walking to the subway on my way to meet a client. As I passed through a doorway, a tall young man with an impossibly long wingspan passed through the other side. He was with three work colleagues and was telling a story with great enthusiasm and they were all laughing. Just as our paths crossed, he gesticulated wildly, flinging his hands out to his sides.

And he punched me in the face.

My sunglasses went flying, but not before digging into my cheek bone, leaving what would become a nasty red welt. I’d never been punched in the face before. Shocked, I leaned on the nearest wall and tried to compose myself, but damn if it didn’t hurt. A small crowd gathered round and the man stood before me, equally in shock and more than a little embarrassed. After all, he’d just punched a middle-aged woman in the face. And in front of his work colleagues to-boot.

Tears stinging the corners of my eyes, I shooed him away, took a deep breath and continued on to the subway (though I admit, my first instinct was to make my way to the nearest bar for a shot of something or other - but, my client was waiting). I managed to pull myself together during the journey and twenty minutes later, relayed to my enraptured client what was to my rattled mind, already becoming a funny anecdote.

I mean, “I just got punched in the face!" is a pretty good opening line.

And then my client said the thing. The thing that would change the course of my life for the next year.

“Jeez, kinda makes you wonder what the universe is trying to tell you, huh?”

“Well, I suppose it does,” I said.

I don’t actually believe the universe punches us in the face, but it did make me think. If the universe could punch me in the face, why would it do so? What’s going on in my life that needs to change, stop, grow? What am I avoiding?

It didn’t take long to figure it out. I'd been beating myself up over it that very morning. I was avoiding The Unstuck Project. It had been three months since I’d decided I was going to interview 100 people about their experiences with being stuck. And I hadn’t done a thing. Not an email, not a phone call, nothing. I was stuck on my Unstuck Project.

Well ain’t that a punch in the face?

So that afternoon, I sent 10 emails requesting interviews. Over the past year, I’ve interviewed 97 people in 37 cities in 12 countries. If all goes to plan, on Wednesday, July 25th, I’ll complete my 100th interview. It’s been the most joyful and rewarding experience of my professional life. If you ever need your faith in humanity restored, get on the phone with 97 near perfect strangers and ask them about their greatest moments of personal struggle and triumph. (You can read my interim report here.)

So here’s a fun little exercise: Ask yourself, if you were to get punched in the face today, what would the universe be trying to tell you?

P.S. I love the Unstuck Project so much, I'm going to continue it even after I've completed my 100th interview. If you'd like to participate, you can sign-up here.

The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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