Painful lessons often yield great blessings. At no time do we feel this more acutely than the holidays.
In 2009, Toti Cadavid, born in Columbia and a longtime resident of Lone Tree, Colorado, almost lost her life on Thanksgiving Day. She and her husband Luis and two of their children were in Puerto Rico visiting Luis' family. On Thanksgiving eve the couple had a joyous dinner with childhood friends, laughing and reminiscing as only old friends can do. When it was time to leave, the streets were very dark and the rain was unrelenting. Luis, who was raised in Puerto Rico and accustomed to driving in heavy rain, drove carefully but still the car skid on a turn and they slammed into the side of a mountain. Hard. So hard that a protruding rock punctured the passenger side floor, stopping the car's trajectory but pushing the tire inside of the car, instantly crushing Toti's leg. Luis was bleeding. Yet by the grace of God, they were alive and able to leave the hospital on Thanksgiving afternoon. Toti had a broken foot and severely sprained neck, and both she and Luis were bruised and cut and badly shaken, but that day they feasted on life.
Immediately, on a very deep level, Toti realized that the accident was the awakening she needed to change her life.
By now she'd spent half her career in corporate America working in international marketing and traveling the world. Early on it was glamorous, but the allure faded over time while trying to balance the responsibilities of children, marriage, and real life. "I got to the office at 7 a.m. and felt guilty when I left at 7 p.m.," she says.
Thinking that the entrepreneurial path would offer her better work-life balance, Toti started Xcelente Marketing, a Hispanic marketing and public relations outfit. Success came quickly but here again Toti found herself falling into old behaviors, and this time, working late nights and weekends from home.
"This was the way I thought it was supposed to be," she says. "I was raised with high expectations for myself." Indeed. Toti holds a bachelor's degree in international business, a masters' degree in marketing, another master's degree in management & organizational development, and a certificate in entrepreneurship, all from the University of Colorado. She's also a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Executive Management Program and the Dartmouth University Tuck Minority Business Executive Program.
Still, after the accident, Toti was filled with questions. Did I even like marketing anymore? What did I really want to do in my life? What needs to change?
She immersed herself in Landmark and classes in Neuro Linguistics Programming. She saw executive coaches and began to devour self-help books about finding happiness. "The more I learned, the more I couldn't figure out how a well educated person like me could be so ignorant about life."
The questions kept coming until finally Toti discovered that searching for her purpose was the answer. She would use her own life experience and business skills to help other women awaken to their dreams and find success based upon their passions versus societal expectations. Toti became a transformational coach and founded Ufulfilled. She's off and running with her new company, but this time, with a very different mindset. "I'm present today, present to myself and present for my family," says Toti. "Now I understand that happiness emanates from the inside and is possible for everyone."
It's never too late to change old ways. This hard-won wisdom has transformed Toti's relationships with her family, particularly her oldest son Nicholas, 23, who has primordial dwarfism. "I used to think Nicholas happened to me. Now I know that he happened for me." Which is to say that today she sees Nicholas, with his supremely positive and happy disposition at little more than three feet tall, as a towering gift.
This Thanksgiving marks the fifth anniversary since Toti and Luis's accident. A milestone. As the family shares a quiet, heartfelt dinner with dear friends they will feast on the American fixings like Turkey and stuffing but "Latinize" it with Tres Leches cake and Luis's mother's flan. The blessings are abundant.
Be present and mindful this Thanksgiving of all that you have and all that stands in your way. We don't need an accident like the one that Toti had to move her life in the direction she wanted.