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Lessons Learned In The Face of Fear

By Shay Hughes

A year ago today I found myself in the hospital wondering if I would survive another hour, let alone another day. It’s a grave position to be in, but having survived it, there are some invaluable lessons I took away that strengthened me as an individual and will hopefully help others in their time of need.

As women in their 40’s know, changes in hormone cycles are normal and expected. Half the population goes through it, and doctors, friends and online forums all confirmed that what I was experiencing was common and nothing to be alarmed by. Two weeks later I found myself in the emergency room fighting for my life – my hemoglobin count was at a critical level of 4.7 – and all I could do was wait to see if I would survive. As you can imagine, a lot of thoughts went through my mind during those hours while contemplating the unknown. Here are six valuable life lessons that I learned from that terrifying yet enlightening experience.

Lesson 1: You may not know the impact you have on others, but the opportunity is yours, and yours alone.

It’s a great responsibility and opportunity we all have, whether we know it or not. We have the ability to affect someone’s life in a positive way every day. If we are lucky, we will get the opportunity to see the impact we have on others, but whether we know it or not, the responsibility is ours. Knowing the footprint we have in other’s lives is one of our greatest responsibilities and gifts in life.

Just two nights before I lay in the hospital bed, my husband and I sat under the stars soaking in a Taylor Swift concert. It was a beautiful summer night, and as her many fans well know, she was amazing. During the concert Taylor shared how she hoped her music would help people cope through hard times, whenever and wherever that might be. Two days later as I laid in the hospital bed waiting to see if my body was going to accept or reject the many blood transfusions needed to save my life, the one thing that calmed me through that harrowing time was watching Taylor’s newest video over and over and over, literally dozens of times, waiting for the minutes to pass by. It was difficult to breath or swallow because my body was shutting down, so every minute for the next two hours felt like an eternity. I was in a life-threatening, critical condition, and Taylor’s music, along with my loving family by my side, single-handedly comforted me through the worst hours of my life.

Lesson 2: You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

Many years ago my daughter, Star, sent me a few dozen inspirational quotes as screen savers. Two of them read: “You are so much stronger than you think,” and “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” Our survivor instinct is indeed incredibly strong. We all have it, whether we realize it or not. Having experienced this instinct first hand, it is reassuring to know that in times of our greatest challenges in life, we are truly stronger than we think we are and our will to survive will get us through times we couldn’t imagine facing. I kept repeating those two inspirational quotes in my head while I was in the ER, and they helped me think positive thoughts when I needed all the help I could get. It’s important to feed ourselves positive thoughts on a daily basis, and even better to share them with others, so we can lean on those thoughts when we need them most.

Lesson 3: Trust your instincts and ultimately take responsibility for yourself.

My situation was completely preventable, yet I almost lost my life because I was trusting someone over my own intuition. My doctor told me I would be fine. It took me hitting rock bottom to realize that I needed help and needed to get to the hospital immediately. When I did arrive, I told the front desk that while I may look normal, I was on the verge of death and the doctor needed to see me immediately. As soon as they understood the severity of the situation, I thankfully got excellent care from that point forward. Doctors are people too, and while they save lives, they also can make mistakes – and those mistakes can sometimes be the difference between life and death. If you think something is wrong, pursue it vigorously and take responsibility for yourself.

Lesson 4: Strangers may one day save your life.

We all need to rely on each other in this world, and you never know when you will need to rely on someone that you may or may not know. In my case it was my dear friend, Shirley, who dropped everything to take me on an incredibly stressful ride to the ER and stay with me until my family arrived. Shirley was once a stranger to me when we met randomly 15 years ago, so never did I think she would help save my life years later. I also have the doctors and nurses to thank for their dedicated care, and the blood donors that I’ll never meet face to face who truly saved my life. The fact is that people you don’t know may save you or your loved one’s life one day. It’s a human instinct to want to help others, and fortunately our society is filled with amazing people who want to help others in their time of need.

Lesson 5: Make your health a priority.

Without our health, we literally have no life, so what could be more important than taking care of ourselves? Take the time to make your doctor appointments. Get enough sleep. Hydrate and nourish your body. Once I recovered, I visited my family doctor, my dentist, my dermatologist, and got all of my annual physicals. I am proactive about my health and encourage my family to be too. If you aren’t now, then start today, and encourage your loved ones to as well.

Lesson 6: Be right where you want to be.


I’ve thankfully always been a grounded person with my priorities straight, a strong sense of right and wrong, and a strong grasp on what is truly important in life. I’m grateful to have felt that strength from a very young age, but facing something like this made me ask myself deeper questions. I almost died, and with the opportunity to carry on my life, what do I want to do with my life from here on out? Am I doing everything I want with my life right now? What would I do differently? Would I change anything? The answer is no, I wouldn’t change anything. I love my life. I love my family. I love what I do. Once I recovered, I couldn’t wait to get back into the Hughes Marino office and get back to living life! One day I was on the verge of dying and the next week I was at work again full of energy, passion and life. I love that we are building a company that allows people to have an amazing and fulfilling life, that we are surrounded by incredible people, and that we never take for granted how precious life is. It is rare to find what we have here among our very special team, and it is a great feeling to know that I am right where I want to be.

Shay Hughes is president, COO, and owner of Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company specializing in tenant representation and building purchases with offices across the nation. Shay writes about business leadership and company culture on her blog, Lead from Within. Contact Shay at 1-844-662-6635 or shay.hughes@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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