Blackbird Diaries: When a Punch to the Head is a Good Thing

By: Chris Mahlmann Last Updated: July 25, 2014

BlackbirdDiariesMainPhotoSometimes life grabs you, for better or worse and in small and significant ways, and slaps you upside the head. Sometimes it is a gentle reminder like this sign on Lincolnway at the Family & Youth Services Bureau to always keep your eyes open for good so that the evil or tumult of the world around us does not bring down the optimistic spirit inside.

It is far too easy to get overwhelmed by the headlines of rebels and countries at war, gangs hurting innocent children, or politicians spending more time fighting each other than for the people they represent, and lose sight of the fact that most people in the end are good most of the time.


Most are getting up and going to work, taking their kids to practice, volunteering for the fundraiser, and sharing stories of friends and family over coffee each day. Most people are kind and appreciative of the diversity that this world offers and willing to help each other battle through the challenges that each of us face rather than being the ones we are battling against.

So when the inputs you are listening to, the sources you are reading or watching, and the voices that you are allowing to influence how full you perceive your glass to be are leaving you more empty than full, we need to look up. We need to look up, look around, and look forward for those words, sounds, and spirits that fill up the glass. The glasses we have on (whether they are rose-tinted or smeared with dirt) often determine the level of liquid in the glass we are drinking whether that be water, coffee, or beer.


Other times the reminder is more like a punch to the head and comes in the form of a failure whether temporary or permanent in your health, work, family, or friendships. Something that shakes you beyond the subtle adjustment of your attitude for the day and has the positive potential to alter your ongoing course. An experience you are not likely to want to repeat, but none the less can be used for good if you, as I like to say, "Eat it, digest it, and let it nourish you".

I had one of those earlier this week during a Monday morning meeting with our staff as I relayed a few things that I was not happy about with our work. Small things each of them, but as anyone that owns or runs a business can attest, everything is a small thing, until you string them together and they become a big thing. Your best and worst traits are often the same, and for me an abundance of passion and a shortage of patience are just that combination that leads to both success and frustration, often simultaneously, and that balance is a daily battle. So as I talked through my concerns, a sharp headache began in the back of my head, and as a I stood to make a point on the white board, it quickly escalated to a pain I had never before experienced in life, causing me first to sit down, then try to lay down, and then ultimately to call the highest authority, my wife Natalie, to the rescue.

The pain was piercing, like knives digging into the back and top of my brain, and thoughts of what picture we did or didn't get, what story could have been better done, or what client I wanted our group to be more on top of vanished completely and was replaced by why have I let myself get so out of shape; why have I let coffee, fast food, and ice cream become the staples in my diet; and most importantly, what if this is that one battle in life that hard work, an optimistic attitude, and determination can't win?

Thoughts of my wife, kids, friends, team, and memories raced in my mind, and the wish for the pain to go away was trounced by the wish that once this pain is over I want to never forget what it felt like and how the punch to the head could have a long standing positive impact on me.

After the boss lady rushed me to the hospital, they tested my blood pressure, pulse, blood, and did a brain scan. They surprisingly found that I have a brain and it was functioning pretty normally (shock to many including the boss lady), and I was likely suffering from a temporary stress and poor health and nutrition-based brain cramp.

The doc has ordered rest and recovery and most importantly, a long term investment in the habits that maintain the body that drives the mind. He had no prescription for patience, no procedure to remove the part of my brain that is constantly thinking, and no quick fix that would make it all better. Just like remembering that sign on Lincolnway, the solution is thousands of actions over thousands of days that incrementally can make that Monday morning a distant memory if I want it to be.

Will I instantly become Mr. Patient that sees sunshine and butterflies everywhere and welcomes every opportunity to relax, take my time, and just "chill out"? The likelihood is infinitesimally small, but I can start by drinking water with my coffee that I get from Blackbird Cafe, a walk with my lunch, and a breath with my family, friends, and team. It took many years to get to that morning where life punched me in the head, and I feel very fortunate to have been punched as strange as that may sound. It knocked me down, not out, and reminded me there is a lot more life to live, and no time like the present to start living it.