Why are wake-up calls so hard?

They come on gradually and then happen suddenly. They carry surprise and disappointment, anxiety and passion, inspiration and heartbreak, fear and motivation…and they jolt us awake with a lightning bolt. They remind us that our time on earth has its limits. Sometimes the alert goes off around us and sometimes it blares right in our face.

The best wake-up calls not only spring us out of bed and get our wheels turning, they get us moving forward, taking productive action in our lives. Much of the time, however, we don’t come close to benefiting from their full potential, and there are several reasons for this.

We’re tuning out. We’re not listening, maybe even intentionally wearing earplugs.
We’re stuck in shame, blame, grief, or anxiety. We focus on the past and future instead of the present, the gift, the opportunity.
We hit the metaphorical snooze button. “That will be future me’s challenge to deal with,” we say…

And then there are the other times when we HEAR IT. We turn the volume up and listen closely. We allow ourselves to process and uncover meaning for ourselves. But we often stop there.

And you can’t activate a wake-up call without taking action. It’s not enough to “make meaning” and store it up for…for what? Winter?

We continue scrolling through life. We put our noise-canceling headphones back on. We avoid, we delay, we forget. We must do something with that meaning.

But then the next place where we struggle is in believing we need to match the LOUD BOOMING ALERT with ACTION OF A COMPARABLE SCALE. We try to do too much all at once.

So it can’t just be about having the epiphany and tuning in. It can’t just be about making meaning and finding the “gift.” It can’t just be about taking BIG BOLD ACTION. We need small, sustainable action that keeps us moving forward. When we start TOO BIG with unrealistic expectations, we burn out, we fall off, we get impatient…

So next time we have a wake-up call and feel inspired to make the most of it, let’s try this out:

Listen up! Take out our earplugs, tune in, and turn up the volume.
Make meaning: Get curious, seek to understand, and find the gift.
Dream big! Let our imagination run wild, and gain clarity on what we want.
Start small. Identify and move forward with One. Small. Action. Be realistic, and then be even more realistic.
Be compassionate. Be kind to ourselves and others. Give ourselves the grace we would give a fried.
Stay honest. Be true to ourselves and what we need. If what we’re doing isn’t working, ask the hard questions, make an informed choice.

And maybe most importantly, remember that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s more than okay. We’re human.


• Think of a wake-up call that is still very present for you (Don’t overthink it.) What is the first one that comes to mind?
• Consider the context for this wake-up call… Where were you when the bell rang? When did you notice it? What was happening around you at the time?

• What illuminating discovery did you make? What makes this wake-up call meaningful to you? Where is the gift? What purpose can it serve?
• What happened next for you?
• What do you want to do about it now?