Your Life is a Train Wreck and That’s Perfectly Fine

Imagine being diagnosed with cancer, at the lowest point of your life, and feeling the pain and sting of the treatments for years to come. Imagine, though, that only five years later, you’d found a way to channel that feeling into discovering your purpose.




That’s exactly what one woman did. Barb Demorest stood at the doctor’s office one day, pouring out her heart when he gave her a suggestion that would change her life. His expertise and experience, combined with her interests and life story, created an intersection that led to innovation in her life. That precise moment is called the Medici Effect — and it’s the reason why if your life is a train wreck right now, that’s ok.


“The Medici Effect”

blankIn 2004, Frans Johansson published “The Medici Effect: What Elephants & Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation.” Business leaders and educational institutions ranked the book’s theories highly; Johansson, a Swedish-American entrepreneur, looked for the connection between artists, scientists, philosophers, and financiers, among other industries, to see how their work intertwined.

Groundbreaking developments can happen at any given time in any field–but that doesn’t make them innovative. Johansson argues that throughout history, each time the ideas of one group intersected with another group in a different sphere of discipline, the world saw innovation.


The intersection of disciplines happened as early as the 1500s in the Medici family, for whom the book was named. Family members from around Europe and China, representing almost every discipline, came together to essentially build the Florence, Italy, that brought about the Renaissance.


The premise? When diverse fields and interests come together, beautiful, long-lasting change takes place. People take leaps to really reach out and learn about something they’d never experienced or expected, finding a common connection between two distinct areas…and creating innovation that neither group could possibly have created on their own. 


Johansson may have been directing his Medici theories to business practices, but this intersection of ideas is more than just a lesson for corporate heads. Whether you call it a coincidence, divine intervention, or the Medici Effect, every person has in their life experienced or heard about a “just at the right time” scenario. The chance conversation, the surprising offer, the few words of forgiveness — anytime an incident or conversation pushes you to reassess the situation and its future implications, you could be looking at your own personal Medici moment.


Maybe right now, you’re living in a situation you don’t really understand. The fact that you’re reading this article isn’t a chance. This could be the Medici moment of your life — when you realize that the unpleasant event in your life right now is the catalyst for greater future joy than you could have imagined.



When Bad Things Happen to Good People

This notion that good people don’t deserve difficult life circumstances is one that is so popular nearly everyone has had the thought at some point in their lives. People have written books about it, sought the opinions of theological, sociological, and psychological experts, and dedicated years of their lives to answering this age-old question about the train wrecks in people’s lives.


Each wreck is different for every person. Perhaps the train wreck is a failed relationship, career or family disappointment, or devastating illness. There are days when it feels like the train of your life is careening off-course, headed for a blockade and about to run off a cliff. Some days, you think you might actually be there, and you find yourself at the bottom of the ravine.


This is when the Medici Effect can result. What if the train wreck was actually the intersection of a tremendous and positive life change? 


Think about the number of times you’ve seen stories of families devastated by illness or natural disaster, then finding themselves facing even more horrific situations. You wonder why that had to happen to such good people. They wonder when it will ever end. 




And then the Medici Effect kicks in. Despite the pain and tragedy, you see a community rally around the family. You see greater exposure of the disease afflicting their loved one. You see them become powerful advocates for the same cause that initiated the pain in their lives.


Barb Demorest is one example of the Medici Effect. After undergoing treatments for breast cancer, she hit a low point in her life. Breast reconstruction had left her with self-esteem issues when she was trying to find clothes to wear. Now, this isn’t something all patients talk to their doctors about. But Demorest confided in her doctor — one intersection. He asked if she knew how to knit, and referred her to a group called Knitted Knockers. After talking to a friend who found a pattern and gifted her a pair of handmade products, she came upon the intersection between her breast cancer diagnosis, her remission, and her love of knitting. She reached out to the now inactive founder, got permission to use the name, and jumped right in, building a non-profit that reaches women from around the world.


“Little did I know that cancer would change my life in such a positive way,” she says in this short video.



The Takeaway from the Train Wreck

Demorest found her Medici moment — where her interests and life experience collided to create her purpose. Her life had gone off-track, never expecting to have received a diagnosis of breast cancer. But Demorest, like many people, learned that when life doesn’t go as planned when the train feels like it’s crashing, that often, what you learn is far greater than if your life had gone smoothly.


When the smoke and debris are cleared from the wreckage, you’ll often find that the wreck took you to a better path, despite the circumstances that got you there.


  • You’ll look at the challenging situation of your life from a new perspective
  • You’ll see a shift in the way you see things
  • You’ll discover new things about yourself
  • You’ll develop a new level of maturity or insight.
  • You find your true purpose in life.


Next steps

Now, these changes don’t just happen. Sometimes, your Medici moment is subtle. Follow these steps to discover the intersection of happenings and the point of innovation in your own life.


  1. Spend some time reflecting on your life


Look back at the bad in your life, searching for the points when you felt you might have been in, or headed for, a train wreck. What happened at that moment? Did you experience any new experiences or meet any new people? How did you feel? 

A train wreck might be emotionally and physically challenging, but it can also give some people hope and excitement. The end of the old, no matter how hard it may be, can lead to a new, promising future that, like Demorest found, can make you appreciate the challenge you overcame.

Other situations aren’t as clear. You might be left with emotional and physical scars or memories of circumstances you never should have experienced. Look back at your train wreck with compassion for yourself, no matter how old you were when the situation happened. 


     2. Freewrite about your life


Freewriting is the act of getting everything out of your head and onto paper (or computer). It’s writing that doesn’t follow any grammar or spelling rules and serves the purpose of helping you to discover your memories. You might find the words come easily, and you find a burden lifted. You might find yourself overwhelmed with negative emotions. Either way, write through them. Let your thoughts and feelings flow freely — don’t stop your train of thought. Simply allow your pen to fill up the paper. (link to guide to freewriting your life story)


     3. Analyze your writing and interests, looking for intersections and innovation


You might discover in your freewriting that memories you forgot about rose to the surface. These are the memories you need to analyze. A recurring thought or experience might be pointing you toward a new and different future — this might be your Medici moment when you find how each life experience has been leading you toward this precise revelation. This is your chance for innovation. 

Innovation doesn’t have to mean you become an inventor or a revolutionary. It means that you find a new way to look at your life and the experiences that arise. It means that the crash causing the train wreck could also disrupt your old perspective, thought patterns, and outlook on life. It means that you can learn to look for the Medici Effect in your life, exploring how to overcome challenges and create for yourself a new life story.


If you’re ready to write through some of your own life stories, here’s where to start:

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