Two years later: Close call sparked 'reframing'
For most people, September 11 has come and gone, but the anniversary will always be important to me because I was a block away when the first building fell. The people I have met who were at the World Trade Center that day never stopped associating the event with their work, and I am no exception.
That day, I stepped outside my office to take a look at the spectacle. Before I knew what happened, I was blinded by debris and buried under a pile of people. I pulled myself out of the pile, but I couldn’t see, had no idea where I was, and I couldn’t breathe. I worried about my family until the lack of air became painful. Then I focused all my hopes on not having an extremely painful death.
There was complete quiet. No one could talk because no one could breathe. Then I heard cracked glass. I moved toward the noise until I saw a glow coming from a broken window. Somehow, I lifted myself into a broken window that was above my shoulders. I found air. And then I thought only of water. I found my way to a bathroom in that building and inside there were debris-covered men in ties drinking out of a toilet. I drank, too.
Days later, I went back to my software marketing job at my Wall-St based company, and though no one was really doing any work, I somehow continued to write my column, furtively, from my desk. Soon, though, the company laid off almost all the employees, including me. I spent October in a daze. I spent November and December attending a group for people with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The way to deal with post-traumatic stress is to tell your story over and over again. The theory is that when you are in the moment of trauma, you have to turn off all your emotions to get yourself through it. After the fact, in order to stop having nightmares and panic attacks, you have to experience the emotions you missed.
So I told my story over and over again. And each time, the story was a little different. (I still tell the story, although to be honest, most people are sick of it. Even my brother said, “That just took 25 minutes. Maybe you need an abridged version.”)
When I began telling my story, I saw myself as an imbecile– for staying at work after the first plane hit, for standing so close to the building, for not trying to help anyone but myself. Later, my story focused on how I was a lucky person to have come out alive. And I was a lucky person to have a moment where I thought I was going to die and saw exactly what I cared about in my life.
This is the process of reframing. How we frame our stories determines how we see ourselves. It’s the glass half-empty/half-full thing: The trauma of 9/11 taught me to frame my life as half-full.
Today, when I tell my World Trade Center story, my focus is on career change. Today I am the woman who nearly died at the World Trade Center. I lost my job as a marketing executive. I faced an incredibly tough job hunt, which I wrote about in my column. In the process, I became a writer; turning in a column week after week made me realize that I was a writer who was calling herself an unemployed marketer.
I used to think career changes were planned and instigated and systematic. Now I know that some changes could never be planned, and some changes do not need instigating, they just need recognizing. Positive change comes to people who can frame their world in a positive light – even a world where everything is literally falling down.
New York-based Trunk writes the weekly Brazen Careerist column, which appears near the help wanted ads. Her work is syndicated through the Featurewell news service.