Every so often an event occurs that drops-kicks us into consciousness and forces us to reflect on the way we are living our lives. These events may occur on the world stage – September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami in Southeast Asia – or they may occur on a more personal level – health problems, the death of a loved one, trouble with the law.

It can be very hard, if not impossible, to look at wake up calls in a positive light. Many people died in the tragedies of September 11, Hurricane Katrina and the Southeast Asian Tsunami leaving behind thousands of distraught loved ones. Personal wake up calls, such as health problems and trouble with the law, typically cause us immense pain and difficulty.

The point of this article is to show that wake up calls present us with an opportunity to change. No matter how tragic or terrible the event is, we always have the choice as to how we respond.

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, for example, gave the world a glimpse of the potential destruction climate change may cause if we don’t take action. There is still much to be done, but people are noticeably making changes to green their lives and become carbon neutral.

I try to keep this blog non-political, but it could be argued that September 11 presented the US Government with a chance to re-assess its foreign policy in the Middle East. Instead, it seems to have taken a course of action that has only exacerbated the threat of terrorism and has squandered the worldwide sympathy it received. In this sense, it has ignored it’s wake up call.

One a personal note, I have had a number of wake up calls in my life. At 17, I got into trouble with the law which resulted in me going to Court and receiving 30 hours of community service. At 20, I was a passenger in a car that hit a tree and almost lost my eye. At 24, I got the unexpected news that I was going to be a dad.

Each of these events caused me short term difficulty and pain. They also led to much soul-searching and inner reflection which, in the medium to long term, has helped me grow as a person. In each case, I recognised an aspect of my life that I didn’t like and took action to change it. For example, the trouble I had with the law at 17 opened my eyes to the potential consequences of my actions. As a result I matured and started to become more responsible. Another example was the news I was to become a dad. Until then I had lived a life that was very much centered on self gratification. Now that I am father I am driven to have a positive impact on not only my son, but on each person I come into contact with.

In summing up, wake up calls present us with a huge opportunity to change. It is important then that we, as individuals and as a greater worldwide community, listen to life’s alarm bells and seize the opportunity to change.

Peter Clemens

Peter Clemens is founder of The Change Blog and author of The Possibility of Change books series. Click here to learn more about Peter and his books.