by Lizzie Piazza
Relentless is in the dictionary as:
that does not relent; unyieldingly severe, strict, or harsh; unrelenting:
a relentless enemy.
Not the most flattering definition, but it’s kind of true. I am relentless about what I want to achieve. I am far more yielding, flexible, and relenting on how I achieve things. The concept of "relentlessness" can help or hinder any objective, depending on how you apply it. Define your objective (your why), and you will find there are often several paths to achieving that objective.
So, what are you chasing? What's important to you right now? What are you working on, and why?
Big questions right there. Ones most people don't stop to consider often, but ones that weigh heavily on your mind when it seems your whole existence is at risk. That's where I found myself on June 8, 2008.
I had woken up in the ICU of South Nassau hospital, a few towns over from where I grew up. I was 17 years old and annoyed. There were so many things going on in the world and here I was, stuck, lying in a bed in the middle of the afternoon! Unfortunately, my body had just been slammed around between a windshield and rough pavement, so I had no choice but to just lay there and think.
The plan that morning was to get to school, run home, grab a few bags, meet a friend to work on a senior project, and stop by the pool on the way home. I was a woman on a mission with the whole summer ahead. I was going to spend the next few weeks celebrating the end of my high school career, lifeguarding with my friends, partying it up with my best friends, and getting ready to accept a scholarship I had worked so hard to earn in a city I couldn’t wait to explore.
At that point in my life my why was to enjoy life as much as I can in the moment while eagerly anticipating my next adventure.
Getting T-boned on a corner in town was most certainly not in my original plans.
Laying in that bed, I thought about the previous day or so. The memories of the accident itself were clear but fragmented. I could see the glint of the sun off the windshield, I could hear the impact as the car shattered my new cruiser, I could feel the pressure as my helmet-less head slammed into the windshield right before I blacked out. The memories right after were more fluid: the smell of metallic blood mixing with the peppermint gum in the puddle underneath my face blended with the sound of the driver's panicky shouting and the feeling of a hand on my back, instructing me not to try to move until paramedics could arrive and assess my injuries.
My parents spent those few days terrified – they saw a split-open head, broken back, and crushed collarbone, and had no idea what was going on with the insides. They didn’t know what I knew – that despite my new reality, I wasn't done chasing my objectives.
This is when I learned my first lesson in relentlessness: persistence in the face of adversity.
Obstacles are not always as they appear. At this branch in the story, we all could have sat and accepted my summer and college plans as ruined. That would have been a major mistake. Patience is one surprisingly critical nuance of relentlessness.
When the final reports came in, I ended up being incredibly lucky. There was no real critical damage – my bones would heal, my organs were all still working (although dented in some cases), and as absurd as it sounds the wonders of modern medicine even provided a way to glue my head back together!
My parents later told me their main concerns:
"What if there is brain damage?"
"What if there is lingering, debilitating emotional trauma? Can she really move 1300 miles away, alone, after this"
"What if there is lingering, debilitating physical damage?"
There are two critical questions I now ask when faced with perceived adversity: is this really an obstacle? And is it as daunting as it appears?
Sometimes we can answer these immediately, and sometimes answers take longer. Instead of always wondering if something would something appear later, we moved on with the things that were in our control at the moment. I am extremely fortunate that I did not develop brain damage or crippling emotional side effects. I do believe, at least partially, that I avoided emotional repercussions because I did not allow fear or anxiety to paralyze me.
There were other obstacles: my crushed bones and healing insides certainly made activities like the prom and ocean lifeguarding way more uncomfortable and harder to complete than normal. I decided to reframe these obstacles: would this event break me, or galvanize me? Some people may have just sat back and accepted that difficulty equalled impossibility in those cases. Me? I didn’t see why that had to be the only option.
This is where I received my second lesson in relentlessness: hard work.
I knew what life was like before the accident, and I certainly couldn’t ignore what my situation was afterwards. Since I had already made the decision to push forward with my why, enjoying an awesome summer and upcoming college adventure, I now had to work to figure out how that new path would take shape.
Small fractures can be healed in a manner of weeks with proper attention and intention. Within days, I was (carefully!) assessing my injuries and testing out walking. Within several weeks, I was jogging. I was even back on a bike a month later! Borrowed of course, as mine didn’t survive the initial accident...
Most incredibly, by the end of the summer I was swimming well on the newly healed collarbone and even re-passed the ocean lifeguard assessment. Bit by bit, step by step, one frustrating day after another, I slowly built my body back up to the ability it had before the accident.
Then I kept going. I went to college. I kept running. I survived my first 2 week emergency hurricane evacuation. I walked onto a D1 track team. I kept up with my classes, and excelled beyond them. I made my first real foray into strength training. I eventually graduated 5 years and 200+ credits later with 2 bachelors degrees, a Masters, and a job offer in a role that was practically designed for me. I kept going, kept enjoying life as much as I could in the moment while eagerly anticipating new adventures. And still happily am to this day, regardless of what cars or other obstacles are thrown into my path.
Why be relentless?
In one afternoon, my world was seemingly turned upside down. This was a make-or-break point: was my why strong enough to survive such a change in circumstance?
Do you have a why? How strongly are you attached to it? Would it survive a few tons of metal thrown into its way?
Relentlessly pursuing details and plans are usually an exercise in futility. But by relentlessly pursuing your why, your driving force, the outcome you want to achieve, you will the faith and fortitude to find new ways forward. Figure out what you want. Persist after that goal without getting too attached to any one path. Work hard for what you want. We get one life and limited time to go after what we want, so don’t let circumstances stay in the way of what you are after.