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Disaster Can Lead to Opportunity

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Life has a nasty habit of throwing curve balls at you, especially when you are not looking. Some are small, some are large and some, trust me, can be very major indeed.

My life was bumbling along in a fairly usual way in the late 1980s. I had become a partner in a financial advisory company that was destined for big things. I gallivanted around in the latest BMW, had the big hair that was so fashionable at the time and wore the Dynasty style women's suits where the jackets looked as though we had forgotten to take the coat hangers out of them. Oh yes, life was good and the money rolled in. 'Yuppie' culture had arrived and we played as hard as we worked.

Just as the 1990s loomed the property market crashed and financial markets took a tumble. Recession had hit and there was going to be an awful lot of casualties including medium-sized companies such as ours. We sank, almost without a trace, and my first big curve ball loomed as I stared down the throat of bankruptcy.

Rather than capitulate to the inevitable I saved what I could from the doomed company and set up again on a much smaller scale and, learning my lesson from the recession, made sure I was not reliant on anyone else. Gone was the swanky cars, big hair and power suits. Instead I grafted to put as much distance as I could from the past and grabbed any opportunity to expand my knowledge so I could continually evolve my little company as circumstances changed. I wasn't going to get caught out again.

On 5 October 1999 I caught a train from Reading into Paddington to attend a training course in pursuit of my thirst for knowledge. My train crashed headlong into a Thames Turbo coming out of Paddington at over 130mph and a fireball ripped through the carriage I was in. I was severely burnt, was in a coma for three weeks, came close to death and spent almost three months in hospital. When I was well enough to come home I was wearing an acrylic mask to help heal the burns to my face and became known as 'The Lady in the Mask'.

This particular curve ball put paid to my business and I spent the next eight years medically recovering and trying to get to grips with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is my legacy from the train crash. However, I am not the sort to sit around not doing very much - I find inactivity a bore. Unable to work I decided to set up the Paddington Survivors Group and, with some other survivors from the crash, we started campaigning for greater rail safety in an attempt to bring about something good from our misfortune. I believe that we achieved our aims and were instrumental in bringing about change within our railway infrastructure that resonates today and makes the UK rail system one of the safest in the world.

In 2008, having been passed as adequately fit by my medical team, I decided that it was time to return to some sort of useful occupation. "You will have to take into account your affected health" were the warnings words from my doctors. Tending to ignore this sage advice I threw myself into various roles trying to work out what would suit me and my altered circumstances. It wasn't a success initially and I was began to panic that I was incapacitated for life.

"I'm on the scrap heap", I wailed to a close friend, "what am I good for now?" She made me sit down and make a list of all the things I had learnt from running my own company, surviving the train crash, fighting back from horrific injuries, running a national safety campaign and a successful survivors group. I realised that the skills and experiences I had picked up along the way were invaluable and gave me unique skills. And so I entered the world of independent project management and have to say it is the most enjoyable occupation I have had to date. Every morning I awake excited about what the day might hold and I love the projects I have chosen to work on. Change and re-invention have become part of the very fabric of my being.

What I am trying to say is that we will all face challenges of one kind or another in our lifetimes. It is normal human nature to let our heads drop and feel like giving up every now and then (I know I did) just don't wallow for too long. If you can lift your head long enough you will see opportunity just around the corner and if you can reach out and grab it a whole new vista to life opens up to you. I know, for one, that the next time I meet my maker I want to look back on my life and say 'Wow - now that was fun!'

Around the Web

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BBC NEWS | UK | Pam Warren: Life after Paddington

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Pam Warren (pamwarren06) on Twitter

How We Met: Pam Warren & Simon Weston - The Independent

Pam Warren | Prowess 2.0 Women in Business