Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation

Trauma can destroy lives, yet some people not only survive trauma, they bounce back to thrive and grow. My latest book (which will be published on February 20, 2018) is called Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation. It tells the stories of people transformed by growth following trauma, and the new paths that they pursue. Some are on missions to help others or to make things right in the world, while others embark on new careers. Some people simply find that their relationships grow deeper, or seek a stronger spiritual dimension in their lives.

Advance praise for Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation

Jolts can derail us—or they can propel us into reclaiming and remaking our lives. They prompt us to ask questions about our values and purpose. “They make people go higher and deeper, asking themselves questions about what is going on and how to get their arms around it,” says career and life coach Richard Leider.

As a journalist focused on retirement and aging, I’ve written often about people in their fifties and sixties rejecting traditional concepts of retirement. They are launching new careers, starting their own businesses, reinventing their lives. Some are reaching out for something new from a place of relative stability and comfort. But others haven’t chosen to transform their lives. Instead, change has come to them unsolicited, the result of a painful, high-voltage bolt from the blue. That’s how the phenomenon of the “jolt” first came to my attention. Midlife is prime time for such jolts: This is the season for sudden job loss, divorce, the deaths of loved ones, and all manner of unexpected health issues, disasters, and near-misses. Still, while jolts tend to affect people at midlife with more frequency, they can take place at any age.

We all know people who have experienced traumatic events and then walk around asking, “Why me?” How is it that some people have managed to move past this question, not only surviving these jolts but emerging from the experience stronger in many ways? What is it like to undergo such painful, profound change? What are the steps people take in making these transformations? And, what lessons do their stories offer to those of us who haven’t undergone trauma but still are seeking to change our lives—or who might wonder how we would react to a jolt of our own?

Psychologists have been asking many of the same questions. One research team at the University of North Carolina Charlotte in the mid-1990s named the phenomenon “post-traumatic growth” (PTG). Since then, PTG has emerged as an important field of study for psychologists and social scientists. One of those researchers, Lawrence Calhoun, says it is important to understand that PTG is more than mere resilience in the face of trauma. “Resilience is when you get punched, stagger and then jump right back up,” he says. “Post-traumatic growth is different. When you stand back up, you are transformed.”

PTG is fairly common in people who experience jolts. Calhoun’s research suggests that up to 90 percent of people dealing with trauma report undergoing at least some amount of personal growth as a result of the experience.

Jolt explores a range of PTG experiences.

Molly McDonald was an affluent suburban Detroit mom who saw her finances ruined following a diagnosis of breast cancer. She went on to start The Pink Project, which provides transitional financial assistance to low-income breast cancer patients.

John Gallina and Dale Beatty are veterans of the Iraq war who suffered traumatic injuries. They came home to start Purple Heart Homes, a nonprofit that provides housing solutions for homeless and low-income veterans.

Cindy and Craig Corrie suffered through the horrific death of their daughter Rachel thousands of miles from home. Rachel was killed by the Israeli army in Gaza Strip during a protest against housing demolitions. The Corries, who were never focused on politics or the Middle East conflict, have since become major figures in the Israel-Palestine peace movement.

Liz and Steve Alderman lost their son Peter in the World Trade Center on 9/11. As a tribute to Peter, they launched a foundation that builds and operates mental health clinics in post-conflict countries. More than ten years later, the foundation is going strong.

A stroke at a young age prompted Andrew Revkin, a well-known environmental journalist, to get serious about his lifelong hobbies: writing and performing music.

Businessman Dave Sanderson survived the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash, and found that trauma brought him closer to his wife and children, and compelled him to change his career.

Hahn Meyers’ husband died very young from a brain tumor. His death sent Hanh on a quest to reexamine her sense of identity and reevaluate her life goals. She gave up her hard-driving legal career to travel the world with her two-year-old son. Trauma gave Hanh the courage to stand up for a life she had earlier envisioned for herself— but hadn’t been able to pursue for fear of failure.

Along with these dramatic, compelling stories, readers will learn about the process of change that trauma survivors experience as they grow – what does the process of change look like from the inside for jolt survivors? What is the role of spirituality and faith? Who is most likely to experience growth after trauma – and who is not? And, what is the meaning of these stories of trauma and growth for the rest of us?

The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security

I wrote The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security in the aftermath of the Great Recession, aiming to give Baby Boomers the first examination of retirement issues in the new post-crash economy. Nearly ten years on, I’m starting to work on a book about the retirement challenges Americans face now. Click here to learn more about The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security.