5 Ways Thinking Small Helped Me Play Big

03/20/2015 11:23 am ET | Updated May 20, 2015
Jupiterimages via Getty Images

Two years ago a major wakeup call taught me a profound, counterintuitive lesson: In order to play big, you sometimes have to focus first on thinking small.

I was at the top of my game as a celebrity ghostwriter and consultant. My coaching practice was thriving. Money was pouring into my bank account.

I should have been happy.

But I was exhausted from traveling and working long hours to build other people's dreams. I wasn't exercising, I barely slept and somedays (alarmingly for a lifelong big eater), I skipped meals because I was too busy and distracted to feed myself.

And then I got a cold.

"You should get that checked out," my husband warned. I laughed it off. Seriously? Go to the doctor for a COLD? What am I, a newborn?

But as I pressed on in my attempts at world domination, my body launched a mutiny.

One day I woke up so tired I couldn't get out of bed. "Pneumonia," my doctor said. My body raged with fever and chills. My head ached. I couldn't lie on my back because the fluid in my lungs made it feel like I was drowning. I coughed so hard my ribs cracked.

After working closely with hundreds of women and reviewing my own life, one thing is clear: No matter how "successful" we are, when our work isn't working, our bodies pay the price.

But our ailments can offer up life-changing insight... when we pay attention.

Recovering from pneumonia was harder than I expected. I had to take things one small step at a time. A milestone wasn't a five-figure contract. It was a five-minute walk. As an ambitious big-picture person, I was accustomed to setting massive goals and planning life years in advance.

But as I turned my focus from big, external achievements to quiet little wins, a profound shift took place that set me on a more fulfilling course. Here are five ways that thinking small helped me play big.

1. I learned to trust in my body's wisdom.
Our bodies contain deep wisdom our minds can't always access. Throughout my recovery, my brain told me I had to hurry up and get back to living at full speed. My body invited me to rest. When I listened to my brain, I got worse. When I listened to my body, I got better.

2. I learned to focus on my next best move.
Recovery after a health crisis is two steps forward, one step back. I couldn't predict how much energy I'd have in the future. All I could do was work with the energy I had in the moment.

I had to quit focusing on what I'd do two days from now, and instead focused only on what I needed to do next. I worried it would make me less strategic. But I have became more focused and productive.

3. I learned that my strength comes from my ability to ask for and accept help.
I'm a mother to two young boys. I got sick just as my husband's business entered its busiest time of year. In order to keep my life afloat, I had to swallow my "I'll do it myself, thanks" pride and be willing to receive help from friends, family members and sometimes even strangers.

The lesson: No matter how great you are, your efforts are magnified when you allow other people to help you.

4. I discovered the magic of small wins.
Go-getters spend so much time focusing on the next milestone that we fail to acknowledge the ground we've covered -- so we never measure up. Our lives become about acquisition rather than celebration. Recuperation forced me to celebrate small achievements like feeling good enough to cook a meal. Relishing the small things brought deep and unexpected joy to everyday life.

5. I learned to build my own dreams.
As I re-focused on my well-being, I realized that in my pursuit of recognition and "success" I had ignored my own dreams in favour of building my client's dreams.

I began setting aside consistent time to focus on my own personal creative projects and initiatives. The result has been profound: I used to spend my time behind the scenes, helping others craft their message. Today I'm on the stage, using my voice and skills to help others and make an impact.

At the worst of my sickness, there were days I honestly thought I was dying. The truth? A part of me was coming to life. Sometimes a health crisis can give us just the medicine we need to redefine success in a way that truly serves us.