How A Brush with Death Can Lead to a New Life

Dr. Alice Chan Finds Her Life's Purpose and Helps Others do the Same
Feb 27, 2013 12:35 PM ET
Dr. Alice Chan

Finding and Embracing Your Life's Purpose

From Gifts From the Train Station

It often seems like we go through most of our lives without thinking much about who we are or where we’re going, cruising along day after day.  A crisis has a way of stopping us in our tracks though, jolting us out of our routine and forcing us to rethink things.  The bigger the crisis, the more rethinking that tends to happen.  A brush with death is big enough for just about anybody to take a hard look at their life and wonder if the direction they’re headed in is really what they want and need.  Dr. Alice Chan had her wake up call in the form of a nearly fatal car accident, but she was headed down the road toward change long before the accident.

By most appearances Dr. Alice Chan was doing well in her life.  She had a beautiful house, was successful in her marketing career, and by most measures should have been happy.  But she wasn’t.  It felt like something big was missing from her life, something important: purpose.  She needed a purpose in her life greater than her job and her house, and larger than her own life.  She wanted and needed to do more, working to help others.

This feeling wasn’t new. She felt that working to help others was something she was always meant to do, but as her discontentment with her life had grown she reached out for solutions anywhere she could.  She plowed through a pile of self-help books and programs, but felt overwhelmed by their great variety of messages and methods, overloaded with information. When she went on a trip with a friend to Sedona, she had an epiphany that she was not alone.  She saw that people everywhere are searching for their purpose, just like she was, and having the same hard time figuring it out, and it came to her that she could end her search for a purpose for living and build a new life by helping others to build a new life as well. Dr. Chan envisioned a book and a program called REACH that would show people how to find their own purpose in life and pursue it. 

She saw clearly what she needed to do, and knew it was the right thing for herself and for others, but found herself unable to fully make the leap. She was afraid to let go of her old career and her old life, to risk everything for the sake of something that could be wonderful, but that held the risk of turning her whole life upside down by venturing into the unknown. “Nobody knew who I was; how was I going to make it work?  So, I reverted right back to doing the job I hated and had outgrown but was very good at, because it was safe,” said Dr. Chan. 

As she hesitated, the universe nudged her forward when a severe car accident nearly killed her, leaving her with no memory of the accident, just staples across her head.  While she was unconscious in the hospital, she had a profound experience in which she felt herself surrounded by love. “I was wrapped up from head to toe in a warm cocoon of the purest love that’s unlike any human experience,” Alice said.  “I didn’t feel any fear with knowing that I almost died; everything was well and in right order.”

Alice had been right up to the edge of death and a little over the edge, getting a look at the other side.  A brush with death like this has a way of changing your perspective.  For Dr. Chan, it helped her to move beyond her fears - they were still there, but would no longer hold her back, leaving her marking time in life.  She had been given a second chance, and like others I’ve talked with getting a second chance after a brush with death set her free to embrace a new direction in life. She left her job to build the REACH program she had dreamed of. 

Today, Dr. Chan works with people from many backgrounds delivering her program and helping them find their purpose in life, coaching and speaking as well. Our goals in life and the challenges we each face might be different, but our need for a purpose in our life is universal.  Having a near death experience is a great motivator, but we don’t have to wait for an experience like this to take our lives in new directions.  We have the power every day, any day, to take our life in a new and better direction.  We choose the course we take.  By gaining the courage to move past our fears and embrace a life of purpose, we realize more than we thought possible in this life, becoming the person we are meant to be.  You can read more about Dr. Chan and her work at her website,


Glenn Croston is the author of “Gifts from the Train Station: The Healing Power of Helping Others”, telling the stories of 14 inspirational people who’ve overcome great challenges and reached out to helped others, healing their own lives as well.


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