My Computer Died and I Lost a Ton of Data…What a Wonderful Gift!

A Year in the Death 1/21/21

This is my first post in two weeks. And while I hadn’t planned on sharing every daily contemplation during this year-long series on death, I certainly hadn’t planned on this long of a break either. But I didn’t have a choice.

On the morning of Friday, January 8 I decided to do some work at Denver International Airport before boarding my flight to Tampa. So I fired up my laptop, only to be greeted with with the dreaded “blue screen of death.” (And not the funny one pictured above.)

Long story short…after many hours on the telephone with Dell support and and in person with members of the local Geek Squad team, the diagnosis was terminal: my hard drive was dead. Not only that, all of the data contained on it had been corrupted and was not recoverable.

Did I mention I hadn’t run a full back-up of my system in a while…like years? DO’H!

Now, I had saved a few critical files on external drives — but not many. Consequently, I lost a LOT of data…work files, personal finance files, family photos…gone…never to be seen again.

So now what?

As I saw it, I had two choices. I could wallow in any number of destructive emotions and behavior: denial, anger, despair, self-flagellation, etc. Or, I could see this event as a wonderful gift, a real-life opportunity to apply all of my Stoic practices on how to deal with whatever life throws at you.

I chose the latter.

To begin with, I separated the objective experience from my subjective perception of it. As Ryan Holiday so succinctly put it in The Obstacle is the Way:

“The phrase ‘This happened and it is bad’ is actually two impressions. The first — ‘This happened’ — is objective. The second — ‘it is bad’ — is subjective.”

Yes, the death of my computer and the subsequent data loss objectively happened. And only a fool would wish for it to happen to them.

But was it a bad thing? Only if I decided it was. Not only that, but I had the power to decide that the experience not only wasn’t a bad thing, but that it was actually a good thing.

For guidance and support, I dug out my copy of Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers. Specifically, I wanted to reread a powerful recollection by co-author Otto Scharmer.

When he was 16 years old, his family’s home (a 350-year-old farmhouse in Germany that his family had lived in for over 200 years) burned to the ground. As he and his family members stared into the smoldering remnants of everything they owned, he recounted coming to the following realization [pp. 80–81]:

Only in that moment did I realize how attached I had been to all the things destroyed by the fire. Everything I was and had been intimately connected to had dissolved into nothing. But no — I realized not everything was gone: there was still a tiny little element of myself that wasn’t gone with the fire. I was still there watching — I, the seer. I suddenly realized that there was another whole dimension of my self…

My real self was not attached to the tons of stuff now smoldering inside the ruins. I suddenly knew that I, my true Self, was still alive — more alive, more awake, more acutely present than ever before. I now realized how much all the material things that I’d become attached to over the years, without ever noticing it, had weighed me down. At that moment, with everything gone, I suddenly felt released and free to encounter that other part of my self, the part that drew me into the future — into my future — and into a world that I might bring into reality with my life.

The next day my grandfather arrived. He was eighty-seven years old and had lived on the farm all his life. He had left the house a week before to go to the hospital for medical treatments.

Summoning all the energy he had left, my grandfather got out of the car and walked straight to where my father was still working on the cleanup. He didn’t even turn his head toward the smoldering ruins of the place where he’d spent his entire life. He simply went straight up to my father, took his hand, and said, “Keep your head up boy. Look forward.” (“Kopf hoch, mein Junge. Blick nach vorn.”)

Turning around, he walked directly back to the waiting car and left. A few days later, he died quietly.

Yes, I should have backed up my data more regularly. Yes, the work of recreating some of the work files will be time consuming and painstaking. And, yes, many of the photos I lost can never be replaced.

But as Scharmer points out, my true Self hasn’t changed one bit because of this computer crash. Furthermore, the lost data was just one more possession weighing me down. Because the reality is that for every important file or photo I lost, there were probably a dozen or so pieces of clutter that should have been purged years (and laptops) ago. So, what a freeing feeling to know that it’s gone! And how wonderful to start with a clean, clutter-free laptop!

This is not just rationalization on my part. I truly believe the death of my hard drive and the loss of all the data was a gift. Because now I can move my true Self forward into the future with a little less baggage weighing me down.

How about you? What’s keeping your true Self weighed down in the past? And how can you voluntarily shed it to help your true Self create the future you desire, unencumbered by the past?

Remember: death is the ultimate wiping out of your hard drive. There is no backing up your life. So, aren’t we all better served by choosing to limit the amount of past data that’s weighing us down because we’ve stored too much of it inside of us?

“Kopf hoch, mein Junge. Blick nach vorn.”

This is part of a year-long series I’ve entitled “A Year in the Death.” As I discussed in my first entry on January 1, I am going to contemplate and write about death each day of 2021. Some days, my thoughts and writings may be detailed essays. On others, they may be little more than the contemplation of a quote about death or a piece of art representing death or dying. Also, I may not share every daily contemplation with you, reserving my thoughts to my private journal. But I am committed to the practice and invite you to follow along throughout the course of the year.

President of Marathon Leadership, LLC — an organizational and leadership consulting firm based in Thornton, CO. Learn more at

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