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Five lessons from the 100-year flood

Theresa M. Szczurek //October 18, 2013//

Five lessons from the 100-year flood

Theresa M. Szczurek //October 18, 2013//

Some call it the 100-year flood, others call it the 1,000-year rain. What started as an exceptionally warm and dry September became the wettest month in history.

To put it in perspective, Boulder normally receives 21 inches of rain / snow equivalent per year. In the one-week period of the storm, we received 17 inches of rain. At the height of the storm, around midnight on Sept. 11, nine inches of rain fell in 24 hours. The result: four dead in Boulder County, hundred of homes destroyed, thousands of homes damaged, thousands of people displaced, and millions of dollars in infrastructure, road and bridge damage.

Another result was that people learned some profound lessons:

PRIORITIZE. This flood has given the opportunity to question: What are the important things in life? What are your priorities? Take a look at what’s most meaningful to you. Discern your values.

PIVOT. Be open to change. Many a mountain river or creek totally changed its course as the overflowing water escaped downhill and carved a new path. Some roads and bridges were washed out as a result and now engineers are contemplating how to rebuild inline with the new course. What pivots can you take that will help you go with the flow?

PREPARE. Our basement had just a little water that seeped in through a window well. Many of our neighbors were flooded badly with basements requiring complete do-overs. Was this luck? I call it preparation. The former owner of our house experienced a small flood soon after taking ownership. He took appropriate action which served us well even today. He brought in experts who installed a foundation drain with an exterior sump pump and high-water alarm. We also had a back-up pump on hand. Oprah Winfrey reminds us, “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” What preparation can you do now so that you can create better luck in your business and personal life?

TAKE ACTION. When opportunity or disaster hits, make a decision on how to respond and then act. Jim Collins, bestselling author of Good to Great and co-author of the new book, Great by Choice, states “Luck, good and bad, happens to everyone, whether we like it or not. When we look at 10xers (companies that are 10 times more successful than expected) we see people who recognize luck and seize it, leaders who grab lucky events and make much more of them.” Take advantage of the circumstances. For example, when our pump alarm went off on Wednesday at midnight, we were able to take immediate action. What action should you take now with your business and life?

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PROPER PEOPLE. Since our house was in good shape, we and many other neighbors spent the next few days helping others divert water flow, siphon water out of precarious ponds forming next to houses, give encouragement, pump water out of basements and remove damaged goods. When we arrived at the house of one neighbor who was out of the country, we found that their sump pump was pumping water INTO their basement. By rerouting the pipes with garden hoses, we were able to stop more damage.

There are hundreds of cases where neighbors came to the rescue. Less than a mile from our house, a mud slide knocked a house 10 feet off its foundation. The man, who was in his basement retrieving his computer backup drive, was trapped. 911 responders could not reach the house. His wife found neighbors who aided with saws and crowbars to literally save the man’s life.

Two blocks from our house, a firefighter, driving to work down a road that had turned into a river, helped a man climb to safety. The man was hanging on for dear life to his car’s side mirror. The firefighter then came back to rescue the woman who was still in the car. Two teenagers from the same car were swept away to their death. As Jim Collins would say, “Do you have the right people on your bus?” If not, with whom should you surround yourself?


The 100-year flood is hopefully a once-in-a-life-time event. It brings an opportunity to ask: Are you living the life you want? If not, prioritize, pivot, prepare, take action and surround yourself with proper people. Life is short. Follow your heart in harmony with your head and hands. Live your passion. Enjoy the process. Begin now!