A month ago my brother Frank was in a terrible motor bike accident in the sand dunes outside Doha, Qatar, where he has lived for the last 3 years. He broke many ribs, collapsed part of his lung, damaged his kidney, broke his femur but worst of all, badly injured his spinal cord at T12 (waist level). The neuro-surgeon looking after him told me that the probability was that Frank, 41 and incredibly active, will not walk again.
As an adventure-loving guy who regularly dives, sails, skis and races his bike around Doha's Grand Prix track, it probably goes without saying that the last month has been a profound experience for Frank, for our family (he is the oldest of seven... I'm next) and for his friends - Profoundly shocking, profoundly sad... profoundly life changing.
Having just returned from 11 days in Qatar, I was blown away with how brave Frank has been in the face of his circumstances. Of course he's had his sad moments; but his sense of humor has never waned, and his positive outlook on life has never wavered. Frank exemplifies what it means to be living powerfully from choice: you can't always choose your circumstances, but you can always choose your response to them. To say that I am enormously proud of him is an understatement.
The events of the last month have reminded me about The Stockdale Paradox which Jim Collins wrote about in his best-selling leadership book, Good to Great. The Stockdale Paradox states that when faced with adversity, truly great leaders respond with a powerful psychological duality. On one hand they face the brutal facts of the situation, taking full responsibility for their predicament; and on the other they maintain an unwavering faith that they will ultimately prevail against their challenges, however daunting. In short, they face reality at all costs & keep faith at all odds.
Confronting the prospect of life as a paraplegic is not something anyone could do without a deep sense of sadness, loss and grief. However, whilst I know it is essential for Frank and those of us supporting him to accept the extent of his injury, it's equally critical to hold onto faith that he will rise above the challenges that lie ahead and meet them all square on.
So Frank has declared to acknowledge probabilities but focus on possibilities. When I checked if he was okay about me writing this article about him, he responded: "Yeah sure, so long as you mention what a cool guy I am and keep some copies for my "Walking Again" scrapbook".
Adversity Introduces You To Yourself
This experience has reinforced my belief that it's through the tough times in life - the challenges, tragedies, illnesses and heartaches - that we can experience our strength in its fullness and come to know who we truly are. With four young children, I often find myself instinctively wanting to protect them from hurt feelings, mistakes and the inevitable trials that life serves up; yet I know that it's from the knocks in life that they, like all of us, can discover their greatness and grow into all they are capable of being. For Frank, I have absolutely not one shred of doubt that he will emerge from this as a wiser, stronger and more compassionate person whose experience of life is deeper, richer and immeasurably more meaningful.
No Matter What Happens, You Can Handle It!
Of course Collins' 'Stockdale Paradox' is equally relevant to you in the face of your challenges. Whether in your work, relationships, health or finances - you must be willing to confront and accept your circumstances, however unpleasant or inconvenient that is to do, whilst simultaneously trusting that you have everything it takes to prevail against them and live a more fulfilling life for doing so. Will that take courage? Sure, but no more nor less than what lies dormant within you.
The last month has brought home to me many things. The importance of family, the blessing of friends, the preciousness of life, but most important of all, that life can only be lived one moment at a time. Life is inherently unstable, and none of us will ever know what tomorrow holds in store. All we can do is choose to cherish the moment we have right now and trust in ourselves that whatever 'adventures' lie in wait, we will meet them one moment at a time.
As always, live boldly, shine brightly!