It’s been decades since a college football injury left me paralyzed both physically and emotionally. That dream-shattering day sent my lifelong goals crashing down around me. My heart was broken, my dreams were shattered and life as I knew it was impossible.
Looking back now, I regard my injury as one of the best things that ever happened to me. No, the best thing wasn’t the accident but what I learned about myself and who I became while I worked through the setback and heartbreak.
I didn’t get what I wanted, but when I focused on purposes instead of shallow goals, on being whole rather than having fame—I ended up wanting what I got, getting closer to what was really in my heart, learning how to serve others, and finding a significant life.
Getting to that place of peace was a long and difficult process. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” I experienced that firsthand. Sixteen doctors told me I wouldn’t get better. At one point, I actually planned an exit strategy, but through obedience and trust I was able to persevere. Eighteen months after my injury, I had fought my way back to a 95 percent recovery.
Instead of asking my doctors how I could get better, I should have been asking myself why I should get better. I discovered it takes courage to leap into any abyss. It’s easier to hesitate, holding on to the familiar because we fear the unknown.
You don’t need a life-altering experience to put you on the path to success, but everyone living a significant life has a recovery story that taught them the difference between success and significance. I compare the process to a refining fire.
When an artist heats silver, he has but one technique to know when the liquid stands ready for pouring into a stunning shape. Only when the artist can see his face reflecting back at him from the silver is it ready to be molded into something beautiful.
Whenever I have felt the “heat” or have been put to a test, it’s only when I’ve looked myself square in the eyes that I’ve been ready to mold and shape the man I am into the significant man that I need to be. By broadening our minds, we can become things of beauty and become artists of truly being alive.