Life gets better when you get better. Set about improving yourself. With each advance you make in improving yourself, you will begin to notice that the world around you improves. Positivity, optimism, and taking productive risks all act like a feedback loop. People respond positively to those who demonstrate proactive ambition. What you put out into the world comes back to you, and you can build on that. Meet new people, make new connections, use the limited time you have on Earth to contribute something amazing to this world. That is my message, boiled down to essentials.
Why wouldn’t you? Ask yourself what’s stopping you from pursuing life with passion and enthusiasm. Isolate the people, habits, thoughts, or concerns that hold you back, and go about removing those obstacles to your happiness and success.
Take action. When others see you pushing yourself through fear, anxiety, and the unknown, they will help you open doors to possibilities you may never have imagined. Don’t settle, and use your downtime as incubation periods to plan your next move. The life you’ve always dreamed of is attainable. It won’t always be comfortable getting there, and at times the going may get rough—but on the other side of pain and uncertainty is redemption. I believe this with all my being.
As a motivational speaker, I travel quite frequently meeting thousands of people. I recently met a young woman, eighteen years old, whose openness and courage touched my heart, and reinforced this message. We’ll call her Theresa. I’d just given a keynote speech at a large conference. She’d been so moved by the message that she waited patiently for over thirty minutes to have a word with me. By the time she approached to introduce herself, tears were running down her face. It was such a raw, honest display of emotion that I couldn’t help but cry with her. Her vulnerability made me vulnerable, and we shared this meaningful moment even before I heard her tragic story.
Theresa had been in foster care since she was sixteen. Her father was a violent and angry man, and in a fit of rage stabbed her mother to death right in front of her. Then he attacked Theresa with savage fury, stabbing her 28 times. I noted the large, ragged scars crisscrossing her neck, shoulders and chest. I saw the permanent marks of her attack, a chilling reminder of the broken bond between parent and child. She folded back her shirtsleeves to show me the gnarled scars where her wrists and forearms had been viciously hacked away at. “The doctors said it looked like spaghetti,” she flatly informed me. “They didn’t expect me to live.”
Theresa’s father took his own life three days after the attack, by slitting his OWN wrists. All while Theresa lay in the Intensive Care Unit, fighting for her life. She spent almost a year recovering, rebuilding the damaged tendons and ligaments through physical rehabilitation. She wrestled with the emotional trauma. Her family being from Mexico, there was nobody in the United States to take care of her. She was placed in foster care along with her three year-old brother and nine year-old sister, both having fortunately escaped their father’s murderous wrath.
Theresa and I talked for a long time before we both simply broke down, held each other and cried. Words could no longer express the kinship we felt, and naked emotion overwhelmed us. I asked if she was angry, and what she said surprised me. She harbored no hatred in her heart, and had forgiven her father shortly after he committed suicide. It gave me pause.
Forgiveness is such a cleansing force. Had she been of a different mindset, she could have projected onto her father so much disdain, and used her experiences as justification for holding bitterness and resentment in her heart. She could have used her experiences to rationalize her failures, or lack of drive, or any number of negative life choices she might make. Instead, through the act of forgiveness, she wiped the slate clean and decided to stand on her own merit, not letting the terrible events of her past claim dominance over her. She refused to let her past rob her of the bright and purposeful future she was now in the process of building towards.
I asked her about her plans, given that her whole life was ahead of her. Now that she had the power to write her own history. She told me she wanted to enroll in college and become a nurse, having been inspired by the nurses who had taken such great care of her during the darkest period of her life. She now aims to “pay it forward,” so to speak, and help others who may feel helpless and alone. She wants to be a safety net for those most vulnerable to falling through the cracks and being forgotten. She wants to make positive use of her horrific experiences to do great things in this world, not as an excuse to wallow in negativity.
Theresa exhibits all the traits of a true hero. She turned what was an awful experience into a springboard for positive change—in her life, the lives of those around her, and the lives of those she might come in contact with down the road. Sometimes the one who inspires becomes the inspired. It’s a gift, and I thank Theresa for giving me this gift.
I was fortunately in a position to put her in contact with people able to assist her in fulfilling her goals. There is even the possibility of a full-ride scholarship for her to attend nursing school. Her patience and courage in approaching me with such an open heart inspired me to do whatever I could to help her along her own path.
I can think of no better example than this young woman, regarding my overall message as a motivational and inspirational speaker. She used her own personal tragedy as impetus to do good and inspire others. Rather than let her experiences drag her down, rather than let them become an excuse to remain complacent, she is harnessing their tremendous power and energy to bring compassion and caring into this world. She will no doubt fill a niche, inspiring the hopeless, and giving direction to those who don’t know where to turn.
Life is a journey, and we have choices. We choose to move upward and onward, or choose to move downward and backwards. In the end, it comes down to what is in our hearts. Give, and the world will give back. Make choices, take action. What choices will you make today that shape your future? Do you choose to fall, or do you choose to rise? Both are within your power.
As the German poet Goethe said, “Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.”
By Derek Clark and Michael Laemmle
Derek Clark is a popular conference keynote speaker and motivational speaker. He is the author of six inspiring professional and personal development books.