I died and lived to tell about it. You’ve heard about the past. Most of you probably know my story at this point. Life was interesting before. It was almost too interesting. It was way too crazy and way too out of hand. I was definitely living, but I most definitely was not living how you should live. Life started about a year after my death. I have always been alive except for a brief moment, but now I truly know what being alive is all about and I’m here to tell you how it is and how to actually “live”.
Life before everything went down was all about me. I mean I still was a pretty good human being, but I was definitely pretty selfish. How can I satisfy myself next? When can I water ski next? When can I take that next bong rip? I was all about satisfying myself. The things that gave me satisfaction were things that solely benefited myself. Unless maybe I was teaching someone how to water ski for the first time. But just how far would that get them in life? I don’t think I need to answer that question.
College just seems like a blur now and occasionally I will hear stories from people where they tell me these outrageous things I did and I have absolutely no memory of what took place. I wish I could remember it all. I wish I wasn’t so messed up all the time that it wasn’t just a blur. It’s crazy for me to think that I was able to write an entire book about it. My editor actually cut out 50 pages of crazy stories basically saying it was enough with what she cut it down to.
From the stories I hear now it seems like I could write at least 50 more pages. Are these things that I’m proud of? Absolutely not. Do I regret anything that I did? I can say with all honesty that I have no regrets.
It might be strange for you to hear me say that. I did so many regretful things yet now I look back on life with no regrets? I don’t believe in having regrets. You can’t change the past, so why regret it? Every single stupid thing I did in my life cannot be changed, but only can be used as a lesson for how to better myself in the future. Your past is what shapes you into who you are. Lessons come from making mistakes and learning not to make the same mistake again.
Does your past define you? You may be judged for it, but you can’t care about that. It’s a part of who you are and it helped create your identity, but ultimately the past can either make you or break you. Learn from your mistakes and your successes and that is how you will find your true identity.
There is a quote by Lao Tzu that I really like that says “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” There is so much anxiety and depression in this country and I think that quote sums it up as best. So many people are either upset about the past or worried about the future. So how do you get to the point where you are living in the present?
When I was first injured all I thought about was the past. I was depressed to say the least. All I believed was that if I would never walk again or take another run through that slalom course that life would never get better. I was not at all ready to accept the reality of my new physical state. The future was scary as well. I thought all my hopes and dreams were crushed. I was going to school for civil engineering because I wanted to build private water ski lakes and develop communities around them. I wanted to work on construction sites and run the show. How would I do this now that I was confined to a wheelchair? There was far too much anxiety in my life. There was no peace. At that point there was not even any hope for me that I saw in the foreseeable future.
Now let’s move forward. Today I am thankful for everything I went through. Every night I look at a drawing on the wall next to my bed of myself in my car with my hands sticking up through the sunroof flicking off the police. That’s the exact moment when my life changed forever. That drawing is a reminder of the best thing that ever happened to me. I wake up the next morning excited to get out of bed. I’m excited about each and every day that I’m alive. I was given a second chance that most people do not get.
You’re probably wondering how the hell I could be happier than I ever possibly could be despite the first fact that I’m a quadriplegic that will most likely never walk again and also remember that I have bipolar disorder. I never get upset. I got over the self-pity a long time ago. I’m always happy and upbeat. Kate, my aide and one of my best friends, got to the point where she got tired of asking how my day was because the response never changes.
I cannot even remember the last time I’ve had a bad day or even a situation that I couldn’t quickly get over. I am truly at peace and I’m almost 100% always living in the present. I think about the future and have goals and dreams that some people may say are really far-fetched. I’m a dreamer but I’m also a doer and what I do every day brings so much happiness to my life.
What am I going to do today? That’s the question that I ask myself every morning. I’m not really a big fan of schedules though. I just love having things thrown at me and going with the flow. I run my own business, which had always been a dream of mine, so I get to do my own thing. I’m not tied down by anyone else or carrying out someone else’s dream. Every day I get to do exactly what I want.
What exactly do I want? I just love to make people happy. It’s that simple. I love to spread hope and joy to other people. I do this by having an extremely positive attitude and using everything that I have learned from my mistakes and my successes and try to teach those lessons to others. I try to be as kind as I possibly can. I don’t think you can tell people how much you care about them or how much you love someone enough so I tell people every chance I get. I take interest in other peoples lives. I love to listen and hear about what other people are doing. I love to give praise when praise is due. Mostly though I love to help those who are struggling and by giving them guidance the greatest reward is seeing a smile on someone’s face by giving them hope and watching their life unfold in a direction they never thought possible.
I think that is the ultimate lesson that I have learned. The best way to help yourself is to help others. We all have lessons that we have learned in our life and we all have something to share. My happiness comes from making other people happy. My happiness comes from making people think differently to believe that everything is going to be OK. I love speaking to large audiences, but the best reward is working with someone one-on-one and seeing their life move forward in a positive direction that they never saw coming.
So this is the advice that I give you. Take interest in other peoples lives. Listen to them and appreciate them. Never judge a book by its cover. Actually never judge at all because we all have flaws. Believe that there is good in everyone and that change is possible. You also always have to believe in yourself and know that each and everyone of us has our own purpose. How do you figure out what that is? Put yourself out there. Do something that scares you.
I had to write an epitaph for a senior class honorary that I applied to and got into and I wrote “Here lies a man who truly found happiness. He tried what he thought he’d like and pursued only what he knew he loved.”
My advice to you is to go out there and try as much as you possibly can. If you do not like something move onto the next thing. Once you find something you like, pursue it and try it again. Along the way you are going to find things that you love and ultimately that is going to be how you find your purpose and your passions if you pursue those things relentlessly.
Reflect back on the past. Remember you cannot change it and that you can only learn from it. Think back to times where you felt truly alive. Think about what makes you happy. Prioritize your life and come up with a list of things that are most important to you. Live with intention and hope. Stop worrying so much about the future. All you can control is what you are doing right now. Depression is a hard thing to snap out of and people are constantly anxious about what is next. Forget about what you cannot change and what you cannot predict. You will be at peace if you let everything else fade away and just live life one moment at a time. That is how you will find happiness.