Four Stages, One Man
When I look back on my life from the ripe old age of 27, I remember many great moments. I recall exciting events, convincing conversations, and adored acquaintances, each of which helped me to build my character and plot my course through life. Yet, when I consider what moment was most influential in my life, I realize that it was not a memory at all, but rather something which I have no memory of.
On Sept. 28, 1994, on a deserted highway on the coast of Lake Superior, the van I was riding in was hit head-on by a semi-truck going 60 MPH. Lucky for me, my seat belt stopped me from flying forward to an early dismissal, but all the same, my head rocked forward so fast that my brain smashed into my skull, sending me into a coma right there on the side of the highway.
Lying there, not breathing, with nothing but my vital signs in-tact, my future looked grim. But then an angel arrived, resuscitated me, called a helicopter, and then drove away. Soon, the emergency helicopter arrived, packed me in, and flew off to the Duluth Emergency Center. To this day, the identity of the angel is unknown.
Following a lengthy three month stay at the hospital, in which I relearned how to walk, talk, eat, and breathe, I proceeded through four successive stages of development before arriving to where I am today. These stages were as follows: denial, acceptance, rejection, and transformation. In the following speech, I will briefly describe the main themes of each stage to you, so that you may better understand the subsequent progression.
Immediately following release from the hospital, after my bracelet had been clipped, I entered the first stage of denial. During this time, I often looked to Alfred E. Newman’s profound words, ‘what, me worry?’ for guidance. Like other kids my age, I could not see beyond a short-term perspective. Happiness was but a sensual and immediate concept to me, so I did a lot of hanging out. I pursued some pleasures, a few vices, and generally did not think of my injury. And then I graduated from high school, left my familiar home in Minnesota and headed for Portland, Oregon, where I started a new life as a college student at Lewis and Clark College.
In this new environment, my limitations suddenly became apparent. Try as I might, I could not seem to integrate into my new environment. My high school strategies for survival proved inadequate and I was left dangling in thin air. Have you ever tried to cut a thick, juicy tenderloin with a dull knife? It doesn’t work, and that’s precisely how I felt. My tools were useless.
During this time, however, I also found myself engrossed in a collage of new ideas and beliefs. And so it was that I became intrigued by the ancient Chinese philosophy of the Dao, or the way, and spent many hours seated in the tall grass of a nearby ravine contemplating its meaning. As a result, I slowly but surely began to accept my lot and just ‘go with the flow.’
In this new stage of acceptance, I acknowledged my limitations and worked around them, focusing my efforts on intellectual pursuits and self-discovery. One could say I became a bit of a college hermit, reading books by candle light late into the evening. Consequently, college became a worthy venture, fulfilling and entertaining. I excelled in my studies, graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Religious Studies, gained employment with the Portland Public Schools, discovered martial arts, met my girlfriend, and poof, had a baby.
At which point, I was catapulted into the next stage of my development, one of rejection. I realized that I needed to stop dealing with my life as it unfolded, but rather take control of my life if I wished to manifest my desired lifestyle. And so, quick as a lightning flash, I quit my job, moved to Eugene, and entered the blue collar world of hard physical labor. Following suit, I came to devalue intellectual pursuits and academic knowledge and took pride in the new identity I had created for myself. I worked hard and lived an honest and simple life, returning home each day covered in dirt and sweat to a singing partner and a cooing baby daughter.
After several months, however, this romantic existence began to fade. Unable to perform sufficiently, I lost my jobs, sank into depression, and became consumed with self-pity. I spent entire days in bed, convinced that I would never be good at anything worthwhile, that I was destined to be a charity case. In retrospect, it seems that I had become so frustrated, so helpless that I began to crave despair. In the words of Richard Farina, (I’d) ‘been down so long it looked like up to me.’ I refused all help from others, preferring torment to relief, until one day I grudgingly allowed a job-coach to help me find a job at Lane Community College.
Though it was not apparent to me at the time, this job turned out to be my ticket to the next phase of development, transformation. What started out as a basic method to make ends meet soon became a waterfall of opportunity. For the first time in my life, I discovered that my skills were perfect for the job. As a result, I gained confidence, earned my co-workers respect, and like magic, my limitations disappeared.
I was encouraged to develop my ideas and soon implemented a non-combative martial arts training program for my clients as well as designed and drafted a program newsletter. Ideas kept flowing and before long I had developed a new program for rehabilitation and written an extensive article on its design. Then I began a rehabilitation business, ‘Launch Empowerment Mentoring,’ attracted several initial clients, volunteered with various organizations, and taught workshops at Oregon Country Fair.
Which brings me to where I am today, a busy, busy, content, and jubilant young man.
Today, in addition to my job at Lane Community College, I continue to develop and expand my business, travel to Portland once a month for life coach certification training, attend training seminars and tackle various tasks as an intern for LILA, train diligently in martial arts, better my public speaking skills with Toastmasters International, and broaden my horizon through music, reading, and writing. All this, in addition to being an affectionate partner and devoted father to two beautiful girls.
In conclusion, it was not the event, the traumatic incident, that most affected my life, but the challenges it incurred. In rising to meet these challenges, I transformed into a stronger, more capable individual. I looked to these challenges to discover the nature of my strengths and in which realms they might best flourish. I have since used this knowledge to manifest a choice lifestyle and could not be happier.
One last thing before I sit down. I invite each of you to consider your own greatest challenges through life. How did they affect who and where you are today?