This month marks the 15 year anniversary of my spinal cord injury. Most of us cannot imagine living life from a wheelchair. I couldn’t either before my injury. The challenges are great. Doing simple things is much more complicated now.
In my conversations with friends, colleagues and new acquaintances, I’ve learned that everyone is carrying some burden. We all will experience one or more of four types of adversity – health, financial, career or relationship. A crisis in one can easily cascade into others. Most carry their burdens in silence. Mine happen to be very visual.
Adversity has the power to change your perspective on life. Famed computer scientist, Alan Kay said “a change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” But perspective can be elusive. We are all too busy living our lives to seek perspective on our circumstances. Adversity distorts reality but cuts through the clutter of our “doing” to crystalize the truth. We generally think of perspective as elevating our point of view, that is, rising above the situation to see the “forest from the trees.” My perspective is grounded in realizing what’s possible and recognizing that many things are important but few things really matter.
Loss amplifies the value of that which remains. In difficult times we can discover hidden parts of our lives that we take for granted. While the road to acceptance has many pot holes, we can choose to move forward. The alternative is not very satisfying. In the end our current happiness is more important than righting the injustices of our past.
My life continues as a work in progress, and I have to re-create parts of myself every day. I know that this life is full of new adventures, though, even if I don’t know what all of them are yet. I may experience them sitting down, but in a way I am standing taller than ever.
Read my 2007 Harvard Business Review article