Someone once said "if you want to make God laugh, start making plans for your life". I had decided what my life would be by the age of six. All I ever wanted to be was a surgeon, like my father. In my naïveté, I could see my perfect wife, my perfect children, my perfect career, and my perfect life as it would be and, in my mind, all would be well with the world.
While in high school, I took up trampoline gymnastics and was picked to represent my country at the world Championships in Essen, Germany, in 1990. However, while preparing for this I suffered a spinal-cord injury which left me a C4 quadriplegic. As it turned out, God had other plans for my life – and it didn't include any of the things I had dreamt of.
In order to understand me, you need to go back to the very beginning. I have always been encouraged by my parents to distinguish myself in the world, that is to say, to make a big splash. I have always lived my life with a mindset that anything is possible. What the mind can conceive, and believe, it can achieve. I truly believe this. So, it should come as no surprise that having have something happen to me that may have wrecked another person was simply one more hurdle for me to overcome. The word "quit" has never existed in my vocabulary.
My six year old self saw life in pretty straightforward terms. As I would find out, however, life is not neat and tidy. Life is messy. It seldom goes exactly according to the script. And so it was for me. I had to find my plan B. I spent six years at university, studying for two different degrees. I subsequently took up a job in fundraising, using none of the skills I had accrued during that time. But, hey, it was gainful employment and, for the short time I busied myself with it, I learnt a lot. Mostly, I learnt a lot about myself, the world, and how hard it was going to be for me, going forward.
After trying my hand at a few jobs, I discovered the niche that would launch a career for me in 2011. The rest, as they say, is history. I have had a multitude of clients from many different industries and walks of life. It has been very challenging but, at the same time, more rewarding than I could have ever dreamt. My most recent project will be working with a colleague to help people get gainful employment in South Africa, a country with a 33%+ unemployment rate.
Life doesn't guarantee anything. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow. We are not guaranteed success. We are not even guaranteed love. Irrespective of how deserving we feel we are, if we want something, the only way to get it is to go out and take it. Often, that is easier said than done. For me, I was never going to give up. I was never going to allow my disability to define me. I was never going to let life beat me.
Do I have regrets? I suppose the honest answer would be "yes", but only for ten seconds at a time. That is how long I allow myself to wallow in what could have been. My life now is made up of a series of hurdles that I have to overcome. I am quite proud of the fact that, for what will be thirty-three years in June, I have managed to support myself, employ an assistant, and distinguish myself in a very competitive industry i.e. social media marketing. Of course, it has never really been easy but, then again, nothing worth doing ever was.
So, what advice would I have for someone else experiencing the same crisis, the same terrifying fear of the future, the same disappointment of missing out on what they would have considered their perfect life? It's simple. There is no such thing. You will get out of life exactly what you put in. The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. There are no free lunches, no easy rides, no excuses. Yes, I have had a lot of help along the way but, when it is all said and done, I still had to make the choice to pursue whatever dreams I had left, and the only thing you need to ask yourself in that endeavour is this: "how badly do you want it?"
One truth that has stuck out for me, knowing what life was like before my accident, is this – if I can succeed, anyone can. Success is a choice you make daily. Not quitting is also a choice you make daily. Instead of raging against what might be called a bitterly unfair twist of fate, I choose to embrace it. I am living my life on my own terms. Never let anyone tell you what is possible or how far you can go. Only you have that right.