LEARN TO JUST BE ~ BY CHRISTOPHER REEVE
All of us have different strengths and insecurities. Truly courageous people (leaders) put aside their doubts and fears and say “follow me.”
Even though I had once played the movie role of superman, after my horseback riding accident in 1995 at age 42, I was left paralyzed with no more than a 50-50 chance of living. My identity as an actor, husband, and father was centered around doing things. I was very hands-on. I enjoyed a very active life. Suddenly, I could do nothing for myself. After the injury, I had to learn a new way of living with my wife and three children (then ages 15, 11, and 3) and working with others.
TEN PAINFUL LESSONS
From my experience over the past nine years, from my efforts to overcome paralysis and recreate my life, I have learned a few lessons:
Lesson 1: Figure Out a New Way of Leading and Living.
An essential element of good life management is knowing how to go to Plan B very quickly. I had to learn a new way of living, leading, communicating, and parenting. I thought, “I’m no longer qualified to be a husband or father. I’ll only be a terrible burden on my family.” I had to learn a new way of leading my family and living my life.
Lesson 2: Remove Guilt, Self-Doubt, and Fear
I had a bad case of survivor guilt and depression. So, I had to learn to forgive myself for being injured. In a position of leadership, you need to remove self-doubt, fear of failure, and any feelings that you might not be “up to the task” or that people will see through you and find you deficient in some way. My new job was not to be self-pitying, not to whine, not to replay the accident, not to live in the past. People around me were looking to me for assurance that life would go on.
Lesson 3: Never Let Anyone Tell You That it Cannot Be Done.
I had to overcome the gloomy prognosis of the doctors who initially gave me only a 50-50 chance of living, and virtually no chance of recovering motion or continuing my career. So, my rule #1 is never accept ultimatums or people telling you it can’t be done. I learned this lesson years earlier in my acting career. For years I had been told that I wasn’t right or ready for certain roles. I experienced a lot of rejection.
Lesson 4: Base Hope for the Future on a Solid Foundation
For centuries, medical doctors believed the spinal cord could not regenerate. But in the 1990’s, doctors agreed that it could regenerate under certain conditions. I relied on that finding to lead my family and pull me out of depression. It gave me hope, which is different than optimism. Hope is built on logic and plausibility. To take your life and your business forward, you can’t blindly say, “It’s all going to work out for the best.” You must be able to say, “Here’s what’s possible, and here’s what we are going to do. Here are our goals.”
Lesson 5: Lead by Vision, Voice, and Trust
I taught my five-year-old son how to ride his bike without training wheels by tellinghim not to look down at the pedals but to look straight ahead where he wanted to go. Within a few minutes, he was doing tricks. And I told my teenage daughter not to let my freak accident stop her from riding horses. I was later gratified to lern that she not only regained the confidence to resume riding but she was also named captain of her college polo team. Leadership is based on other people’s trust and confidence in your vision and your voice.
Lesson 6: Involve Others in the Mission
You need to empower the people around you so they feel their contributions are vital to the success of the mission. As a director, I have an idea of where I want a scene to go, but if I try to impose my ideas, I take away the actor’s incentive to share insights. It’s a mistake to be heavy handed. Great leaders provide guidance and direction but welcome ideas from their people. If people feel their opinions are valued, hey will bust a gut for you.
Lesson 7: Make Your Life Work Inspiring
I directed a movie that chronicles the life of Brooke Ellison, an 11-year old girl who in 1991 was hit by a car. Almost every bone in her body was broken, and she was paralyzed. But with the help of her family, especially her mother, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It was hot working on the set, and we had a tight schedule and budget. We only made the schedule because everyone wanted to be there and was very involved. Also, they were inspired by the story. So make your work inspiring, and others will be attracted to it.
Lesson 8: Do Something for Others Who are Less Able Than You
I was lucky in the sense that I had resources to access to the latest medical technology and receive the best care. But many disabled people are handicapped further by the high cost of health care. After my injury, my insurance company denied payment for a back-up ventilator that I needed to breathe. I became more aware of the cost pressures on health insurers and sponsors of health benefits and how adversarial the relationship is between patients and the insurance companies. Determined to do something about the high healthcare costs for others less able than myself to pay for care, I partnered with a major insurance company to help educate families and children about healthy lifestyles and nutrition, and thus cut healthcare costs.
Lesson 9: After a Setback, Regroup and Then Set New Goals
If you feel paralyzed in your progress toward your goals or life mission, I encourage you to go forward and set new goals based on the solid foundation of hope in some future possibility that is within the realm of plausibility. You may have to learn a new way of influencing other people. I’ve learned that I can give even greater influence with my children not by doing things with them or for them but just by being there for them, listening to them, and loving them for who they are. Soon after my accident, my wife told me, “You are still you, and I love you.” That’s all I really needed to know to keep living and learning.
Lesson 10: Don’t Just Sit Back and Do Nothing
Given the disabilities or weaknesses that we all have, it’s easy for us to think that there is nothing we can do about certain situations that adversely affect us. But I have learned that when I stop and think about the situation, I can usually think of one or two way I might have some direct or indirect influence. I find that the key to changing a situation or at least having influence on the decision is to show sincere interest in arriving at a fair, win-win solution.
ONE DAY AT A TIME
I encourage you to draw lessons from your life experience and to share them with others. And, also, to be proactive in your life and in your leadership. Even though you have flaws, faults, and failures, you also have strengths and successes. We are all differently abled – or handicapped indifferent ways. So, exercise your hope and your faith in the future. Do and be all that you can. You will find that your best is good enough when you take life one day, one performance at a time.
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