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How to Turn Setbacks into Gifts that Ignite Our Imagination

To create the life you desire, you must be clear on what you would love to do and not just accept what you think you can have. Such clarity applies to us as individuals and the vision of the world we would like to see.

The idea of being clear-eyed and specific about what we would like to see in our life and our world is all good. But what do you do when you have a significant setback that seems impossible to overcome?

I recall watching a video of a speech by a young woman named Amy Purdy, who faced a reversal of fortune. Growing up in the hot Las Vegas desert, Amy dreamed of traveling the world, living where it snowed, being a world-class snowboarder, and picturing the stories she would tell.

When she graduated from high school, Amy moved to a place with plenty of snow and was well on her way to fulfilling her dreams. Then her life went sideways. Amy lost her spleen, kidneys, hearing in one ear, and both legs below the knee. After waking up with what she believed to be the flu, she ended up in a hospital on life support with only a 2% chance of survival.

Amy's dreams were shattered. After months in the hospital, her parents took her home. Amy was barely able to patch together a life. Then, just as she thought the worst was behind her, she saw her bulky artificial legs. Amy's human-made limbs were nothing desired or expected. When she put them on and stood up, they were painful and confining. She believed she would never accomplish her dream of traveling the world, snowboarding, and telling her adventure stories.

Eventually, Amy decided to move her life forward. She had to let go of the old Amy and embrace her new self to move forward. At some point, Amy had a revelation. She didn't have to be five-foot-five anymore since she could get legs that made her as tall or as short as she wanted. Amy also said, "I can make my feet the size of all the shoes on the sales rack." Moreover, Amy thought if "she ever snowboarded again, her feet would never get cold.”

Amy began to see possibilities rather than limitations. Now that isn't to say that it wasn't challenging—it was. When Amy went back to snowboarding, she fell. Her artificial legs, still attached to the snowboard, went one way, and the rest of her body went another. The skiers who witnessed this were temporarily traumatized by what they saw. Amy was discouraged. But she was determined to find the right pair of human-made feet to go along with her artificial legs. None existed. Amy decided to make her own and found a leg maker willing to assist her in creating feet and legs that would allow her to snowboard again. Eventually, Amy and the leg maker did just that. She snowboarded again and went back to work and school.

Eventually, Amy won two World Cup gold medals in snowboarding and was the world's highest-ranked adaptive female snowboarder. She also helped found a not-for-profit organization for youth with physical disabilities so they could participate in action sports. Amy said she didn't know what to expect when she lost her legs. But when asked, "Would you change your situation?," her response was "no." Amy understood that the loss of her legs didn't disable her but enabled her. Amy leaned on her imagination. She broke through her apparent limitations and turned what could have been a tombstone into a stepping stone to do great things. She faced her challenge head-on and lived beyond what most would see as her limits.

Amy's challenge to all of us is to not look at our limitations as fatal but to see them as great gifts that ignite our imaginations. When we do, we go beyond what we believe is possible and understand Thomas Troward’s statement that our, "Belief in limitation is the one and only thing that causes limitation."

Peace and Blessings,


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