“Facing my fears and embracing myself as I am in the present – flaws and all – allowed me to become a stronger, wiser, and more productive person.”
By Dina Osman*
At the age of 29, I had a massive stroke and fell into a coma. After emergency brain surgery, I awoke to discover I could no longer speak or move and was dependant on machines to perform the most basic human functions.
I could barely recognize myself. I was always unstoppable! Now I was an invalid trapped in a hospital bed. I was always athletic and energetic, now I could barely muster the strength to open my eyes. I was always ambitious and fearless, now I was absolutely terrified by the prospect of what my life would look like as a “brain damaged” person.
After months of grueling rehabilitation, I was thankfully able to regain all functionality, even completing my first duathlon and 7th half marathon within the year. Every finish line I crossed was symbolic – I was leaving the stroke behind me.
But “the stroke” followed me like a dark shadow. Every conversation I had dwelled on my “incredible recovery,” my “survival story;” I hated that I was now defined by the stroke, and not by my accomplishments. This one random event seemed to eclipse everything else about me and I couldn’t escape from under it.
So Instead, I started hiding it.
I hid my medic alert bracelet. I styled my hair differently so no one could see the indentation on my skull left behind from surgery. I erased the stroke from my timeline altogether.
It took a debilitating near death experience for me to finally understand – great things are possible if you can just muster the courage to see every challenge as an opportunity rather than a roadblock.
Then, two and half years later, came a turning point. A man who had read about my recovery in the paper told me his sister was about to start chemotherapy. He thought she could use some encouragement and asked if I would speak with her. My conversation with her changed my life.
“Thank you, Dina,” she exclaimed, “Your determination makes me believe I can get through this.”
I realized in that moment, the stroke hadn’t “robbed” me of anything, but had presented me with an incredible new opportunity. I could really help people. I knew then and there I wanted to dedicate my life to empowering others as a motivational speaker.
Within 2 months of that conversation, I had launched a website, was hired for several prestigious speaking engagements, had some of my writing published, and was invited to speak at not one, but two TEDx events. So many impossible “firsts,” I still can’t quite believe it! I was so convinced that the stroke had made me “less” capable of success and fulfillment that I hid it from everyone, but by acknowledging it and owning my experience, I was achieving greater things than I had ever imagined.
Facing my fears and embracing myself as I am in the present – flaws and all – allowed me to become a stronger, wiser, and more productive person. It took a debilitating near-death experience for me to finally understand – great things are possible if you can just muster the courage to see every challenge as an opportunity rather than a roadblock. Whether you’re dealing with a difficult personal challenge or a situation at work, these three valuable lessons can go a long way.
- Set small goals & celebrate each small step
After my stroke, I had no feeling on the right side of my body. Although it took 4 weeks to just wiggle my toes, I celebrated small wins along the way. Week 1 was simply that I was able to stay awake for more than 1 hour at a time. Week 2 was building up the strength to sit up in bed. Week 3 was harnessing all my energy to try to move my right side. Mind you, the celebrations were small – seeing my mom smile at my progress, then my dad cheering me on, and my sister bringing me small treats like cupcakes – these celebrations kept me going and gave me the strength to push forward.
In the workplace, you might have lofty yearly sales targets or demanding projects with tight deadlines. When you break the overall goal down into very small goals and celebrate each step, you will find these small daily achievements are not only do-able but will propel you forward.
- Have an “Accomplishments” sheet
When I was learning how to speak again, I still did not have use of my right hand. So every day, my mom would write down my daily accomplishments and read them to me. “Dina made her first babble today.” “Dina pronounced the letter “T”. “Dina recited the entire alphabet.” This process of remembering my accomplishments along the way reminded me that even though I still had miles to go, I had already come a long way.
I encourage you to write down your accomplishments – both for personal and professional life. Take that step back as often as possible to remind yourself what you have done so far and that you are capable and will achieve your goals.
- Surround yourself with positive people
I was not aware of it while I was living in the hospital, but my mom enforced a very strict rule. Any person that entered my room had to be happy, smiling, encouraging, and positive. She would not allow the doctors to talk about me inside my room using words like “intensive care,” “stroke,” “victim,” “paralyzed” – she insisted they go outside. There were no tears, sadness, or worried looks that had the potential to discourage me from getting better.
Because of that, there was never a doubt in my mind that I would get better and recover; it was just a question of when.
You have the power to control who you choose to spend time with and who you interact with. Positive people add value and richness to your life and allow you to believe in yourself under the direst circumstances.
*DISCLAIMER: Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.