Be the captain of your life, not captive of your circumstances

Be the captain of your life, not captive of your circumstances

“We can’t all have the textbook life we once imagined at 18, 21, or 30. Life is what it is. Your future depends on the decisions you make from here on.”

I’ll never forget the day my brother Frank was told he’d never walk again. I sat beside him in his hospital bed, ten days after a motorbike accident severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

He gazed past the end of his bed, beyond his lifeless legs, contemplating the years ahead, trying to grasp the enormity of the news. He would never walk, run, or dance again – activities he loved dearly, especially Swing dancing.

It was overwhelming. Too much for any moment. As I held his hand, I fought back tears. This was not my time to cry.

After several long minutes, Frank squeezed my hand. “There may be a thousand things I can’t do anymore,” he said, looking at me with firm conviction, “but there are still 5,000 things I can do. And I intend to do them all.”

I had never been prouder of my big brother than in that moment.

In the 16 years since then, Frank has continued to inspire me countless times. He refuses to be defined by what he cannot do and remains determined to make the most of all he can do. Despite facing numerous challenges related to his paraplegia, including many hospital visits, his ‘can do’ spirit has never dimmed. A recent visit to stay with me in Virginia, all the way from his small farm in Australia – just across the road from the dairy farm where we grew up – is a testament to that. (Here’s a photo of us, looking grubby as farm kids often do.)  

I made sure Frank’s journey to visit me was worth his mighty effort. From touring the White House and witnessing the US Senate in session to boating on Chesapeake Bay and exploring Manhattan – we covered a lot of ground and captured many memories!

Traveling is more challenging for Frank. Much more. Health is more challenging. Life is more challenging. Staying in my 240-year-old home, scoring ‘F’ on disability access, was plenty challenging. Yet, he did it. Without complaint. Without fuss. He simply got on with it.

Amidst our adventures, we recorded a podcast that offers insight into Frank’s perspective on life – a gift to be lived fully, pursuing growth despite its discomfort, embracing adventure amid its inconvenience, and focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Let’s face it, it’s easy to get caught up in negative thinking, dwelling on what’s unfair, what we can’t do, what we don’t want or have, or what shouldn’t have happened. Our brains are wired to focus on deficits. But what you focus on expands. If all you dwell on deficits, you gradually shrink your comfort zone and lose sight of the possibilities beyond it.

To honor Frank’s spirit, I will be running the New York Marathon this November, raising funds for spinal injury research with the Christopher Reeve Foundation. Your support means a lot to me as I step far beyond my comfort zone. Having grown up internalizing the affectionate label ‘bumblefoot’ from my dad, this is me breaking out of my own mental barriers to accomplish something I once thought impossible.  

So, let me ask you:

What could you achieve if you focused all your energy on what you can do?

As you listen to our podcast, I hope Frank’s ‘just do it’ mindset inspires you as it has inspired me. In a recent LinkedIn post from the day Frank arrived in Virginia, which also marked the first anniversary of our mum’s passing, I shared that while we don’t choose the cards we’re dealt in life, we need to play them to their fullest. 

Here’s to living boldly; to being the captain of your life, not the captive of your circumstances.