Sink or Swim (#97)

In past weeks, I have written about people who’ve overcome adversity to reach new heights. Paul de Gelder is one such person and his incredible story offers a window into how one can create something positive from a seemingly impossible situation.

During his teenage years, Paul spent his time chasing girls, shoplifting, fighting, drinking and smoking pot.  At 20, after waking up beaten and bruised from a fight the previous night, he realized that if he didn’t make a change, he “would be dead by 23.”

So, he channeled his need for adrenaline toward the Australian army and become an Army Paratrooper. Soon after, he fell in love with diving and became a Navy Clearance Diver, an elite unit focused on underwater combat and countermeasures. Paul had found his passion and was loving life.

All of this changed on February 11, 2009. During a routine training drill in Sydney Harbor, Paul was swimming and setting up equipment when a he felt a tug on his leg. He turned around and came face-to-face with the head of a giant bull shark; its teeth were sunk into the flesh of his leg.

He tried to jab it in the eye, but as soon as he tried to move his right arm, he realized that his wrist and hand were in the shark’s mouth, too. When he tried to punch the shark with his free hand, the shark started to shake him and proceeded to pull him deeper under water.

As his lungs filled, everything slowed down and he thought to himself, “You’re gonna die right now…you’ve lived 10 lifetimes in these last 31 years. If it’s my time to go now, I’m ready.”

Suddenly the attack was over.  Although he was in complete agony, Paul was able to summon the strength to swim towards the raft where his team was. They managed to stop the bleeding just minutes before he would have bled out.

Paul ultimately lost his arm and leg. After his surgery, doctors struggled to get his pain under control; he thought many times that he would be better off dead.

That’s when he made a choice.

As Paul recalls, “I remember lying in the hospital bed thinking, what do I do now? I’d fought tooth and nail to make my life amazing from what it was. I’ll be damned if I go back to that life before. I realized that was the only power I had. I might be laying in a hospital bed dripped up on drugs, and I can’t go to the toilet by myself, but I have the power to make a choice.”

What followed was nine weeks in the hospital, another six months of therapy and rehab and then an uphill battle lobbying the military for more advanced prosthetics. Through it all, Paul had one goal in mind: get back to being a diver, something the Navy initially told him he could not do.

Refusing to accept this as an option, he worked out harder than ever, learned how to dive with his prosthetics and returned to work as a dive instructor within six months.

Five years later, Paul travels the world as a sought-after speaker.  He’s written a book titled, No Time for Fear and is also a co-host on Discovery’s “Shark Week.” He’s learned to embrace his fears and become empowered by them.

When I spoke with Paul, I asked him what his takeaway was for someone who had to overcome such a major setback or injury. His response was simple: “Rest, heal and get back in the game better, stronger and more determined.” He also lives his life around the principle of Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, a mantra he learned as a young paratrooper.

Wise words from someone who has the credibility to give this advice.

Paul has created an amazing video of his journey and his training regimen. You can also learn more about his story at

Quote of the Week

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Francis of Assisi

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Majoring in Minor (#88)

A reality that many of us just don’t want to face is that we spend too much of our time on things that don’t really matter; we major in minor things.  

Every day, I come across people who have their priorities backwards. They spend considerable time and energy on things that are inherently not important, either to them or society at large, and that actually distract from their stated goals. They:

  • Can’t separate the urgent from important
  • Easily lose sight of the big picture
  • Struggle to let go of something insignificant
  • Feel the need to always have the last word
  • Make poor decisions about their time and energy on a daily basis
  • Don’t know how to say no

A great deal of their energy is also wasted on negativity. They fixate on the unsatisfying dinner they ate at the restaurant last night. They consume themselves with replaying the frustrating customer service experience they encountered. They spend hours of their precious time complaining about things instead of moving on from them. It’s quite possible that, due to these factors, they are frustrated with where they are in life.

In the grand scheme of things, this is all minor stuff. You know this type of person. You might even be this person. I know I certainly have been.  

High achievers don’t live their life in this way. Instead, they focus their time and energy on what matters most; on things that are positive and productive. The rest, they let go, delegate or move on from.

If this sounds like you, here are a few tips to up your game, move up to the majors and make a bigger impact.

1) Mind Your Time: Keep track of how you spend your time for a week. Note how much of that time is spent on things that are important to you (i.e. that support your core values or goals). It should be around 80 percent.

2) For Not Against: Spend your time advocating for a cause, not against one. Negative energy is self-defeating. While there are certainly many injustices worth standing up to, its generally healthier to be for something than against something.

3) Delegate & Outsource: Sure, there are things that need to get done, but that doesn’t mean you are the best person to do it. Think about where your time is best spent (i.e. on your unique abilities). For things that fall outside those core competencies, it’s very likely that there are smarter, more efficient ways to get it done that require less of your time.

4) Value Your Time. Our time has value; it’s an opportunity cost. I’d argue that at least a $15 an hour value should be applied to anything we do to get at the true cost. A colleague recently shared that, to calculate the value of their day, a CEO or business leader should use the annual revenue of their company or division and divide it by the working days in a year. For example, if you run a $1M dollar business, it would be $3,800 a day. If its $5M, that number is $19,000.

5) Remember the Big Picture: We tend to get overly preoccupied by what’s in front of us versus what’s most important. Always keep the bigger picture in mind, whether that’s a relationship, a long-term goal or your priorities.

When you reflect back on your life, think about what the accomplishments/investments of your time will be. Are they things you really care about?

Quote of The Week

“Most people fail in life because they major in minor things.”

Tony Robbins

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Sharing Belief (#83)

Having people in our lives who share their belief in us is incredibly important; it’s the underpinning of great leadership, good parenting and many religious foundations. Motivational guru, Tony Robbins’ entire career and platform is based on helping others believe they can do more than they thought possible.

That said, belief must also be coupled with reality; reality of what it will take to achieve the desired outcome. One without the other will likely lead to failure, disappointment and even unreached potential.

For example, I can tell my daughter that I believe she can get into Harvard or become an Olympian, but that should be accompanied by an explanation of what that will require in terms of passion, skills, effort, commitment and time. She must know that, if she really wants something, no one else can or should do the work for her.

Belief grounded in reality is critical. It’s also something I think many micro-managers and “helicopter” parents get very wrong.  Telling someone that you believe in them and then doing the work for them at the first sign of struggle doesn’t allow them to gain the experience of learning from their own mistakes, which is an essential element of success.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear John DiJulius, a best-selling author and one of the top customer service gurus in the world, give a keynote speech. Like many successful people and entrepreneurs, John shared that he was diagnosed with ADD and struggled in school when he was younger. Fortunately, he had wonderful parents who told him how much they believed in him.

John’s experience came full-circle with his own son. At the age of 10, John brought his son to a national wrestling tournament as he had beaten everyone else in his age group in the state of Ohio. In the double elimination event, John’s son lost his first match 15-0 to the top ranked boy. The match even had to be stopped several times because John’s son was crying. He lost the second match in 15 seconds. It wasn’t pretty.

On the flight home, John’s son asked about returning the next year to compete. John told him that, if he was serious about doing so, it would require a higher level of training and dedication than he’d ever committed to before, all of which he outlined in detail. John was also clear that, while he believed in him, he wasn’t going to hold him accountable for doing the work. His son had to want it for himself.

John admitted that he honestly did not think his son’s zeal for competing the following year would endure. But, to his surprise, his son fastidiously followed his training regimen. When they returned the next year, his son not only won his first six matches, he also beat the same kid who he’d lost to in the finals the prior year and won a national championship.

When John asked his son how he mustered the will to do what he had done, his reaction was simply “because you told me I could.” In relaying the story, John expressed guilt that he had doubted his son’s ability and dedication to compete at that level; he just thought he was giving him a good pep talk. Had he not conveyed his belief in his son, the outcome of that national championship may have been different.

Let’s all remember the power of inspiring others to do more without actually doing it for them. Be there to root them on and then stay out of their way as they learn to believe in themselves.

If you want to see John’s story for yourself, you can watch it here (minute 6 is where he wins).

Quote of the Week

“Sometimes you have to believe in the belief others have in you until your belief kicks in.”

John DiJulius

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