It’s one minute till midnight. One minute until the start of a new year and I sit here alone in my apartment. It’s not that I didn’t have anywhere to go. I chose this. I’ve been alone for a majority of the day. That’s not usually how I am. I’m an extrovert and I get energized when I am talking to people either one-on-one or to a huge audience. I chose this because I wanted a day for reflection. One day to sit back and think about this year and what lies ahead.
This year was all about people. I’ve never met so many amazing people in my life and of course I was reminded of how many amazing people I have in my life already. So many people told me that they believed in me. It made me hungry to push myself to achieve more. So many people reached out to me and shared their struggles with me. People told me things they never told anyone else in their life. They were looking for answers and I tried my best to help as many people as I could to solve their problems. Nearly every day I get an email or a Facebook message from a random stranger or a friend reminding me of how important it is to keep doing what I’m doing. I have reached people through speeches, through my book, or just conversation with a random stranger.
Life now is a bigger adventure than ever. An adventure is thought to be something that is physical. When you think of an adventure you think of movement. There really has been nothing physical about this year yet it was the greatest adventure of my life. I have found my adventure through conversation with random strangers, friends, family, to a kid battling depression that sits at the end of the line waiting to talk to me in private after a speech, to kids up to CEOs. We’re all the same really. We all have our own struggles. I’m just a person that is open to talk about those struggles and make myself as vulnerable as I can possibly be. I believe that is why people are willing to open up to me.
When a random stranger asks what happened to me I tell them. It’s kind of like an elevator pitch. Most people are quick to say sorry. That is when I silence them. That is when I make them believe that this happened for a reason. I assure them that life gets better every day and that I am happier than I have ever been. This happens to me every day. This starts conversation and that is where the adventure starts.
Of course there have been some bad moments, but I never let anything make it a bad day. There is so much good in my life that silences the bad. So have I had a bad day this year? In all honesty the answer is no. I am a huge optimist. I dream big. I mean really big. I never turn down an opportunity because I know that one opportunity can often lead to more. This year has been full of opportunity and there is so much momentum going into this next year.
I am so happy with the person that I have grown to become. I have learned how to love so much more, I take nothing for granted, and I love to give. I’m not talking about giving things of monetary value, but rather taking everything that I have learned through this incredible roller coaster of a life and using all that knowledge to help sometimes just one person and other times hundreds of people at a time.
I laid in bed one night unable to sleep because I forgot to take my nighttime medications and my mind started to race. I thought about all of the people that I have met since my accident. I thought about all of the people that have heard my story whether by reading my book, in person, at a speech, in the newspaper, on my website, or in a magazine. Then I thought about this. Stories spread through word-of-mouth. I thought about how many kids that I have spoke to that have shared my story with their families. It made me think about the impact that I’m making in this world. It made me so thankful for every last thing that has happened to me to get to this point, which of course includes the accident. I found myself praying to God and thanking him for letting the accident happen.
I’m often asked what I think life would be like if the accident never happened. It’s something that I never think about. I just tell them that I couldn’t see myself possibly being happier than I am now.
I spoke to thousands and thousands of people this year telling the same story and it never gets old. When you’re in front of hundreds of people and you can look around the crowd and see that all of their eyes are on you the whole time and the only sound you hear is yourself speaking, I can’t explain the feeling. I can always tell that I have their attention, so that is a thrill in itself. The best part of my job is the one-on-one interactions that I have after speeches. The best part is when I get to listen to them. I get to hear people tell me how they can relate or how a friend or family member can relate. I love answering questions and I love giving advice. I definitely don’t know everything, but I will try as hard as I can to help. I always give them a business card and tell them they can contact me anytime.
My favorite memory from speaking this year is when I spoke to 100 fourth and fifth graders and the principal said they could line up around the cafeteria and give me a hug if they wanted to. All 100 kids lined up around the cafeteria to give me a hug. This one kid sprinted to the front of the line and dove in and hugged me really tight with both arms. 99 hugs later he was at the end of the line and he told me, “I just want to give you another hug!” That was such a special day for me and I have never felt so loved.
My life isn’t just about speaking. There is so much satisfaction that I get from working with children. I currently volunteer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the Sibling Clubhouse. I work with children between the ages of three and 11 that have a sibling in the hospital. There is so much that you can teach a child. Adults are less capable of change. I think I have a special gift when speaking to children. I have a unique way of interacting with them to get them to open up, feel comfortable, and have fun. I don’t think there is any greater thing you can do than to positively impact the life of a child.
I have spent a lot of this year helping out with a boy that just turned seven named Trae. It is so rewarding and amazing to help him learn new things and watch him figure out new problems or learn new words. I love having him read to me and every time he amazes me by sounding out words correctly. I love answering his questions. I love teaching him little things in life that you need to know that he will use for the rest of his life. I wish I could be a father, but this is the closest thing to it and it has been the most rewarding experience of this year. I told him that I will be there for him through elementary school, middle school, high school, and even through college and beyond. To watch a child grow is an incredible thing.
Above all else the highlight of this year was to sit next to my twin brother and watch him marry his other half on a beautiful beach in Mexico. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when the song “A Thousand Years” started playing and Jess started getting closer to him. I felt so much joy at that moment and tears of joy rolled down my face. I couldn’t see her until she was about 5 feet away from Aaron who was trying to hold back the tears as much as he could. When I saw her she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. The week in Mexico leading up to it was more than amazing and the time celebrating after the wedding was a blast, but nothing will compare to that one moment when those tears were rolling down my face. That feeling right there was The best feeling I have had in my entire life. Everything just felt right and I was so happy to be sitting right next to my best friend on both his and the greatest day of my life.
I don’t always say the right thing. I don’t always do everything right. Although I am quick to apologize and make things right and I am very sincere when I feel like I really hurt someone.
Kate, my home care provider, has to write my mood on her daily notes every single day. Every day she writes the same thing. The word she writes is “content”. I believe that is true because at the end of every day I am truly satisfied with my life and what took place that day although I never stop dreaming. The next day I will start searching for that next opportunity.
The life that I have lived so far feels like a movie. Sometimes it is hard to believe everything that I’ve been through and where I am at now. That is actually one of the main goals for 2016. I want to get a movie deal. I don’t want it for the money. I don’t want it for the fame. I want it because I want to help people on a much larger scale.
Thank you all for this incredible year. Each year gets better and better. In three weeks it will be five years since the accident. Time goes by too quickly, but I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next. Here’s to 2016!