You know, not too long ago, I was talking to some of my peers about a TEDx talk and asking whether I should include slides, or imagery. Their response was: “Taz, you’re a natural storyteller – paint the pictures with your words, with your emotions, with your presence.”
So that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to tell you a story. I’m going to take you with me into the past, then into the future, and hopefully leave you in the present, feeling a little more inspired and a little more determined to do something amazing with your time on this world.
The best stories start with that slow build, don’t they? So I’m going to start with something really mundane.
I’m going to talk to you now about ceiling tiles.
Polystyrene ceiling tiles.
You know, if you stare at them for long enough, you can see all kinds of shapes and images in the patterns. Nine hours is long enough to do that really well.
Nine hours is precisely how long I lay on a flat bed in the corridor of the A and E department, my head packed in sandbags and no real option than looking for pictures in the polystyrene ceiling. The only other option was to think about why I was there – and I really didn’t want to do that.
See, that morning, I’d made one of my then routine pacts with whichever god – or gods – were listening. I really didn’t want to be alive and, thus far, they hadn’t answered my prayers for some painless disease to take me away, so the agreement was that I’d take as many risks as I could every day, in the hope that I wouldn’t have to go home that night.
I hadn’t told anyone about the abuse in my relationship back then. I hadn’t really talked about the deep depression I was in. I hadn’t really found the words to express just how much I was losing my sense of self. Or how much I hated – feared – being alive.
And so, the deal was struck. Except that morning, as I gleefully overtook on the brow of a hill, I bottled it. As the car came towards me, head on, a few seconds of ‘this is it’ bliss faded fast as I realised I didn’t want my death wish to take anyone else with it.
So, I slammed on the brakes, lost control of my car and landed, nose first, at the base of a six foot ditch, high-speed flight halted by a tree.
Back to that hospital bed. The ceiling tiles. There’s little more sobering than hearing men in white coats uttering those terrifying words: “spinal damage”.
Turns out I’d broken my back in three places AND I’d walked away from the wreckage.
In that moment, something changed. In that moment, I had a choice: I could sink, go back to being even more trapped in that abusive relationship, carless and mobility severely stunted, or, I could get out. I could use all I’d been through to give hope to others somehow. Because there was hope – I’d been blind to it before, but that crash had opened my eyes to the possibilities – something somewhere wanted me to be alive, so I’d better grow a spine and do something with the experiences I’d been given.
The story doesn’t end there. Fast forward eight years. I’d changed my life, I’d been through a couple of other ‘suicidal blips’, met a wonderful new partner, been headhunted for a couple of different jobs and ended up as UK director for what – at the time – was one of the world’s biggest multi-national publishing companies. It was a good job. I should have been happy. I wasn’t. I’d been promoted away from everything I enjoyed doing.
POTENTIAL WASN’T ENOUGH
Back then, I wasn’t really using the ‘gifts’ I had. I was tired of having potential. I wanted my ‘now’. So I set out to get it.
I trained in all kinds of life-enhancing personal development disciplines alongside my job. I trained in NLP, coaching, enterprise mentoring, as well as loads of energy and spirit-based teachings as well – I spent about ten years learning from shamans and medicine people. Powerful, powerful stuff. But still, I didn’t have the courage to really leap away from that ‘safe’ career and create the life I craved.
It took a series of really tough life challenges to trigger a breakdown before I turned things around. And when that happened, everything I’d neatly boxed up and filed away from that abusive relationship came flooding back too.
That breakDOWN turned into my breakTHROUGH. That was one of those ‘choice’ moments again. Keep on slogging away at a career that neither fitted me nor filled me up, or leap – find enough courage to fill all that potential and do something positive. This was my ‘now’.
WHAT’S YOUR POTENTIAL? WHEN?
What’s your potential? When will you have your ‘now’? Because if you just wait for it to happen, that ‘now’ might just turn into a ‘never’.
Do you want ‘had potential’ in your obituary? – The first story other people read about you after you’ve gone? Cause I sure as hell don’t.
I’m gonna buck the British trend of knocking people who’ve made it – and particularly those who’ve made a career of helping and inspiring others. So I AM going to tell you to take massive action… but there’s a caveat.
You see, ‘massive action’ is subjective. It will be different in every story for every one of you. My massive action was leaving my job. It was finding the courage to step onto a career path so very different to anything I’d known before on the strength of a gut feeling and a desire to do something bigger. It was speaking out about abuse, suicidal thoughts, learning to take responsibility for everything – EVERYTHING – in my life. It was using those past challenges to help others pick up their lives and begin to believe in themselves. It was going through the fear – and the catharsis – of putting it all down in black and white, sharing my stories with the world in my books. My ‘massive action’ is telling my story to all of you, right now.
But massive action to you will be something different.
To the lady who’d been locked in a room, held drugged against her will for years, then finally escaped and lost her kids because of the subsequent addiction to those substances, massive action was getting her care assistant to drop her right at the door of the empowerment workshop I was running with a domestic violence support team. To this lady, confidence through the floor, no desire to live, severely agoraphobic after all those years kept prisoner in a single room, massive action was walking into town to get a sandwich in the lunch break that same day. Massive action to her was going back to school and getting qualifications. It was taking her son to see Spider-Man at the cinema. It was going dress shopping with her daughter. Massive action to her was getting her kids back.
LOVE YOUR LIFE
And what’s your massive action? What is it that you’re putting off? What will your story be? What is it that drives you, impassions you, makes you love being alive? Get out there and do that.
Don’t search for defining moments – the moments that define you have already happened. And there will be more – you just can’t be fully aware of them until they’ve passed you by. And when that happens – when you realise something life-changing just happened, you be proud. Be amazed. Be humble later. Because in the ‘right now’ of that moment of realisation, you need to give yourself credit. Whatever it was, you survived it. You’re alive. You’re here. Now, what are YOU going to do with that realisation? And how will you use it to move forward with new eyes, new focus and we hope. Whatever you believe in, have faith in YOU. Because you did it. And you’ll do it again.
You don’t need to break your back. You don’t need to wait for that breakdown to hit. You don’t need an epiphany. This is it. This IS your epiphany. Get out there and make your life story a good one!
Until next time,