There's this remarkable story about how a young Canadian athlete decided to embark on a cross-Canada run. After 143 days, he was unable to continue but had, by then, run 5,373 kilometers. This works out to a marathon a day!
By itself this is an extraordinary achievement. But when you consider that he accomplished this with only one leg, the story begins to take on an entirely different character. The other leg had been amputated because of cancer. Google him, if you would like to know more. His name is Terry Fox.
What distinguishes us is our motivation. We need to ask ourselves: Does the why make us want to push harder and go that extra mile?
Like many others around the world, I sat glued to the television and watched how, on either side of the road, swelling crowds thronged. All one could hear were the words "Terry! Terry!" including from those who sat in bars and restaurants, in schools and in their homes, watching this incredible young lad follow his dream. Terry crawled the last few kilometres because the cancer had spread. There wasn't a single dry eye that day. He died in June 1981, one month short of his 23rd birthday.
In 1977, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma or bone cancer and his right leg was amputated. A promising athlete, he continued to run, using an artificial leg. When he was told that there were signs the cancer might resurface, he was naturally devastated, as were his family and friends. However, rather than wallow in self-pity or the "Why me?" attitude, Terry decided to use adversity as an opportunity and embarked on his "Marathon of Hope" to raise funds and awareness on cancer.
So, why did he do what he did? Terry could not let the cancer simply destroy him and the many others who suffered from the disease. He wanted to make a difference by raising public awareness and research funding. It was his singular motivation. It is what gave him passion. That one single thought and idea defined him.
For all those who still recall Terry's story, it is the power of why that stands out. Terry knew what he wanted but more importantly, why it mattered so much to him. Everything else became peripheral. He accepted he would die but decided that he would not lose his will power to cancer. The legendary Muhammad Ali put it wonderfully when he told an opponent, "Knocked down is not knocked out. You get up, you stand, you fight."
Like Terry, there are several other inspiring stories. Narayanan Krishnan, an award-winning chef with Taj hotels was all set to go to Switzerland for an elite assignment. He witnessed a horrific sight in 2001 in Madurai that transformed his life. A homeless elderly person was lying by the side of the road forlorn, starving and deprived of all human dignity. Deeply distressed Krishnan started the Akshaya Trust that cares for the homeless, the abandoned, the elderly, the sick and the mentally challenged. At a TED talk, he referred to it as "the joy of giving". It is the one thing that motivates him.
What distinguishes us is our motivation. We need to ask ourselves: Does the why make us want to push harder and go that extra mile? Does it allow us to accept the bitterness and failures, the rejections, even the scorn and contempt, the negativity that we might be surrounded with? Does it inspire us and in the process also inspire those around us? Or is it something we are unable to relate to and identify with?
Erik Weihenmayer, who was the first blind person to climb Mount Everest, refers to this as "the adversity advantage" through which everyday challenges can be transformed into everyday greatness. When we are sure of our why, failures become building blocks. We do not view them with a sense of negativity. They no longer embarrass us or stun us into inaction. Rather, they become a motivation for giving it another shot, even if it means that we might be plunging into the dark and the unknown.
The majority of us live a life without purpose or the why. We accommodate what we have drifted into... because those around us expect it of us.
Sadly, the majority of us live a life without purpose or the why. We accommodate what we have drifted into. We go about doing things not because we want to but because those around us expect it of us. We start living the dreams of other people.
Alan Watts, the great Buddhist scholar, once asked his graduating class what they would like to do with their life if money were no object. Once money was removed from the equation, the students said they wanted to be carpenters or poets or writers or wanderers. These same students abandoned their dream and said they wanted to be engineers or lawyers or chartered accountants once money became part of the equation. They needed to be seen as others as being successful and not the struggling painter.
Once action is devoid of motivation it becomes routine. It lacks passion. Over time, it becomes alienating and dehumanising. It neither inspires us, nor those around. Lethargy governs our everyday experience as we limp from one day to the next, exhausted and disillusioned. This is the ultimate disconnect: me from myself.
On the other hand, when individuals and groups learn to stay true to themselves and their quest, they become inspirational. They lift everyone around them. It is at that defining moment that transformative change occurs.