As a 19-year severe traumatic brain injury survivor I am aware of the difficult experiences we all go through trying to live life post-injury. The one thing I’ve always focused on was improvement… I had thoughts of what a ‘Full’ recovery looked like for me, and it was NOT focused on what I could or could not do physically. Recovery for me was about doing ‘grown-folk’ things. I wanted to be able to perform and complete a job that would compensate me fairly. I wanted to get married and enjoy my time with family and close friends. It was no longer about what I could do on the basketball court or at the bowling alley. If you really knew me pre-accident, you might do a ‘double take’ if you heard that I did not care as much about winning playing a sport. Over the past year, I have had an interesting ride where I am getting a better understanding of my purpose…
Initially, I wanted to be the best recovery story at our rehab hospital! Unfortunately, I was having a difficult time trying to wait on my body to regain function and feeling, and I knew being negative would not work out to my benefit. As a participant of team sports, I tried to be a leader who wanted to provide a positive example for my teammates to follow. I tried to do the same in rehab. As I would encourage other patients to push through our OT and PT therapies. And I would laugh with others when simple words would not come out of our mouths with the correct pronunciation during speech therapies.
I always tried to find a way to get motivated to do my best! During my time in rehab, I never had to go too far to find motivation!! For example, after my first neuro-psych evaluation as an inpatient, the doctor who interviewed me told my family that he was not sure if I’d ever walk or go back to work again. His challenge was accepted then, and I wish I could reach out to him now to thank him for the motivation provided in 2003. But 19-years later, my motivators are still present but my pursuit is different. At 49-years-old, I am focused on what I can do to help other survivors. I want to be significant versus successful.
Why would I want to be significant versus successful? I found a few articles on this topic, and there are limitations to success. First, financial success is relative as it is always at the mercy of a national/world economy. We all know that whenever the national and global economy dips, the majority of our investments take a hit as well. Second, success ends on the day we die. Everything we die with goes to someone else, and finally we have recently seen how financial success causes some people to break the law in order to set themselves up for future success.
However, being significant includes being everlasting and it keeps on giving after you’re gone. Something I might have taught someone may get passed on to two other survivors that may be shared with 5 more. Because brain injury is different for all of us, I am sure we all have unique stories of how to cope with an experience, or even your best method to deal with frustration or anxiety. Have you ever asked yourself what could you leave behind that might help someone through your experiences?
Finding significance is hard and should not be the goal for every survivor. But if you’re looking for something to occupy your down time that will get you lined up with significance, please consider the following steps from an article I found:
- Realize life won’t last forever. Everyone knows that life will come to an end – but no one likes to think about it. That’s unfortunate. As soon as you start thinking about the end of your life, you begin to live differently in the present. You are never too young to start thinking about your legacy. How do you want people to remember you? And what do you really want to accomplish before you die? Make a list. Post it somewhere… because rarely will “drive a really nice car” ever appear.
- Live a life worth copying. Live with character, integrity, and morality. Your life should look the same in private as it does in public. And while no one is perfect, just begin striving for a life of integrity. It will be noticed.
- Focus on people. Not dollars. Begin to transfer your life’s focus from your banking account to the people around you. Rather than worrying about the next get-rich-quick scheme, spend that energy focusing on your child, your neighbor, or the disadvantaged in your community.
- Start with one solitary person. Find one person who needs you today. Start there. Significance may be as inexpensive as one cup of coffee or as simple as one heartfelt question. If you are unsure where to start, try this, “No, how are you really doing?”
- Find a career outside your job. Sometimes, our day job leads to significance. But if yours does not, find a “career of significance” outside of your job by volunteering in a local organization. Most likely, your gifts, talents, or expertise are desperately needed. Use your job to pay the bills, but use your “new career” to pay your soul.
- Realize significance is not dependent upon success. Too many people fall into the trap of thinking, “Once I make it rich, I’ll become significant.” This is rarely the case. Choose significance today. Begin striving for it now. If, then, financial success comes your way in the future, your mind will be in a better place to truly use your new success for broader significance.
- Reduce your expenses. Learn to live with less. Living with less frees up your life to invest into others. And living with reduced expenses allows you the freedom to not spend so much time at the office and more resources on others.
- Read biographies of people who sought significance rather than success. If you prefer recent history, read about Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. If you prefer older stories, give Mahatma Gandhi or Harriet Tubman a shot. Either way, their lives will inspire you to make more of yours.
I share these because it is hard trying to find your way post-injury. It is also hard to find something that feels right and will work the exact way you want. So, I stopped worrying about me! I know that my existence is more about doing for other people than it is about satisfying myself. Don’t get sidetracked trying to satisfy your wants and focus on doing for others. Believe me, it will be more gratifying and may lead to other opportunities. I believe everything happens for a reason. Don’t waste time. Be an influence!
Stay strong survivors!!
BECKER, JOSHUA. “Stop Chasing Success. Seek Significance.” Becoming Minimalist, 24 Aug. 2022, https://www.becomingminimalist.com/stop-chasing-success-seek-significance/.