On March 7, 2007, my life changed completely with one, simple, misplaced step and a fall down the stairs resulting in vertigo and brain injury induced short-term memory loss. Some would say it changed for the worse, and by human standards they would be entirely right. Fortunately, and I can assure you this is not by chance the one verse that I’ve written in the majority of books I’ve been asked to autograph, the verse that I believe encourages people most in the midst of their troubles, Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose” (KJV), is the verse that allows me to know that God will use this season of my life, difficult though it may be, for His glory and my ultimate benefit.
One day my daughter Julie asked me if it was upsetting to me to have short-term memory loss. I told her that I honestly did not ever feel upset because I could not remember what I had forgotten. My life today is entirely in the present. That kind of focus has its benefits, but I have to say that without my wife to tell me where we’re supposed to be and when, well, I’d miss out on just about everything.
Some might call what I just told you “being candid.” I call it “being transparent.” There is no sense in trying to act or pretend like nothing unusual is going on with me. Just a few minutes of conversation on some days is enough to reveal my memory problem. Other days I have considerably more clarity, and if we met and visited for even up to thirty minutes, I might seem like my old, pre-fall self. At least that is what my family tells me. I can’t remember all that happened yesterday or this morning, but I can tell you almost anything you want to know about stuff that happened before the fall, and that is why I’m still able to be on stage with the interview format.
But I have to be transparent with my audience. Julie tells me there are times I “get stuck in a loop” and keep going back to the same topic. She interrupts me, and I usually have a one-liner on hand to put the audience at ease…when you laugh at yourself the world laughs with you. If we hadn’t told the audience in advance about my fall and about my memory loss, it could get very uncomfortable for them while they try to figure out what is going on. That’s one reason I’m talking about transparency here. The other reason makes the bigger point.
The first person you have to be transparent with at all times is yourself. If you can’t see what’s going on with you, you can’t see what needs to happen next. The alcoholic who doesn’t think she has drinking problem won’t seek help. The workaholic who denies that twelve-hour workdays are too long won’t take time off to see his child’s soccer game. The perfectionist can’t and won’t relax, the morbidly obese won’t get healthy, and the people who think they present a perfect picture to the world take themselves way too seriously. The list is endless…add a few of your own…maybe you’ll discover something that applies to you.
I’ve known many people who have been told by more than just a few friends that they had problems, but until they’re willing to admit their problems, there was no convincing them they needed help. Reality can be pretty hard to take, especially when dealing with it might require gut-wrenching hard work. I come from a generation that didn’t talk about personal problems. You sucked it up and went on with your life. If things weren’t going well, it was your duty to hide it from anyone and everyone. Appearances were more important than getting help.
When I first started doing a lot of public speaking, I knew that what I said had to make a difference in people’s lives or there was no sense in saying it. I instinctively knew that people needed to relate to what I had to say on an emotional and applicable level and that I had to be real myself if I wanted my material to make a “real” difference to the individuals who heard it.
Nothing, in my experience, has a stronger impact on individuals than hearing stories of how it was then, how it is now, and what happened in between. Those stories give hope to the hopeless. They say, “See, life can be hard but it will get better – if you do!” If you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel you can’t see where to go. Stories of hope inspire people to find their way out of bad situations. Like the parables in the Bible – they give direction.
I’m sure I could have gone my entire speaking career without telling anyone that I don’t gamble or drink and why. I could have left out the truth about how many different jobs I’ve had in the course of my sales career; how many times I relocated my family in search of the pot-of-gold sales job. I could have skipped telling how my wife has cried with relief when I came with cash and we could pay bills and buy groceries. But I could never have convinced you that you can improve your attitude and your circumstances if I couldn’t show you how I’d done it myself.
I was young, vigorous and healthy when all of the circumstances mentioned above happened. Now I have challenges that I may never entirely overcome, and I want you to know that having the right outlook, realistic expectations, and constant hope for something better will serve you and the people you love so much better than resigned acceptance of the status quo. Life is to be lived transparently, excitedly, with eager anticipation of the good things that still lie ahead, in spite of our circumstances.
Adapted from Embrace the Struggle: Living Life on Life’s Terms by Zig Ziglar and Julie Ziglar Norman - © 2009, Zig Ziglar. Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
WORDS TO WARM THE HEART
"Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate." Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton
"To live without hope is to cease to live." Fyodor Dostoevsky
" We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." Martin Luther King
"Other men see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope." Gilbert Brenken
"Be alert and think straight. Put all your hope in how kind God will be to you when Jesus Christ appears." 1 Peter 1:13