“The Power of Reflecting” by Scott Burrows(2018 IPMA Conference Keynote)
As a Motivational Keynote Speaker, I have been invited to speak to different industries, associations and Fortune 500 companies around the world sharing my success strategies that revolve around Vision-Mindset-Grit. Three simple yet powerful words that, when put into action, can absolutely help you conquer your goals and push the limits of what is possible regardless of the challenges standing before you today.
Vision helps you set manageable but far-reaching goals. Mindset allows you to stay focused on those goals by making adjustments as circumstances, personnel and other elements change. Grit is the everyday determination and willingness to persevere and be resilient in your pursuit especially when all else beckons you to throw in the towel, or worse, stay in your paralyzed state, your comfort zone while maintaining the status quo.
During a keynote, I typically use my own life-changing story as the backdrop to bring the concepts of Vision, Mindset and Grit to life. Lately, I’ve been encouraging my attendees to Reflect back on their own lives and experience self-awareness, to Reflect back on how far they have come, on the choices and decisions they have made, the challenges they have overcome, as well as the contributions they have made to their organization, other employees and members of their team. In doing so, I have found that Reflecting is a Mindset technique that can help you tap into your inner strength and be more productive while keeping your Vision clear and always in the forefront of your thinking.
Due to my physical handicap, I cannot ride a traditional bike; however, with new biking technologies and modifications I’m able to ride a hand-cycle, which is a 3-wheeled bike. It’s aerodynamic, sits a few inches off the ground and can now be seen by Paralympians using it to compete in distance runs at the Paralympics.
When I bike, I enjoy letting my mind wander. On one ride, I found myself Reflecting back on some of the choices and decisions I’ve made in my life. In doing so, the words leaders leading leaders kept speaking to me. My mind drifted back to 1983, when I was 18 years old and playing college football as a walk-on wide receiver at Florida State University under head coach Bobby Bowden. During that season, I noticed that Coach Bowden was a delegator who led from the bottom up as opposed to the traditional top down. He would encourage assistant coaches and frontline players like me to take charge and lead on and off the field and challenge each other, day after day, to perform to the best of our abilities. It proved effective and became a powerful life lesson that I teach and have incorporated into my everyday existence.
That reflection triggered another memory that I consider to be one of the most defining moments of my life. On November 3rd, 1984, while a sophomore in college, a bunch of us planned a weekend on those gorgeous white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, at a place known as St. George’s Island. We arrived around 8:00 PM, set up our camp, built a fire, started drinking (as the drinking age in Florida was 18 back then) and telling story after story with our best teenage hormonal sense of humor.
As the hours passed, my friend Ed challenged me to a foot race. Being competitive, like you, I stood up to the challenge and bent down into my running stance waiting to hear “GO!” Imagine right now hearing that word echoing in the air and the first thing you can feel is the cool night air blowing through your hair, and with each step you can feel sand Gritting between your toes, and as you lean across that imaginary finish line you can even taste salt in the ocean breeze. That run turned out to be the best, but I could have never imagined that it would be my last.
After that run, we walked back to camp. Waiting for us was another friend who said, “Do the two of you mind taking a ride down the beach to find some more firewood to keep our bonfire burning throughout the night.” We said, “Sure, why not!” And it wasn’t long thereafter that it happened. On our way back, in a car loaded with wood debris on a dark, otherwise empty road, Ed lost control of the wheel, ran off the road and crashed into a mound of sand. The impact sent the car hurtling into the air before tumbling back to earth end over end. In that one moment, everything about my life was forever changed.
Ed survived with minor bumps and bruises. I, unfortunately, broke cervical 6 & 7 vertebrates in my neck and suffered a serious spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed from my chest down and diagnosed a quadriplegic. As I was fighting the fight of my life in hopes to turning an impossible dream of walking again into a reality, the oxygen levels in my red blood cell count unexpectedly plummeted and were dangerously low.
My doctor said the only way to get those levels back up to normal was to get a large quantity of pure oxygen into my weakened system over the next 24 hours. “There are two ways to do it: Hook you up to a machine to breathe for you, but it would require surgery—we would need to drill a hole into your throat; or, we could put a mask over your face, pump oxygen through it, and you could do it on your own. But there’s a catch.” (Have you ever noticed there is always a catch when it comes to someone else’s ideas?) He said, “You would need to stay awake for the next 24 hours and monitor every single breath to ensure you are taking in as much pure oxygen as possible. I’ll be back in 10 minutes. Let me know what you decide.”
Sometimes in life we have to make quick decisions, don’t we? But why can’t we make more decisions quickly? Why do we have to think and worry so much? This goes back to Mindset. What is Mindset? If you think about it, it’s really your own philosophy of life. It’s how you see things through your own experiences. Most importantly, it’s how you respond to a new unexpected challenge, your next setback or perhaps the changing landscape of your industry or organization—or your competitors and the products and services they offer.
For me, I came to realize that this doctor was giving me the opportunity to stand up to the challenge, metaphorically speaking. If I was not willing to muster up every last ounce of Grit I had in this paralyzed body, I would be risking even more. So, I’ll have you know that those 24 hours fighting for every breath turned out to the longest hours of my life. When I crossed that imaginary finish line I came to believe you cannot always choose the precise outcomes of the choices you make, but you can take ownership over whatever results occur. Then and there, I made the decision to take ownership over what had happened to me as opposed to blaming Ed, especially considering that we were both drinking.
It’s really no different than anyone—perhaps you—accepting accountability and responsibility versus playing the victim and blaming someone else, like someone on your team, your competition or the markets or the economy, when things don’t go as you planned. This was not only a turning point in my life, it became my defining moment. It gave me the resiliency to stand up and fight to walk again.
I had another experience on that bike ride, this one about Sue Lopez, an HR Director who hosted a conference for her company in Fargo, North Dakota that I presented to. Afterwards, she mentioned that she wished I would have talked a little more about my girlfriend, Kim. She said she couldn’t help but notice how I consider Kim one of the best speaking coaches I’ve ever had even though that is not actually her profession. “She’s very astute,” I said, “and I consider myself coachable.”
Kim has heard me speak a dozen times. When I’m through, we often have a conversation about the organization I spoke to and, when prompted, she offers me her feedback. One day, she asked me to email her a copy of my latest keynote so she could go through it while the presentation was still fresh in her mind.
A few days later, we reconvened. Armed with notes and questions, she asked about my family, my upbringing, my involvement in sports and more details about the auto accident I was involved in that changed my life 32 years ago. She also wanted to know more about Ed, my friend who was driving the car at the time. This conversation continued for hours—and days. It was not the most pleasant experience, truth be told, and I found myself emotional and vulnerable at times. The more open and vulnerable I became, the more heart-wrenching the questions grew.
“After I read your book, Vision-Mindset-Grit,” Kim said, “I thought you could go even deeper with your feelings. I love writers who share their deepest thoughts, the places where the ego is shed and exposure is the greatest, and then bring the reader back to the surface. That’s how I learn that I, too, can overcome any challenge confronting me by digging deep and seeking the truth. It’s scary, but effective.”
Kim also suggested that I change some sentence structure in order to appeal to more women. “As you know, both men and women communicate differently,” Kim said. “Right now, you’re sharing your story from a male point of view. That’s fine, but with a few subtle changes, you might reach even more people in the room.”
After some Reflection, I made the necessary adjustments—just like back when I was working with speaking coach Lou Heckler, an expert in presentation and organization skills. It took time to digest everything, and it took courage and Grit to deliver it confidently on stage. As I did, however, I was happy to see that I was connecting with the audience on a deeper level than before. People were more engaged, laughed harder and became emotional in new places.
My presentation style is direct. I engage in a very intimate and candid conversation with an audience for one hour, articulated with emotional storytelling that captivates everyone’s attention. I’m proud to say that, when I’m speaking, no one reaches for their mobile devices. As Kim says, “That’s powerful storytelling!”
The Power of Reflecting has been a very useful tool to help me understand where I’ve been, what I’ve learned and what I can improve upon. It has allowed me to tap into my inner strength during times of adversity and push the limits of what is possible in both my personal and professional life while putting my concepts of Vision, Mindset and Grit into action.
So, remember to take the time to Reflect!
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