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Category: Real Life Storytelling

The Gift of Adversity

By Marcus Aurelius Anderson

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.”
-Khalil Gibran

Life is a collection of moments, and you never know which moment will change your life forever. We all have priorities, as our lives change, so do our priorities. The things that were important to us as a child grow and evolve as we age. Along the way to adulthood, these priorities often become skewed. We begin to erroneously believe that material possessions and the opinions of others are more important than they should be. Logically, we know this should not be the case, yet we are compelled and motivated by these ultimately superficial things.

When in this headspace, it often takes a radical shift in perspective to bring us back to what’s genuinely important in life. This message from the Universe must be obvious and undeniable.
My radical shift happened while I was in the military.

While preparing to deploy, I suffered a severe spinal injury that left me paralyzed from the neck down. In a heartbeat, I went from preparing for war on the battlefield to a war within my own body and mind. During the subsequent surgery, I died on the operating table, twice. While the doctors saved my life, I was told that I’d never walk or use my hands again.
My life went sideways. I was in a complete state of shock. I simply could not wrap my mind around the notion that I would be like this for the rest of my life. I was beside myself. I couldn’t use a cell phone or get on the internet, all I could do was lie in a bed and think about my life.

The things that I kept thinking about weren’t my accomplishments. What kept coming to mind were the regrets of things I hadn’t achieved. I realize that we will all have regrets in life to some extent. We are often under the romantic notion that we will live a perfectly healthy life to be 100 years old until we are lying on our deathbed, surrounded by family and close friends.  But I wasn’t on my deathbed. I was an otherwise healthy person who probably had another 40+ years to live in my current physical state, plenty of time to let my regret slowly eat away at me from the inside. Up to that point, I thought that I’d lived my life on my own terms and had some grand adventures. But in hindsight, I regretted not going after all the things I’d kept putting off “until tomorrow.”

Lying in that bed, I had no idea what I was going to do next. My entire life had revolved around my primary objective of deploying in the military. That goal had evaporated, and now I was left without purpose or the use of my physical body.
Without purpose, we look for distraction to keep us mentally, emotionally and physically occupied. The only distraction that I had at my disposal was anger. The madder I became, the more it welled up inside me like a venomous volcano. This inwardly directed anger is the very definition of depression. I started thinking of ways of taking my own life, but I couldn’t even accomplish that in my current physical state.

The things that I once thought were important became a distant memory. The education I had, the house I lived in, and car I drove mattered not. My bank account was simply a number on a screen or slip of paper that could not change my condition. Take a moment and ask yourself one question:

What would you do if you found yourself in my circumstance, what regret(s) would you harbor?

Read that statement again.

The things that are coming to mind right now, these are the things that you legitimately value. These are your Priorities, and these are the things you should start acting on this very moment.

In my paralyzed state, I quickly realized that my family was a priority to me. The strong relationships I had with longtime friends was another.But there was another priority that I realized I’d overlooked. That priority was gratitude.
I realized I wasn’t grateful for my health or physical abilities. I’d mistakenly taken these things for granted.
In hindsight, I saw that I’d taken the time I’d been given for granted as well. Up until the time of my injury, I always assumed that I’d have “tomorrow” when I could be potentially inhaling my last breath at any moment.
I tried desperately to find something, anything, to be grateful for in my paralyzed condition. I knew I should be grateful to be alive, but I felt like I wasn’t really living. It felt like I was simply existing.

Finally, after 3 agonizing months, I had an epiphany.

I realized that I was focusing only on myself, on my situation. I wasn’t thinking about others. Once I started looking outside of me, at the positive things that my injury prevented, my mindset changed. For example, if I’d suffered this injury while I was deployed, I could have potentially put others lives in danger. It takes many people to drag an injured man out of danger to a helicopter and fly him to safety. This means that everyone from my team to the helicopter crew and pilot of the Chinook would have been put in harm’s way to save my life.

That fact became the cornerstone of gratitude upon which I could build. I began to construct appreciation of more things on this foundation. Slowly but surely, I began to be grateful for other things I’d taken for granted. Eventually, I was even grateful for the bed I was confined to and the room that I may never be able to leave. After 3 months, I was able to see my injury as a blessing. Once I started seeing my Adversity as a gift instead of a curse, something miraculous began to happen.

A week after I shifted my mindset into this state of unconditional gratitude, the fingers on my left hand began to move ever so slightly. It wasn’t much, but it was a foundation; my foundation for recovery.

After another 9 months of physical therapy and more months of occupational therapy, I was finally able to walk and function close to normal. To this day I still have permanent nerve damage in my hands and feet. And for that, I am grateful.
This impairment serves as a daily reminder of how far I have come compared to when my entire body was in the same numb condition.

While distractions are infinite, the time and ability you possess is limited. Use both of these precious commodities to the best of your ability while you are still able. Take the time to realize what is truly important in your life and act on them…now.

Learn to be grateful for everything in your life, both the good and the bad. The bad times will teach you that the good times in life are like a fine wine, and should be savored and appreciated as such.

Your life can change in a moment as mine did, and there is precious little time to waste. Life is a collection of moments, and you never know which moment will change your life forever.


love paper pen, submit your story, inspiration, motivationMarcus Aurelius Anderson is an author, TEDx speaker, professional keynote speaker and mindset coach.

To learn more about Marcus visit his website:

His book “The Gift of Adversity: Overcoming Paralysis and Pain to Find Purpose” is now available on Amazon and Kindle:

His TEDx Talk “The Gift of Adversity”:

Why are we scared of change?

You know you’ll be better off. You know you’ll love it once it happens. There’s only one problem… You have to actually do it. Whether it’s a toxic relationship, unrewarding job or bad neighborhood, the pain felt every day seems tolerable compared to the potential pain of change. At least it’s familiar.

Every day, we reinforce patterns. Patterns of movement. Patterns of thought. Patterns of emotions. Just like the momentum of a speeding truck, the more time we spend in our patterns, the more challenging it is to change course. We fear losing control. This control allows us to feel comfortable. To be clear, comfort is different than safety. It is possible to be uncomfortable and still safe. Just imagine a hike in the cold rain. No risk of death, just wet socks.

Not being the sharpest tack in the box, I have always had a tendency to run towards discomfort. This has consistently confused my friends and family. Over the years, what could be interpreted as blind stupidity has been rebranded to courage. Still not sure I understand the difference, but the lesson is the same. The result has been a life that others describe as ‘fearless’.

Now let’s see if we can unpack the reasons why people struggle with change.


Material possessions can bring joy. However, the majority of the material items in a person’s life cause more suffering than joy. Every additional item that you own requires care. If it is something of value to someone else, it needs to be protected from theft. If it is fragile, it needs protection from physical contact. Anyone who has ever moved as an adult understands how overwhelming it can be to get all of these things from one place to another.

While it would be extremist to expect modern adults to become minimalists and live out of a small red bag like the Dalai Lama, there are things to be done. Let’s consider the success of Kondo’s decluttering lessons. At the core of these teaching, we are encouraged to consider how much joy we receive from a given item. This item could be a shirt, a bowling ball or a knife. This joy can come from frequent use, aesthetic enjoyment or memories associated with that item.

Some stuff management systems have a goal of minimizing to a certain number of items. For most, this is a bit extreme. Starting with a donation run to the local thrift store can work. Consider getting rid of anything that has not been touched for the past year. Or create your own time frame you feel comfortable with.

Less things allow for more free thought and the ability to keep momentum down by keeping the weight down. Remember that a truck loaded with bricks will be harder to steer than a truck filled with feathers. Lighten up. Create empty space in your life.

Optional Responsibilities

Puppies are so cute! Then they grow up. And they eat, drink, poop and pee. All pets require attention. The attention could be worth it if the pet provides great joy to the owner. More often than not, pets become more a burden for us instead of a source of joy. Every additional living thing that depends on you for life maintenance adds weight to your life.

Before getting that hamster, consider the reality of the hamster. Consider whether you and/or your family have the bandwidth to give that hamster the best possible life. Do you have time to play with the hamster and keep its cage in top shape? Make custom hamster capes? Play fiddle to the hamster in the morning? Think about the life this hamster will have in your house.

Remember that we are referring to change here. If your goal is to homestead, then a menagerie of animals is perfect. Get the ducks and goats. Collect eggs. That’s the journey. It’s a settling into the ground, not a moving over the ground.


This is a big one. Most people are ruled by fear. The largest source of fear is the unknown. Most of the physical world is unknown to us. Our own deeper emotions are mostly unknown to us.

Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is acknowledging the presence of fear and advancing anyway. Be scared. It’s normal. But the thing that you can control is what to do with that fear.

Fear can keep someone in a toxic relationship for too long. Fear of being alone. Fear of never finding someone else who will love you as much as this abusive individual who loves you. Even though abuse if present, it’s less scary than the fear of the unknown.

More than half of the over 100 million working Americans are disengaged at their jobs. This means they will put in the bare minimum of work. They don’t love what they do. But having a job is better than not having a job, right?! Not really. Considering the longer time horizon of life, people rarely lay on their deathbed wishing they worked more. Work feels less like work when you love what you do.

In order to make the leap to a profession of passion, it requires leaping. Leaping is scary. Will I get the job I want? Will I make enough money? Will it be what I think it will be? Trusting in the future is the only way to get past these doubts. Go through the worst case scenario. Will you need to cut back on going out to eat? Would you need to move in with your parents? With your children? Coming to terms with these worst-case scenarios can help to leap. If you can handle the worst case, anything better than that will be a pleasant surprise.


This can be considered intention. Intention always precedes actualization. Imagine that you are going on a road trip. It will take many days to get to your desired destination. You know where you are going, though. Even when you are driving at night, you know where you will end up. It’s only necessary to see the road as far as the headlights go. In many ways, that’s how life is. We don’t always know the details of the events that will transpire between our departure and arrival.

If we do not know where we want to end up, we will wander around. In the wandering, we will encounter interesting opportunities and experiences. While this does not necessarily result in an unpleasant life, you are not likely to arrive at a place you never tried to get to in the first place.

For me, the planning came in the form of a vision board. It was an evening’s craft project at the age of 30 that guided the next decade of my life. The final result of the process is less important than the practice of determining the desired outcome. Here’s how simple it was:

vision board

Ok, so not all of the things on this vision board came true. Most of them did, though.

Large plans require time. Small plans are fast. Because people are generally impatient, we have a tendency to create and execute a series of small plans. Each small plan completed gives us a sense of accomplishment. That little dose of dopamine is what we need to keep happy. Delayed gratification is one of the most challenging things for us humans. We don’t care if that banana will taste better tomorrow. We are hungry right now!

Have patience. The big stuff takes time. I try to break up life in decade chunks. They have a theme with some milestones. The longtime frame removes pressure for instant completion while giving direction to life’s wanderings.


Change is hard. We create ruts from our patterns in life. We acquire things and responsibilities that anchor us to our current state. If we start by creating and maintaining a nimble life, change is easier. Knowing where you want to end up ensures that the change is worth it.

About Shaun Oshman

love paper pen submissions storyCultivator. Educator. Learner.

Shaun has spent his career cultivating teams to do amazing things. He cultivated a team at YMCA Camp Ockanickon to develop and deliver the highest quality experiential education programs. While in NZ, he inspired the most fantastic group of 8-year-olds to exceed their own expectations in the classroom. Today, he leads the team at iSupportU to provide the highest quality IT support and consulting.

Through all of these endeavors, learning has been a common theme. In order to truly know ‘how to learn’, he finished a Masters in Education to prepare him to teach. A thirst for understanding brought him to the field of technology. It was clear that the tool of tech can act as a powerful catalyst to learning and growth for people of all ages.

While teaching in NZ, one of the most rewarding experiences was seeing how empowered the teachers had become when they learned to harness the power of technology in their teaching. This experience was the inspiration behind starting iSupportU as a company. Shaun wanted to see that same empowerment in individuals and businesses. Technology should make life better and bring people together. That is the core goal of iSupportU.

The company has grown by an average of 200% per year since opening. This has resulted in being a top five fastest growing company in Boulder and Broomfield Counties in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2014, iSupportU sold off its web department to another firm, purchased a commercial building and discontinued doing repair work for residential customers. The business was sold to a new owner in 2017.

Shaun is currently enjoying a mid-life sabbatical aboard his sailboat, Breeze. Play is key.

Is your relationship empowering or restraining you?

It is my great pleasure to share with you an inspiring and moving story submitted by Elliot from This narrative is about an intimate experience that propelled Elliot to question whether his relationship was empowering or restricting his destiny. Come along on a journey of personal discovery and self-realization.

– – –

Throughout our lives we experience a number of different relationships. Almost immediately this conjures up images of friends, siblings, children, parents, and the most intimate partners in our lives.

Yet there is one relationship we all have which is often overlooked, it is the relationship we have with ourselves.
This relationship is the one that arguably needs the most nurturing because the depth of your own emotional health will determine not only your own levels of happiness, but it will also spill outwards and will impact upon the lives of those that are closest to you.
We shouldn’t expect people around us to bring us happiness that we crave because all this does is heap unfair expectations and condition-based love upon the people we are supposed to care about the most.
What we should actually aspire to become is a self-reliant being that radiates love and warmth and who is giving in nature, rather than being a negative drain who expects others to fill the gaps that exist within us.
Whether we want to accept it or not, we are the ones that are primarily responsible for our own individual happiness.
But what happens when we find ourselves on the negative end of an emotionally draining relationship? What happens when a person that we love dearly chooses to drag us down and hold us back from the person we believe ourselves to be?
Often when this happens we find ourselves trying to rationalize their behavior, and by doing so we slowly come to believe that the things they say and do both are acceptable and true. Yet if we are not careful we can be completely oblivious to the damage this does over time, and we can find ourselves ‘becoming a shell of our former selves’.
Many years ago I found myself in such a position. I was young, inexperienced, and I wanted to believe that the special lady in my life spoke from a position of love and sincerity and that she had my best interests at heart. And so when I told her of my dream to go backpacking for the very first time, she responded by telling me that I ‘could never do that’ and that I was ‘just a dreamer’.
The more I heard these words, the more I started to believe them. My dream began to slip away.
One Saturday afternoon when I was out on the town, I wandered into a bookshop and instinctively found myself walking towards the travel section. I picked up a Thailand travel guide and began to finger my way through the pages. I saw words written in Thai script, I read about different types of guesthouses, and I looked at photographs of white beaches, turquoise waters, and dramatic limestone cliffs.
The dream that I’d buried deep inside came rising back to the surface and I imagined myself wandering with a backpack through Thailand. My heart seemed to swell in my chest, glowing intensely in a bright and beautiful orange.
But no, I couldn’t do that could I. I’m just a dreamer. These were the words of a person who knew me well and who I loved dearly.
She had to be right. Didn’t she?
My heart stopped pounding and the glowing sensation disappeared, and after returning the book to the shelf I turned around and walked out of the shop.
For the whole of the following week, I felt numb and there was an empty feeling inside that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. I sat eating dinner with my girlfriend one evening and told her once again about my desire to travel to Thailand, discovering temples in the north and hopping from island to island in the south. Once again she just laughed and told me that it wasn’t who I was.
But I was beginning to believe differently.
As a passionate music fan, I’ve always had a means of escape. Whenever I play key songs I can close my eyes and disappear to another time and another place, and no matter what my present reality is, I can always create another for myself. And so this is exactly what I began to do, and it so happened that I found one song in particular that when being played I was able to close my eyes and instantly conjure up a specific place in Thailand that I’d read about. It was a waterfall which was in the center of an island that was located in the Gulf of Thailand.
I began to listen to this song every evening and I would close my eyes and instantly be transported to those waterfalls.
For three minutes and fifty seconds of each and every day, I became a traveler. But the song would always end, drawing me back to my dreaded reality.
Several weeks later I walked past the very same bookshop and once again I felt the calling. This time I walked inside, I picked up the book, and I walked over to the counter and paid for it with a massive smile on my face.
Something was happening. Something was changing.
I was beginning to listen to myself and to my inner calling.
Still, I got called a dreamer. Still, I got told I couldn’t do it. But I kept reading that book and I kept listening to my song, every damn day.
Soon after this, my girlfriend had suddenly become an ex-girlfriend. How and why this came to an end is irrelevant, but what is relevant is that within a few months of the breakup I found myself on a plane heading east.
I touched down in Bangkok, walked out of the airport, and stood at the side of the road with my backpack leaning against my legs. My return flight was two months away and I had no plans, no destination, and no idea what I was doing.
But I was there.
I ventured north to discovered those temples; I journeyed south and hopped from island to island. One day during the fifth week of my trip I found myself on the island located in the Gulf of Thailand that had occupied my dreams for so long. I gave some money to one of the locals and he drove me out towards the center of the island on the back of his motorbike.
Half an hour later he was accompanying me up into the hills. He cleared a path using a machete, helping me avoid snakes along the way. Some time later we reached the top of the hill. I smiled at my new friend and asked him to wait for me. He smiled back and asked how much time I needed.

“About three minutes and fifty seconds,” I said.

I stepped into the running water and felt the cool and refreshing liquid wash over my feet. As I edged closer towards where the water fell gracefully from the cliff face and cascaded down onto the waiting rocks below, I sat down and pulled out a CD walkman from my bag. Adjusting my headphones into place, I looked out into the bright and beautiful late afternoon sun, and then I pressed the play button.
It was my song.
And here I was.

Only I wasn’t dreaming. And I did do it after all.

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