We feel confident doing big things when we start displaying competence in small things. In this episode, Diane Hamilton talks with world-renowned speaker and Founder of Limitless Potential, Laura Gassner Otting, about her best-selling book, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path And Live Your Best Life which has helped countless people to live a limitless life. Using her marathon experience and her midlife crisis, she shares how you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable and gives pieces of advice to people who want to give TED talks and inspire others as she has. Listen to Laura in this episode and be inspired to live a limitless life.
Some people are physically paralyzed, but most of us are paralyzed from the demons of doubt, fear, and complacency. In this episode, Diane Hamilton talks with Jeff Griffin, a world-renowned speaker and author of the award-winning book called I’MPossible: Desire. Dream. Do., which talks about climbing your own Everest and achieving your dreams. Narrating an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, he shares his experience in joining the Paralympic Games in Athens, inspiring people to dream big and never stop. Join Jeff in this episode and be inspired by his wonderful stories to desire and achieve your dreams.
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Laura Gassner Otting and Jeff Griffin here. Laura is a world-renowned speaker and Founder of Limitless Potential. She’s a bestselling author and helps people live a limitless life. Jeff is a world-renowned speaker. He was paralyzed from the waist down, became a Paralympic athlete and a top author.
Listen to the podcast here:
Living A Limitless Life With Laura Gassner Otting
I am here with Laura Gassner Otting. She has an impressive 25-year resume. She served as the presidential appointee to Bill Clinton’s White House. She’s got a new book. She’s got a book that you probably all read, Mission Driven, but her latest book is Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path And Live Your Best Life. It’s nice to have you here, Laura.
It is great to be here, Diane.
I was very interested in this because you help people get unstuck and I work with people trying to get them more curious. I could see how these things could be complementary. I was excited to see that your book debuted at number two in the Washington Post bestseller list right behind Michelle Obama. What was that like?
It was crazy. I was doing a podcast on April 1st, the book came out officially on April 2nd. I was recording this podcast on April 1st and the guy who was introducing me was like, “You’re everywhere. You’re all over the place. You’re all over DC. You’re right behind Michelle Obama in the Washington Post bestseller.” I was like, “That’s hilarious.” He’s like, “Really.” I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. He’s like, “Google yourself.” I googled myself while we were recording this podcast. I’m trying to stay professional meanwhile I’m behind my desk dancing, totally wigging out. It did debut at number two right behind Michelle Obama. I’ve got about nine million more books or so to catch up to her, but I’m working on it.
It’s just a few. You’ll make it. What do you think was the reason it came out as obviously anticipated important book? Do you think a lot of it comes from knowing Mission Driven? What do you think?
I hired a publicist to do the prelaunch when the book’s coming up because when I wrote Mission Driven, it was a guide book about how to find work that actually had a purpose and this was specifically for people going from corporate to nonprofit work. I did that when I was running my executive search for Nonprofit Professionals which I’ve founded and run for fifteen years. I sold that firm a few years ago to the great team of women who helped me build it. I left behind a mailing list of 50,000 people. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal until I was going to launch a new book and all of a sudden, I had a mailing list of zero. I did a lot of the typical pre-launch stuff that an author will do. I tried to get people to sign up, to be on my newsletter list, to be on social media, all of that stuff. What I did is I put together this ridiculous video on February 15 which was my birthday, which was six weeks before the book was officially going to come out. I tried hard to ask people earnestly.
“I would love for you to preorder my book. This means a lot.” I tried about 47 times to do that, to ask somebody to do something for me. I had a hard time doing it and then I turned to the camera guy who’s done a lot of my video stuff in the past. I was like, “Let me do a super goofy one, get it out of the way and then I’ll be able to do this.” He pressed record and I started singing happy birthday to myself and I was like, “Here I am. Happy birthday to me. I’m going to ask you guys to do this crazy thing and find my book. It would mean so much to me. Here’s why.” As soon as we finished, I turned around like, “I hope you got that on camera.” He was like, “We did.” He started packing up his camera and I was like, “No. We have to do the serious one now.” He’s like, “No, trust me.” What happened is I put myself out there in a super authentic way and I asked people to show up for me for the first time in my life. When my publicist called me up and said, “We don’t understand how you did this. This is a better grounding than we’ve ever seen any author, let alone a first-time author with zero people on our mailing list ever do.” I said, “I’ve been showing up for people for the last 48 years. When I asked them to show up back, they did.”Once you show somebody their greatness, it's hard for them to unsee it. Click To Tweet
Did you have a following on YouTube? How did you get to people to watch it though? That’s what I’m curious about.
I didn’t. I put it up on Facebook, I put it up on LinkedIn and people shared it with their friends and they were like, “This is my friend Laura. She’s super awesome. Here are all the ways she’s helped me in my life. If this thing’s you, would you consider buying her book?” People bought it. They called me up and they said, “I want to buy your book, but actually can I buy ten? How do I do that?” I’m in a community of people. It was amazing. I’m in this community of people who told me things like if somebody buys one book on Amazon, it counts as one book. If they buy ten books on Amazon, it counts as one book. If they buy ten books on 800-CEO-Read, it counts as ten books.
The people who make the decision about where your book falls on the bestseller list, they look at a thing called BookScan. BookScan is going to take the one or the ten purchases from Amazon as one, but they took the ten from 800-CEO-Read as ten. It meant that I had to go to people and say, “I know you bought ten books from Amazon and you’re emailing me the receipt because you’re so proud of yourself and you want me to know, but could you please cancel that order? Go to CEO-Read and buy ten.” That’s the thing that I would never normally do, but I felt like you have one shot at this and if I’m not going to be bold and ask now, when am I going to do it? I decided to do it.
You’re telling people to be limitless, so you’re doing it yourself.
I talk a lot in the book about how ambition gets a bad rap. We’re told we shouldn’t be ambitious. We shouldn’t tell people what we want and have these big dreams where they want to be bigger, bolder, faster, more. I write in the book that if having more power, more money, more platform, more leverage, more whatever it is that you need, if having that stuff allows you to show up better for the people that you love and the causes you hold dear, then it’s not your ambition, it’s your responsibility. I couldn’t not do it. I had to do it because I felt like I had this message. Based on twenty years of interviewing people who have been in these major moments of career transition, I have this understanding and if it’s not me, then who’s it going to be? If it’s not now, then when? I felt like it wasn’t my ambition, it was my responsibility. I spend so much time telling people they have to go after that. They have to lean into that. If I didn’t do it, I’m being a fraud.
You help people get unstuck. How do you help them? What is it that keeps them stuck? Let’s start there.
For everybody, it’s a bit different. I would say that if I had one superpower, it would be that I can look at somebody and within minutes, I can see greatness in them that either they’ve never been able to see themselves or they’ve never been able to quite believe and act on. Once you show somebody their greatness, it’s hard for them to unsee it. Those people in your life who are not mentors too, but they’re champions. They are the ones who push you to ask for the promotion. They’re the ones that push you to run the marathon. They’re the ones that push you to dig deeper. They don’t let you settle for mediocrity because they know you have more in you. Do you know those people in your life?
When they look at you and they see that in you, you can’t help but want to be that person. I don’t know that I do anything super magical, except I reflect a mirror on people in a way that they no longer want to be the person that they were. They want to be the person they know they can become.
You see the opposite. Unfortunately, a lot out there, people tell you that you can’t do things, that it’s too hard because they don’t want to do it. They want you to fail because they don’t want to try it. How do you get past that?
My book is called Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path and Live Your Best Life. The most important part of that is ignoring everybody. There are the people in your life who you shouldn’t ignore, who are those champions for you. There are the people in your life who you can’t ignore because maybe they’re family, maybe they’re your boss, maybe they’re your parents, maybe there’s your teacher. It’s important to remember that when you go up to people and you tell them your hopes and your dreams and they look at you with that space of fear, of anxiety, of neuroses, of horror. When I sold my company, I remember about a week after I signed the paperwork, I ran into a friend of mine on the street and I was like, “Great news. I sold my company.” She’s like, “What are you going to do now?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m going to figure it out.”
She gave me this look like, “Okay.” She didn’t know what box to put me in anymore. I was suddenly untethered and floating free in the gravity-free space of her brain. She didn’t quite know what to do with me. She also had that, “What if I stopped my job and what would I do next? What would be the other thing?” People listen to our hopes and our dreams through the lens of their fears. They don’t think that’s not a good idea for you. They think, “That wouldn’t be a good idea for me.” you have to remember that. We have to remember that because other people’s fear, other people’s anxiety can be a real showstopper for us if we let it become identifying to us.
I’ve met a lot of people who project. They think that because it was problematic for me that other people can’t do it or vice versa. Everybody’s got their perception of what they can do and what they can’t do. It helps to make yourself a little uncomfortable that if you keep doing things that are easy, your life gets boring.
One of the most important things we can do at every age in every life stage is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I ran a marathon for the first time in my life when I was 40 years old and it’s the midlife crisis marathon. At 39 years old, I’d never run a mile before in my life and it took me six weeks and I ran the first mile that I was like, “I’m going to run a marathon.” It’s a total midlife crisis. A marathon is 26.2 miles, but you train up to twenty miles. Every week you go a little further each week and you get to twenty miles a couple of weeks before the marathon and then you start tapering back. When marathon day, you get to the twenty-mile mark and there is this like, “What happens now?” There’s a little voice in your head that says, “You’re going to do it. Walk, crawl, run, whatever it is, someone’s going to put up a medal around your neck and one of those cheap sheets around you like a superhero cape. You’re going to be a marathoner for the rest of your life.”
There’s another voice inside of you that goes, “Are you crazy? You’re going to die out here. Another hour? No way. Are we going to be able to do that? That’s nuts. You should stop right now.” Only one of those voices gets to win and you’re the only one that gets to choose. There’s nobody else there putting one foot in front of the other for you. It has to be you. I think the reason that we get confidence to be able to do big things is because we start displaying competence in small things. I was able to have confidence that I could run the marathon because I had competence in the mile, in the 5K, in the 10K and a half marathon and the twenty-mile training run. I know what happens when I get to the end of my tank. I find another gear. That’s always happened before. It will probably happen now. Being uncomfortable is important to do because every time we get uncomfortable and survive it, our pants don’t light on fire, we didn’t die in the street at the twenty-mile mark, we realized that we’re made of stronger stuff. We find more inside of us that the next time we get uncomfortable, we can be comfortable being uncomfortable.
I started with the half marathon around that age. You went for the whole thing. I’ve got to give you credit. I talked to my husband into that one too and he didn’t even have the crisis.
I did a triathlon before I did the marathon and they separate you into the age groups. I was in the 38 to 45-year-old, but they had two different age groups. There were the first-timers and the veterans. I was in the 38 to 45 old first-timers. I remember standing there in my wet suit looking right at all these other women who were 38 to 45 years old, first-timers thinking, “We’re in the midlife crisis age group.”
I did a rock-climbing competition in my early 40s outdoor and there are not many in that age group. I came in third, but I was third from the bottom too because there were only five of us that were dumb enough to try this.
My goal is to keep moving long enough that I outlive everyone else so that I win the 90-year-old age group.
I think that you’re definitely on a path. You had an interesting path. How did you get to be an appointee in Clinton’s White House? I don’t even know the guy who served on my dissertation committee, who was a Clinton appointee, Mark Grandstaff was a BYU professor. How did you get that?Other people's fear or anxiety can be a real showstopper for us if we let it become identifying to us. Click To Tweet
I was in law school. I thought I was going to run for office and become a senator from the great state of Florida where I was from. I figured the route to do that. It was law because at that point everybody in the elective office was a lawyer. I was in law school. I was about six weeks in. I was twenty years old. I’d graduated early from college. I skipped kindergarten. I was young. I’m looking around and I’m like, “I’ve made a huge mistake. I don’t belong here. Law school sucks. I don’t want to be a lawyer. I have no interest in any of this.” I did what any self-respecting, miserable twenty-year-old woman would do. I dated a guy who was terrible for me. I used to ride my bike to campus and it was raining one day and this guy was like, “I’ll give you a ride back to your apartment. Stick your bike in the back of my IROC Z.” It’s everything you need to know about this guy. “On the way to your apartment, I want to stop at this guy’s campaign office. He’s running for president. I want to pick up some paper to see where he stands on issues.” This is back before the internet. That’s what you had to do. You had to stop at a strip mall and go to a local office and pick up the paper on how they felt about all the different issues of the day.
We walked into the office and in the corner of the office is this little black and white TV set where then-governor Bill Clinton is giving this impassioned speech. I was like, “Governor who from where? Arkansas? Not a chance.” Bill Clinton is giving this impassioned speech about how there was nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed with what’s right with America. He offered a solution, a policy proposal of national service, community service in exchange for college tuition. Change your community while you changed yourself. I was floored like a lightning bolt hit me and I was like, “That needs to happen. He needs to get elected. How do we make that happen?” I went immediately in that moment from, “How can I help? How can I solve all the problems? How can I be the senator?” to “That needs to happen? How do we get him elected and put the right people in the right place?”
Fast forward twenty years, I marry a different guy who’s much better than me. I happily married him. I gave a TED Talk on this whole story about how I realized that, “How can I help?” is the worse question. “What needs to happen?” is a much better question because it helps you to see the whole problem. I started volunteering in the campaign. All four principals came to this tiny town of Gainesville, Florida. We had Bill and Hillary and Al and Tipper and we got 36,000 people to show up. The national campaign official said, “Who are those people? Who are those volunteers? We should hire them.” By hiring them, they paid us in all the ramen soup and idealism we could eat. We traveled all over the country putting on big rallies. Along the way, I got to know the guy who ended up in the White House doing volunteer coordination. On the very first day, at 12:01 after inauguration, he’s like, “Laura, you should come in. We’ve got an opening.” I went and that was it.
You may have gotten rid of your mailing list, but you certainly have a platform of being in the White House. You’ve had a TED Talk. You’ve done a lot of amazing things. What was the most challenging thing you think you’ve done other than the marathon?
Professionally, I would say that TED Talk was scary. There are two things. The first was selling my company. Selling a professional services company is challenging because I’m the founder. What is the company worth when the founder goes? Do we know? We don’t know. It’s a very difficult thing to evaluate. Going through the process of the sale was difficult for me. I was surprised at how emotional it was on my team’s behalf. I was surprised about how much my ego got stuck about the value of the company. What do I deserve? What is it worth? What am I worth? We could do a whole other show on that process. When I sold it, I had this crisis of identity. “Who am I when I’m no longer LGO, Laura Gassner Otting, CEO of this company?”
That difficult process led me to start a blog and writing about some of the things that I’d seen along the way. I wrote this blog about stop asking, “How can I help?” A friend of mine called me up and said, “I think you should do a TED Talk about that.” She happened to be the executive producer of TEDx Cambridge. Because I try to be a good mother, I took this call while I was driving with my then fourteen-year-old on speakerphone. My response to her when she said that I should do a TED Talk was, “No way. No how. That’s terrifying. I have no interest at all ever in doing that.” I hang up the phone and my fourteen-year-old who’s now seventeen looks at me and says, “Mom, don’t you always tell me I should do things that scare me? Don’t you always tell me that if it doesn’t challenge me, it doesn’t change me? Don’t you always tell me that life starts on the other side of the fear?” I was like, “Yeah.”
You got a little put up or shut up from him.
He was like, “What gives, mom?” Six weeks later, there I am on the TEDx stage. This wasn’t any TEDx. TEDx Cambridge is at the top tier. It’s at the Boston Opera House. There are 2,600 people with beautiful theater lights and a five-camera shoot. It’s the big leagues. My very first talk was TEDx Cambridge in front of 2,600 people. No notes, no net.
Did you feel like you could’ve done anything differently? A lot of people who want to give TED Talks read this. What advice would you give?
I would say that I nailed it for eleven and a half minutes and then there’s a moment about 30 seconds before the end where you can see me look off stage. I had no idea what the next line was supposed to be. I breathe deeply and I remember the line after the next line. I missed an important line. That was hard. I can’t even watch it now because it’s so upsetting to me. Here’s what I learned that I could have done differently. I could have been more myself. I went out there and I talked like a TEDx talker. I was very didactic. I was very earnest and now, I could walk out in front of 3,500 people, talk for 45 minutes, and people will give me a standing ovation. I don’t say that to show off. I say that because I figured out the trick, which is my brand is about 95% audacity, confidence, moxie and bad-ass, and about 5% total awkward nerd.
That’s who I am. I get up on stage and that’s who I am. I am myself. The trick to giving a TEDx is you have to have an idea that’s worth spreading. That’s their thing. It’s got to be an interesting idea. It is unique. You’re coming from a different angle. You have to be the right messenger of it because you have credibility or life experience or professional experience or some reason that you are the one, so what’s the idea and who are you? The reason that some become more popular than others is that they’re real. You look at Amy Cuddy. You look at Brené Brown. You look at Shawn Achor.
Ken Robinson is great.
Ken Robinson, because they can’t not tell you the thing they want to tell you. You watch mine and it’s like, “Here’s a carefully rehearsed script. It’s fine.” If I were to do it now, I would have told you the story instead of reciting the script.
I’ve talked to people about this and talked to a couple of Hall of Fame speakers, men speakers because there aren’t a lot of women Hall of Fame speakers. We were talking about that to a couple of them. One of them said to me that he thinks the reason is women want to share too much information sometimes instead of being more playful and making it more entertaining. They’re so anxious to get to the point and they packed too much information in. Do you think that’s true? I’m curious about your perception of that.
I think women, like with everything, get judged by different standards. Men can have fun, get up on stage and swear and nobody cares. When you get up on stage and swearing up, it’s like, “You have assaulted me with your language.” I very often wear sleeveless on stage. Michelle Obama is number one Washington Post, but I got arms that might make her jealous. People always comment on that. My brand is like power, moxie and bad-ass. Getting on stage with muscular arms fits my brand, yet I’ve seen studies that say that when women get on stage sleeveless, they are perceived as being less intelligent. that women try to get on stage and show you they’re smart, whereas men assume you’re going to think they’re smart already so they can do all the rest of the stuff. That’s super frustrating. What I will say is I’ve worked with speaking coaches. I have a speaking coach that I’ve got up and I try to do my talk and he was like, “What are you doing? What’s that? Don’t ever do any of that again. That’s terrible.” He’s like, “If you were talking to me at a cocktail party, how would you tell me the story?” I told him a story and he was like, “Do that on stage. You’re funny. Be funny. Not a lot of women are funny on stage.”
I think it’s very challenging for a lot of people. There’s a sense to me that men can get away with telling certain jokes and certain things. I had one of the other Hall of Fame speakers, I was asking him about this and he goes, “Some get up on stage and say, ‘I have a beautiful daughter and I have another one,’” and a man could say that.
A woman could never say that.
A woman could not say that. It would be like, “That’s not funny from a woman.” It’s an interesting thing. I don’t get onto women versus men issues. If you’ve ever tuned in to my show, I’m not that way. I think that there are some things that are a little harder with the way women get judged. I always give everybody credit who can give a great talk and get up there because it’s tough. The Mel Robbins and certain people do a great job of letting loose and I admire that. What you’ve done with your book is amazing and I was so excited to have you on the show. A lot of people are going to want to know how they can get Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path and Live Your Best Life or hire you to speak and all that. How can they find you?We, as human beings, reject what we don't understand and base our possibilities on what we know. Click To Tweet
All my good friends call me LGO because Laura Gassner Otting is a lot of name. I’m on all the social @HeyLGO and you can find me at HeyLGO.com as well. The book is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, 800-CEO-Read, anywhere books are sold. I love people sending me photos of books in the bookstore. It’s super fun. If people are thinking about, “I want to be limitless. I’m not sure what to do,” I created a quiz on my site. It’s a pretty intense quiz. It takes fifteen minutes. As people have heard, I’m an intense person so strap in and be ready. It’s LimitlessAssessment.com. I’d love for people to take it or hit me up on social media @HeyLGO and let me know what you think.
Thank you so much, Laura. This was so much fun.
Climbing Your Everest With Jeff Griffin
I am here with Jeff Griffin, who’s a world-renowned speaker, transformational message, life-altering experience and power potential expert. He has always dreamed of playing sports on the big stage. As a kid, he envisioned playing college football as a receiver. He was one step closer to fulfilling his dream when a construction accident left him broken and paralyzed from the waist down. He is here to tell a story. It’s so nice to have you here, Jeff.
It’s great to be here. I’m honored to be here. They say there’s power in organized effort and you’ve got a powerful organization going on here.
Thank you. I’ve had some amazing real-life experiences shared on the show and I always find them so inspirational and yours is one of those. I gave a hand to as to what happened to you, but you have quite a story. I’m going to let you tell it because there are so many people who would love to know. You’re the author of the award-winning book titled I’Mpossible: Desire, Dream, Do. You have two Guinness Book of World Records for winning Saint George Marathon and all kinds of things that you’ve done. I’m fascinated by your background. I’m going to let you give a background to what led up to this.
When I was a little kid, my dream was to play football in college. I was a receiver. I wanted to play the school down South. I’m from Utah. I want to go to BYU and I told them my dream one time and they laughed at me. They’re like, “Griff, you can’t play football. You’re too short and you’re too slow.” Some of them said I was too white and I get that. I was too short, too slow and I was white, but I didn’t realize it at the time. We as individuals, as human beings, we reject what we don’t understand and we base our possibilities on what we know. There’s the paradox because a lot of us sit back and wait for things to happen before we act, but we’ll never see things happen unless we act. I didn’t know it at the time, but I continue to chase down my dream. I tapped into the reserves of resilience and continue to listen to that song, this thing in my soul and that was to play football.
One day after my senior year of practice, I came home and there was a letter from the legendary hall of fame coach LaVell Edwards inviting me, the shortest little white guy, to go play for him. I was one step closer to fulfilling my dream. I got to experience this sweetness of success and played two downs and got to experience what it would be like to not just be in the stadium but to be on the sideline and not to be on the sideline and have a jersey, but to be in the field and play. I know as leaders and as influencers, that’s a challenge. It’s to get people not just to the game, but into the game and to play that. I got to taste what it would be not just to be close, but to be in there, to be on the starting lineup. They don’t pay enough money to play football in college. I’m like, “What can I do to earn enough money to go back and focus on my dream?” I’m like, “What will make me the most money is to start my own business.” I decided to start my own business, which was I decided to paint, not pictures, but buildings.
Long story short, the business was booming. I got a phone call off from the Napoleon Dynamite Country there in Southern Idaho. I’m from Northern Utah. Three days later, I’m $3,000 richer. I’d have enough money to go back to school and focus on that and continue chasing down my dream. I woke up early in the morning, went to the job site and I wanted to get the tall parts done. I was at the barn first. I pulled out two levels of scaffolding. I have a 40-foot ladder on top of that. I’m up quite high as you can imagine. My buddy was holding the ladder, he was shaking, the ladder was rattling and I’m thinking to myself, “Maybe he shouldn’t be doing this, but what could go wrong?”
Of course, everything went wrong. I get up there and the ladder flips out from underneath me and I am sitting up there for split-seconds defying gravity but I’m coming down. I didn’t want to be a part of that big pile of scrap metal down below. I jammed my thumb to that gap up above in this loft door and it tore my thumb out, flayed the top part of my thumb off and that wasn’t working. There was a ledge down below the doors and so in desperation mode, I grab on that ledge but because of the pull of gravity, the weight of my body, it caused my fingers to pop off the ledge.
Of course, you’re still there.
It’s not working. I come down. I tried to break my fall. I looked down at the ground so I can break it. Instead of breaking my fall, I stuck the landing perfect straight leg and my legs came up. My back came down and my L1 vertebrae shattered inside me leaving me paralyzed from the waist down. Instantly, I learned from myself that cutting corners leads nowhere but down. My dreams of playing football are done, over in an instant. I’ve learned that a lot of us, if not most of us, will experience those moments in our life where the ladder, our foundation has been taken out from underneath us and we’re free-falling, crashing and we have to pick up the pieces. The question is this, what do I do? How do I pick up the pieces and where do I go from there?
I imagine they rushed you to the emergency and all of that type of thing. Did you know immediately that you were not going to be able to walk or did they have some hope?
I knew something was up because I couldn’t feel my legs as I grabbed my leg to alleviate the pain. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do any of that stuff. I’ve had some stingers in football where you lose sensation, you can’t move, you can’t feel and it comes back. I was hoping that would be the case but it wasn’t. I got to the hospital, they took a picture of my back and the doctor came back with the news and he told me and my family, “Your back is broken. One vertebra is shattered. You’ll never stand, you’ll never walk and never move again.” I felt like a heavyweight boxer going after me round after round. The news was devastating. The doctors gave me a 0% chance of ever walking again. They gave me a 0% chance of having kids, 0% chance of getting married, not because of my wheelchair, but because of who I am. I’ve been married for twenty plus years. We have four kids and I’ve learned how to dream new dreams.
You had to go through some of the worst things that anybody would ever go through and you’ve turned this into something positive. I know that’s hard, but I imagine it wasn’t that easy at the beginning. It had to be very challenging for you to turn the corner where you started to go for the other types of rewards and to make you feel like you could reach dreams and all that. In the beginning, how long did it take you to get over that sense of despair? I’m sure it probably never goes away to the point where you can function and do things.
My wife tells me, “Jeff, bring it down,” because she thinks I’m too positive. “How can you be so positive, happy and whatnot?” They always ask, “Was it always this way?” The answer is no. I write in my book, it was like Mile Marker Six. I use Mile Markers in our chapters because I think that my book is something that could help other people climb their Everest and go and achieve their dreams. In the process of picking up the pieces of my broken back and shattered dreams, I discovered some flecks of gold that I believe can help others achieve their dreams and turn the impossible into the possible. One of those that helped me discover that was, I entered this on self-pity is what I call it. I went in there and I was wallowing in this syrupy, sticky sauna of self-pity. I invited everyone and anyone who would be willing to come in with me. I had that pity party for a good three days. It wouldn’t feed me anymore. I had to go to the cafeteria to eat and I remember rolling down the sterile halls of the hospital and tears were forming on my cheeks, running down them. I was shaking my fist to God, saying, “Why me?”
I get to the cafeteria. I get my food, I’m flavoring in my food with my tears. I want to be away from everybody as I possibly can. I go to the corner of the cafeteria, continued to flavor my food, and all of a sudden this tray plops down in front of me, and I’m about to lift my head, tell this person to go with some colorful words. This man looks at me and he’s like, “Why are you crying?” I’m like, “What?” In his slurred speech, I recognize that he was asking the question, “Why are you crying?” I looked around and I realized, “Why am I crying?” I saw a guy who was paralyzed from the neck down, couldn’t even move his hands and his limbs. He had to be fed by somebody else. Another man was paralyzed from the neck down but he was able to at least move his arms, but he couldn’t use his fingers. They tape the fork to his hand. That’s how he fed himself and so I was looking around thinking, why am I crying? What’s interesting is that simple question that was asked and here’s the irony of it. It came from a prisoner from the point of that mountain. An inmate at the prison asked the question that set me free from my prison.
You asked quickly to get that realization. Did it take some time after that to get the feeling like you can do more or were you immediately transformed at that point?
That’s the beauty of it because transformation can take place in a click of a finger. We can change our minds. Dr. Wayne Dyer said if you changed the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change. Here’s the problem. Our friends, colleagues, peers and programming pull us back to our old ways. We can have that transformation and we can think differently, but it’s still going to be a journey ahead of you to change that program. Sometimes you’ve got to change your peers and you’ve got to change the people you hang out with.
I discovered some of this that you’re talking about in my research in curiosity and my research in perception. If your perception is your reality and that you continue to surround yourself with things or people or situations that are going to create that reality, then it will continue to be that negative reality. Your story echoes with the research that I’ve seen. You went on to do these amazing things. In 2004, you played in the Paralympic Games in Athens. What was that like?
It was great to go to Athens, Greece where the Olympics originated from. They had the Paralympic Games as well. It was amazing. My sister said it best. I asked her how her experience was in Greece and she’s like, “I hate it.” They don’t like this. I’m like, “What are you talking about? I love it.” She’s like, “You’re a god for three weeks. People are treating you like you’re the most amazing thing.” It was great to go represent my country in wheelchair basketball and experience and play there in Athens, Greece. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to make the team because I got hurt too late in my life and I didn’t go to college and play basketball and all these reasons. People continue to base our possibilities on their limitations.
How old were you at that time?Cutting corners leads nowhere but down. Click To Tweet
I’ve been in a chair longer than I have out of a chair, so I lose track. I was somewhere around 21 or 22 when that happened. It’s the prime of my life.
You played for the Utah Wheelin’ Jazz and you were four-time all-star MVP. You ended up in basketball but you’d said you weren’t tall, but now everybody’s in chairs. Is height even an issue in a wheelchair basket? Is a taller body a good thing or does it not make a difference at that point?
We’re always looking for tall people because you can only have a 21-inch chair. You can’t have these huge, giant chairs. A large tall torso or large arms or whatnot, long arms are an advantage. I’m fortunate enough to be able to play all positions from the center all the way to point guard.
How tall are you?
I am 6’2”. I instantly went from 6’2” to 4’7”.
You’re able to do so many things. You’re playing tennis. In tennis, you have to move quickly. How can you play tennis in a wheelchair? That’s fast-paced.
It is. Fortunately, we have the wheels that go out and so we can turn left or right quite fast. The first time I played tennis I was in my everyday chair and that’d be like an able-bodied person playing tennis in their ski boots. I’m like, “I want to go out there and compete. I want to be a part of a team again and I want to be able to feel normal.” I realized, “Who wants to be normal?” I always saw myself as an under-ordinary guy and looking back. I can honestly and humbly say that I’ve had an extraordinary life up until this point. I’m excited to see what happens these next couple of years.
I’m thinking about when you say normal, it reminds me, I think it was Malcolm McDowell said it in Star Trek when he was talking to Geordi. I don’t know if you’re a Trekkie or not, but he said, “What’s normal?” He says, “Normal is what everybody else is and you are not.” I’m thinking, “Do you want to be what everybody else is?” I don’t know if I’d even want that. Nobody wants to become paralyzed. I’m sure if you had your choice, you wouldn’t choose this but now that this has happened to you, I’ve had some people on my show, who have had horrible things and they said they’ve learned the most amazing things of their life from it. I’ve had a lot of people who’ve been on who have gone blind or other things that have happened to them. Do you think you’d be doing some of the things for other people that you do now if you hadn’t been hurt?
The answer is I would not be. I would not be doing the things I do. I said I wanted to play on the world stage, on the football field. It didn’t happen other than the two plays I got to experience. I didn’t realize I was going to be playing on the world stage with what I’m doing, not just in wheelchair basketball and not to being in marathons, tennis and physical sports. I have had the privilege since then to go on to school, get my Master’s in Education and Curriculum. We give 300 wheelchairs to each project and we got 50 projects last year.
The problem with that is we are bringing them out of these shadows of society. The governments are like, “What are you going to do now?” They came to me and asked me if I put together a program with my background and whatnot being in a wheelchair and doing some of the things I’ve done. I did. We put together a four-day leadership program that deals with not just wheelchair rights but human rights and how to take care of their bodies, skin and gall and bladder issues. We also teach them how to put together a resume, teach them how to present themselves to their future employees.
We teach about relationships, sexuality, and we introduced them to sports. Our first event was in Kathmandu, Nepal. We had to put it together in English, translate it in Nepalese and then we went out there and presented it to twenty individuals who are in wheelchairs, who they felt like were the peer leaders of the country. We left the material. We gave them a great training and we left. We’ve since been to Mongolia, Sri Lanka, DR twice, we’re heading to Peru, the Philippines and Brazil. We have up and coming trips here. My program was recognized at the United Nations. It’s been a great honor. I’ve been able to play on the world stage and not in sports, but in life as well. My passion is to help people. I’m physically paralyzed, but most of us are paralyzed from the demons of doubt, fear and complacency.
Are those the three Ds? You call them something else but doubt is the first D, right?
I believe what helps to overcome this mental paralysis is we need to focus on 252. We need to understand that three Ds and then we have to invest in ourselves. The three Ds is the subtitle of the book, I’Mpossible: Desire, Dream, Do.
The desire to me probably comes from being curious to some extent, I would imagine. Are you a curious person?
The older I get, the more curious I become. I’ve learned that great questions lead to great discovery. Before I created this peer to peer program, they brought me in because they had a 30 day program that they wanted to reduce. They did reduce down to ten days and then they wanted to reduce it even down further to three days because all our people that go out there and help with these projects are volunteers. They take work off and so they can’t take 30 days off or ten days. One thing that I’ve discovered and learned is great questions lead to great discovery. We focused on asking questions so we could determine whether or not they understood the material. Curiosity is huge in this process.
You had some amazing big dreams that you’ve accomplished. You said desire, dream, do and you’ve done them. Are there other dreams you have that you still yet to do?
Yes. One of the biggest dreams is to walk again. The doctors gave me 0% chance. All the evidence is stacked up against me completely and people keep telling me, “It’s been twenty-plus years. Griff, your dream is delusional because of all the evidence.” I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even feel and I couldn’t stand up without the help of a therapist aiding me in that. It took five minutes to stand up. Every time I wake up, there’s this scar from my belly button all the way around my torso to my backbone reminding me that I’m not supposed to move. I’m not supposed to walk. It’s been twenty-plus years, but I understood that I could focus on what I could do or I could focus on what I couldn’t do.
One thing I could do was I could go out the front of the hospital and I could do exercises in my mind where I was lifting weights, I was doing leg extensions, leg curls and squats. I was even envisioning myself walking down the streets and I was doing it to the point where I was physically sweating and physically exhausted from that. At the same time, nothing happened. My dream was to walk out of the hospital. It took me fifteen minutes to get from my wheelchair into the car with the aid of a wooden plank. All these obstacles were an indicator that I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t get up and stand again and I couldn’t move, but I had a different opinion and I had a different song that sang in my soul. Long story short, I climbed a mountain, Ben Lomond in Utah. It’s 9,711 feet.
How did you do that?
I made it to the top. I can take a few steps forward, waddle or swagger. I can get up out of my chair and I can take some steps forward. I got off the elliptical bike and I went five miles on it.If you changed the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change. Click To Tweet
Are you moving yourself or is there some gadget that moves you? I am trying to figure out how you did that.
Yes. About seven years ago, I ventured onto the elliptical bike because that one, I don’t have to pick up my feet and I can use my arms to help balance myself and whatnot. It took me fifteen minutes to climb up there, drag my feet up there and get positioned. I went fifteen seconds and I was done, exhausted, and I dropped on my chair. That’s been my ammo this whole time because I felt a little twinge in my thigh one day. I’m like, “Is that my imagination or what?” There’s somebody who said that man could not dream himself into character. He must hammer and forge one for himself. I can dream all I want. I can desire all I want. If I do something, nothing’s going to happen. Some of the heavy liftings come from our mind. What’s interesting is if the Irish playwright is accurate, George Bernard Shaw, if he’s accurate in his statement where he says 2% of the population think, 3% of the population think they think, and 95% of the population would rather die than think. There’s 98% of people out there not thinking. That’s some of the hardest and heavy lifting out there is to think. The evidence is stacked up against you.
What you do is you help people overcome their mental paralysis is what you’re talking about. How do we do that?
I believe it begins with a desire. You’ve got to understand what a desire is.
We go back to the three Ds.
We could dissect that. We could dissect what the desire is. That’s what we do. We spend some time and dissect what their desire is and take a look at it. How can we develop it? How can we increase our desire? We take a look at the anatomy of a dream because so often, people don’t know what they want. They can’t accomplish something that they don’t know. They’re already there. If George Bernard Shaw is accurate, we’re not thinking. Other people are telling us what to dream and what to do. If we can do what I call dream weaving, it takes ten minutes to change your life. We would take a look at what it is that you want to do. After ten minutes, we’ve got a good idea of what you want to do. Once you understand that you can develop a desire, and increase your desire, and then you have established your dream, then you’ve got to do some ethical steps in chasing down that dream because it’s not coming to you. You’ve got to go and chase it down.
You call them Keystone habits. What are they? What are some examples for people?
That leads me to 252. We don’t focus on 252 which means there are five core concepts that builds up and lays the foundation for these Keystone habits that you mentioned. In a Keystone of an art, she’s what holds the arch up and not holds up the arch, but if you focus on the Keystone, it trickles down everywhere else into your life as well. The 252 is there are four areas where you should focus, at least I believe you should focus on. We only have 24 hours in a day and we spend eight of it sleeping or more or less. What do we do with these sixteen hours? If you focus on the Keystone habits, it trickles down.
Everything else falls into place or falls out of place and it holds up your dream. It holds up your life. What we have here is the four areas are physical, mental, social and spiritual. Those four areas, if you focused on the Keystone of those areas, and then all of a sudden magic starts to take place. For example, the Keystone for physical. You can’t do everything, but you can do one thing. That is exercise. If I focus on exercising, I start to eat better. I eliminate the horrible things and I start to add the good things, but I’m focusing on exercising 30 minutes a day. That trickles and affects the rest of my life.
I think that there are a lot of people who can gain so much wisdom from what you’ve gone through and all the information you’ve put into this book, I’Mpossible: Desire, Dream, Do. A lot of people probably want to know how they can find out more. You’re a keynote speaker, you do all these things and a lot of people would like to reach you. How can they do that?
The easiest way is to go to my website at GriffinMotivation.com. If you go to the bottom of the website, there’s a shopping cart there, but if you go to GriffinMotivation.com/shop and if you use the coupon code, Love, we’ll throw out some love to your audience and give you a 50% discount on anything in there. I’ve got some battle cry bracelets that help with the direction. I’ve got the audiobook, the physical book and I’ve got a workshop that they can do. They can also contact me if they want me to come out and speak to their organizations. We change lives. I had a VP of a bank come up to me and say, “Griff, thanks for eliminating all our excuses. There’s no reason why we can’t accomplish our $400 million goal.” I’m like, “Let’s go. Let’s do it.”
Thank you so much, Griff. Which do you prefer to be called? You say your best friends call you Griff.
You can call me Griff. I feel like we’re friends now.
I feel like we’re friends now. Thank you, Griff, for being on the show and I appreciate you sharing your story.
No, I appreciate the opportunity. I hope that they were able to get the concept, to hear the passion, and to know that they too can start to weave their dreams. We’re that tapestry of dreams into color.Great questions lead to great discovery. Click To Tweet
It was so nice to have you on the show, Griff.
I like to thank both Laura and Griff for being my guests. We get so many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can go to the top, there’s the radio to listen. To find out more about Curiosity, it’s all there. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead.
- Laura Gassner Otting
- Jeff Griffin
- Mission Driven
- Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path and Live Your Best Life
- Amazon – Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path and Live Your Best Life
- Barnes & Noble – Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path and Live Your Best Life
- 800-CEO-Read – Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path and Live Your Best Life
- @HeyLGO – Laura Gassner Otting’s Twitter page
- I’Mpossible: Desire, Dream, Do
About Laura Gassner Otting
Laura Gassner Otting is the Founder and Chief Catalyzing Officer at Limitless Potential. Her 25-year resume is defined by her entrepreneurial edge. She served as a Presidential Appointee in Bill Clinton’s White House, helping shape AmeriCorps; left a leadership role at respected nonprofit search firm, Isaacson, Miller, to expand the startup ExecSearches.com; and founded and ran the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, which partnered with the full gamut of mission-driven nonprofit executives, from start-up dreamers to scaling social entrepreneurs to global philanthropists.
She is the author of Mission-Driven, a book for those moving from profit to purpose, and her latest book, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.
About Jeff Griffin
Jeff Griffin, AKA Griff, always dreamed of playing sports on the ‘big stage’! As a kid he envisioned playing college football as a receiver. He was one-step closer to fulfilling his dream when a construction accident left him broken and paralyzed from the waist down. His life and dreams were shattered but not defeated. During those darkened days, he had a decision to make; he could stay down and quit or get back up and succeed. He chose the latter.
He played in the 2004 Paralympic games in Athens Greece and is a silver medalist for the USA men’s wheelchair basketball team. Griff is a National Champion who played for the Utah Wheelin Jazz and is a 4-time All-Star MVP. He was the number one men’s wheelchair tennis player in the State of Utah, won the St. George Marathon, has two Guinness Book of World Records, and is the author of the award-winning book titled – I’Mpossible: Desire. Dream. Do.
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