Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of listening to Amy Purdy present the guest keynote at Xactly CompCloud in San Francisco. Purdy, whose legs were amputated below the knee at age 19 due to meningitis, is a world-class snowboarder and Paralympic medalist, as well as the runner-up in Season 18 of Dancing with the Stars.
It was inspirational to hear Purdy’s remarkable story – and the wisdom that she’s gained from her experience. She truly moved the audience, which gave her a standing ovation at the end of the presentation. There are many lessons to be learned for all of us from Purdy’s story, and I’d like to share a few of them here.
Create an Idea of What You Want
“If my life were a book, and I were the author, how would I want the story to go?” By asking herself that question at times in her life when she had zero control, Purdy awakened her ability to daydream. By visualizing an idea as strongly as if it were actually happening, she built a passion and fire inside herself to move it forward.
Nugget of Wisdom: By creating a strong vision of where you want to end up, you can still move forward and achieve goals despite obstacles in your way.
Circumstances Can Bring Unexpected Opportunities
The first months after losing her legs, Purdy fell into a deep depression. Her 19-year-old life had changed forever in an instant, and she couldn’t picture how to fulfill her dreams of snowboarding and traveling the world. Yet, circumstances that initially appeared to close those doors actually ended up opening them.
As the first Paralympic double-leg amputee snowboarder, she won a Bronze medal in Sochi, Russia. She’s written a best-selling book “On My Own Two Feet,” and has toured across America with Oprah Winfrey.
Nugget of Wisdom: Let go of preconceived notions of how to get to your destination and embrace the uniqueness of your own particular path.
Understand Your “Why”
Throughout all of her experiences, Purdy found: “When your why is strong enough, you can figure out the how.” Lacking ankle flexibility, most prosthetic legs aren’t conducive to snowboarding. Before Purdy, there had never been a double amputee Paralympic snowboarder. Changing these challenges into motivators let Purdy overcome obstacles and led her to her future. She never, ever gave up.
Nugget of Wisdom: Inspiration provides the why that’s needed to motivate behaviors. In the workplace, we need inspiration to keep productivity up, turnover down – and make the how more attainable.
Look for the Silver Lining
With bionic body parts, Amy can now snowboard all day without her feet ever getting cold. Prosthetic legs let her decide how tall she wants to be on any given day. With the ability to “pick the foot” to fit the shoe (rather than the shoe that fits the foot), she has a larger shoe selection in her closet.
Nugget of Wisdom: There’s always an upside. You need to remind yourself that it’s there, and look for it.
Empower Others Around You
Before Amy co-founded Adaptive Action Sports (AAS) with her husband Daniel Gale, there was no organization for the physically disabled in action sports, such as snowboarding and skateboarding. Amy envisioned empowering people with disabilities through these sports, which are intense, independent, and highly creative. Thanks to AAS, over 200 youth, young adults and wounded veterans living with physical disabilities have had action sport opportunities.
Nugget of Wisdom: Each of us has special qualities and experiences that can be used to empower those around us. By focusing on others, we strengthen ourselves. Purdy’s parents once got her a set of the most natural, human-like prosthetics available on the market – the concept being to give amputees the most “normal” leg possible. But, in her journey of letting go of the old Amy and embracing the new Amy, Purdy ultimately learned: “Why be ordinary when we have the opportunity to be extraordinary?”