Focus on what you what you can do, and not what you can’t – it’s a memorable and important maxim. And if you wonder what makes it so important, consider Bengt Elmén’s perspective …
The cerebral palsy that has been with Bengt since birth has shaped his life – for good, not bad. Rather than be limited by what it took away Bengt embraces the way it defines and refines his sense of self. Bengt’s love of learning, of people and facing up to a challenge have seen him lead a multi-million dollar organisation.
Now he is a global mentor and motivator to people who, like him, put achievement into action.
‘Survivor’ speeches have become very popular at conferences over the last few years. People who invite me to speak have often heard how previous audiences began to see things in perspective. I use humour to show how I coped with my ‘tragic fate’, explaining that it is possible to see hardships from two perspectives: positive or negative. People often leave the session finding it harder to complain about trivialities, such as the food being too cold when they go home at night. The sessions show it is possible to overcome great difficulties, rather than drown in depression.
This is a message of hope and joy-and people are forced to re-examine challenging situations in their own lives. But I have a confession to make. I am not interested in giving ‘Survivor’ speeches anymore. Why? I am more interested in giving ‘Achiever’ speeches. I love working with Achievers. Such people are prepared to take responsibility and build on what they have got. Deciding what they want to do, they then work hard to achieve their dreams. People do not define the hand of cards they are given at birth, but they do decide how to use the cards. That is what I mean by ‘Decide Your Destiny’. Whether giving keynotes or facilitating mentoring sessions, I focus on three key messages with people.
1) Take Responsibility
Achievers are prepared to take responsibility for their lives. Perhaps that is why I like working with them. As far as I know, this is the only life I have got. I met death already at birth due to lack of oxygen, but I disregarded him. I chose life. Since then death has been a reality to me. Life is short and it’s no use hiding from the fact that we all are going to die some day. Therefore I want to be in charge of my own life. I want to decide how I spend the time that has been given to me. I don’t want to leave that to anyone else. It is my responsibility and I am not ready to spoil a second. My first book in Swedish, ‘Your responsibility and Mine’, provoked quite a response. Why? Because I was urging people to do what they could do, rather than complain about what they couldn’t do. This links to my second message.
2) Build On What You Have Got
Did Stevie Wonder stop singing because of his lack of sight? What about José Feliciano, Ray Charles and Andrea Bocelli? Did Stephen Hawking shape his life based on his doctors’ early death sentences? Did Helen Keller’s difficulties stop her helping other people? Did Franklin D Roosevelt refuse to carry-out the Presidency because he suffered from Polio? If Ludwig van Beethoven had focused on what he lacked-rather than what he had – we would not have heard his Ninth Symphony and its tribute to the joy of life.
Life has taught me to build on what I have got. My physical abilities do not always reach 10/10! My walking ability is probably 3/10. But I decided to transport myself from the physical world to the mental world-so I became fascinated by people’s hopes, ideas, plans and ambitions. I manage the physical world with the help of technical aids and my personal assistants. For example, let me explain how I write. Right now that I am hitting each key on my Mac with a stick that is fastened to a band around my head. It is not the fastest way in the world, but it gives me time to think about what I want to write. (Think different!) While other authors use their hands at work, I use my head. (And heart.) So that is how you turn a limitation into a strength. That is how you build on what you have got.
And when you have chosen to concentrate on what you have got, then you also have to pick the direction of your life. This brings us to my third message.
3) Dare To Be An Achiever-But Do It Your Way.
Achievers have a special quality. They decide what they want to do-then they do it. Perhaps all of us have listened to inspiring keynote speakers who urged us to follow our dreams. But then what happens? The instant motivation begins to fade away and we return to our daily lives. If you look back at the times you have achieved, however, it is because: a) You made an inner decision to do something; b) You were prepared to work hard; c) You did it in your own way.
Pursuing your route can be affirming yet also lonely. In order to achieve greatness, you have to discover your own path. Unfortunately, greatness never can be accomplished by copying someone else-and sometimes it means paying less attention to what others think. You will find it more beneficial to listen to your own inner voice when making the most important decisions in your life. Ask yourself: “What are my inner-most aspirations? What do I really want? What do I lack in my life right now? What do I want to accomplish within this lifetime?”
Creating new rules in the world can be difficult – but fun. I like to challenge people’s traditional views of how life should be. Travelling around the world giving speeches, I found it interesting to try new ideas when I came home to Sweden. Once a taxi-driver picked me up at Stockholm airport and asked me where I had flown from. I answered: “America”. So during the rest of the journey he treated me as an honoured guest and asked lots of intelligent questions in English, which I had great fun answering. He treated me very differently than if I had been perceived as a ‘disabled Swede’ who was returning home. Reaching my front door, he was rather shocked when I ended the conversation in Swedish.
Can the future be rainbow coloured-rather than grey? Speaking to people in the business world, the best response has always been from ‘new’ business people. They are unconventional, enjoy being challenged and want to discover new ways of looking at the world. The world of grey suits and grey ties finds it harder to take the messages on-board. (I’m too odd for them. My Manchester jeans do not fit-in.) The new business achievers, however, are going beyond old preconceptions. Just like the blind, deaf or disabled people I mentioned, some are prepared to follow their hearts and do what they are here to do.
My passion is to help achievers to find their purpose, possibilities and peace in life. Why? They love freedom – the freedom to be, the freedom to create-and so do I. Sometimes we all need somebody to say: “You can do it – let’s explore how.” My work is about helping people to make that decision – then putting it into practice. Inspirational speeches can be a start, but then comes the sweat. People are more willing to do the hard work, however, if they have taken the responsibility to decide their destiny.