Let me ask you a question – what was your favourite movie or television series as a child? Personally, I loved superhero films and television series such as Airwolf, the Greatest American Hero and Knight Rider. I dreamed that one day I might own a self-driving car and talk to my watch… and as the owner of a Tesla Model S and an Apple Watch, I guess I’m sort of there…
Ask me to pick an overall favourite movie and I would choose Superman II. Christopher Reeve’s man of steel was somewhat of an icon to me. I wanted to be him. And I confess to you now that I have an autographed photo of him on the wall in my home office. Another confession – I even enjoyed Superman III (don’t ask me about the hodgepodge that was Superman IV).
It may not surprise you to learn that I haven’t stumbled upon any superpowers of my own yet – unless you count exaggeration (which I can categorically state I’m 100 million times better at than you!). That said, I can’t completely dismiss the idea that I have a superpower. Afterall, they say you can’t prove a negative! I sometimes wonder if it’s just that I haven’t yet discovered mine.
Perhaps some of us never do. Let’s say your superpower is something really innocuous, like the ability to stick a post-it-note to a camel in a rainstorm. How would you ever know!? And then one day you find yourself in the middle of nowhere with only a camel for company and you need to get an urgent message to a nearby village. As you start searching your pockets for an old post-it-note and pen, it starts to rain…
Jokes and stationery essentials aside…
A common theme running through all the movies and tv programmes I have mentioned in my article is one of making a positive impact on others.
I grew up wanting to make a difference – and that’s something that continues to drive me. I’ve come to appreciate that we can all make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the world in which we live – we don’t need to possess superpowers to do it.
Man of steel
I have very fond memories of watching Christopher Reeve’s Superman films in my childhood. And I believe a definite parallel exists that having portrayed the Superman character on screen as an actor, he went on to become a real-life Superman following his tragic accident in 1994. I remember feeling genuine sorrow when, as a fifteen-year-old boy, I heard about his accident on the news. And that feeling was echoed ever more deeply when I heard of his sad passing in 2005.
What I wasn’t fully aware of until now is just how much of a positive influence Christopher Reeve had in the eleven years between his accident and death…
Nothing is impossible
In 1994, Reeve was taking part in an equestrian competition. As his horse prepared to jump the third fence, it made a sudden refusal, projecting Reeve forward off the horse and onto the ground; snapping his neck and shattering the first and second vertebrae in his spine.
Although Doctors skillfully and successfully operated to reconnect Reeve’s skull to his spine, he was left paralysed from the neck down and was put on a ventilator – something he would remain on for the rest of his life. Despite initially contemplating suicide, having awoken to discover he was a vent-dependent quadriplegic, Reeve set out on a determined new path – one that would make an enormous impact. Supported by his wife Dana and his family and friends, not only did he set himself a goal to walk again, but he also continued to direct films, act and, importantly, become a spearhead and spokesman for research into treating spinal cord injuries.
As well as being elected Chairman of the American Paralysis Association and Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability, Reeve also co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Centre. This is now regarded as a leading spinal cord research centre. In addition to this, he founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation (now the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation) to fund research. To-date the foundation has helped generate more than $22m in quality-of-life grants and $138m for research, leading to new developments in technology that have helped paralyzed patients walk again.
In 2006 the Reeve-Irvine Research Centre said, “in the years following his injury, Christopher did more to promote research on spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders than any other person before or since.”
And although he wasn’t quite able to achieve his personal goal of walking again, Reeve’s steely determination and hard work to maintain fitness and muscle health meant that he confounded specialists by regaining some motor function and recovering movement in his fingers and legs. I find myself wondering just how far along his recovery would have reached today, had a reaction to an antibiotic not robbed him of his life.
“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”
– Christopher Reeve
Keep on making a difference
And so for me, Christopher Reeve will always be an icon and an inspiration. He was a man of steel; inner steel. He sets an incredible example of the fact that sometimes life throws us a massive kryptonite curveball we’re not expecting. It’s then up to us to decide what to do next.
And it goes to show that the opportunity to make a difference to the world we live in never fully disappears, it simply changes.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a Swedish maverick footballer and self-proclaimed ‘living legend’. An exceptionally gifted sportsman, Zlatan is now in the twilight of his career, having played for some of the world’s biggest clubs. Throughout his footballing life, Zlatan’s incredible talent has always been backed by an unflinching self-belief. Indeed, some people might have suggested that when he signed for Man Utd in 2016, his new club consider widening the dressing room door to accommodate his head.
It isn’t his successes, talent or immense earnings that I want to focus on today though, but an excerpt from his memoir, ‘I Am Zlatan.’ As his football career began taking off, Zlatan bought his dream house for $3.5m and began renovating it…
“On the red feature wall in the foyer, I hung a big picture of two dirty feet. When my friends came by, they were all like, ‘Awesome, wicked, cool place you’ve got here. But what are these disgusting feet doing here? How can you have this shit on your wall?'”
“You idiots,” Zlatan said. “Those feet have paid for all of this.”
Why I like this story
I particularly like this anecdote because it symbolises something important. No matter what you achieve in life or how successful you are, it’s important to take time to appreciate where you’ve come from and how you’ve got to where you are. By doing so, you can keep a perspective on life and enjoy your achievements more.
“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Sometimes its easy to get carried away with the pace of life and be constantly looking forward to the next part of your journey. I’m guilty of this myself and I’ve learned to appreciate that with my success I’ve also had a lot of good fortune, which I’m very grateful for.
I believe we shouldn’t wait until we’ve retired (or have one foot in the grave) to look back on what we’ve achieved. And perhaps if we all learn to appreciate ourselves more throughout our lives, we’ll become a society that requires less validation and recognition from other people. Pat yourself on the back… just don’t become a big head (else you’ll need to widen your own front door).
Born in November 1891, William Harold Coltman was enlisted into the British Army in the First World War in 1915. As a conscientious objector, William’s religious beliefs prevented him from taking up arms. Still keen to help, he became a stretcher-bearer, performing incredible feats of bravery as he charged alone and unarmed into the path of enemy fire; tending to wounded comrades and carrying them back to safety (on his own back).
William was awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy – and became the most decorated enlisted man of the First World War.
William’s awarding of the Victoria Cross was published on page 308 of The London Gazette on 3 January 1919.
Become a leader
I love this story because it demonstrates that we all have the ability to become a leader and make a positive impact on the lives of other people – no matter what our position, ability or beliefs. At times we may feel like we don’t have the most important job in the world, but opportunities to make a difference are around every turn and it’s all about how we act upon those opportunities that shapes who we become.
Embrace your inner hero
I believe that making a positive impact on someone’s life is the most rewarding thing you can do. Our world is full of chances to do just that, on all sorts of levels. Try volunteering, donate to a charity, or even buy a homeless person a sandwich. Believe me when I tell you that random acts of kindness, of whatever size, can be incredibly fulfilling. Your reward will be in the form of a greater sense of being – you feel alive. It’s a win-win.
We live in a fast-paced world where people feel increasingly fractured and segmented from society as a whole – often looking for validation and recognition from social media to fill the void. Making even a small difference to the life of another person helps create a connection back to the world – you’ve created something and made a difference. We don’t all need to be looking to have the impact that William had, nor will we have the opportunity to do so, but there are many ways to find and release your inner hero.
William’s story is as inspiring today as it was a century ago. No matter what our views, we can all aspire to make a difference in both our work and personal lives.