Many of you may not know this, but I spent the first 7 years after my accident in and out of hospitals with multiple surgeries including multiple life-threatening pressure sores, spinal cysts, pulmonary embolism’s, hyperthyroidism, osteoporosis, cervical cancer, infections, etc. I even spent several years in China for lifesaving spinal surgery due to a failure in the US healthcare system.

I was working as a full-time professional, but had no sense of community during these years.  I pretty much kept to myself and was mostly with my family.  In 2017, I started to see so many of my classmates from university rise to the top in their careers.  I felt as though nearly a decade of my life had passed me by and I felt defeated.  I felt unaccomplished.  I felt like I was lagging behind.  Truthfully, I felt like a failure.

What did not occur to me until a few years ago was that every single experience during those 7 years, not only shaped who I have become, but through my lived experiences of disability and the challenges I endured paved an incredible new path in my professional &  personal career. 

Of course, I did not realize this during those years, but everything we go through as human beings – especially the dark and ugly – molds us even when we cannot see the forest beyond the trees.

If I had not endured these seemingly insurmountable challenges I may not have become the fierce healthcare advocate I am today; transitioned into an incredible professional career of being a consultant in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging; a health equity advocate; mentor to the newly injured; keynote speaker; writer; Ms. Wheelchair America 2023; and more.

My darkest experiences shaped me simply by living my life.  My disability taught me how to have GRIT.  Some of the most successful people in the world may not have excelled in school, but their sheer determination, perseverance, and “never give up” attitude helped them soar to incredible heights in their own lives.

Simply having my lived experience of disability, leaving my professional skill sets aside, taught me about resilience, adapting to the unknown, course correcting my own life sometimes on a daily basis, being the most creative problem solver, and more.  Although, to be fair, the way I was raised around the globe, moving every two years of my life, living by myself in China for years as a teenager, and so many other experiences — helped prepare me for adapting to the unknown on a daily basis after my accident.

photo of Ali and wheelchair with crown and sash at National speakers Association influence conference

Specifically, I would engage in these wilderness survival trips around the world as a young teenager and into my 20s where would voluntarily kick my own ass in the most remote regions around the globe.  I would hike in 100° heat with an 80 lb.  Pack on my back and blood in my boots for months on end.  Why did I do these things?  I have no idea as I will leave that to your imagination, but I do truly believe so many of my life experiences prior to my accident shaped my personality to endure what I live every day as a C6 quadriplegic.

It can be really challenging to understand why things may be happening to you in moments of intense darkness, but I’m a believer in everything happens for a reason.  I don’t know why I broke my neck, but I do know my purpose now in life even though it took me a little bit longer to get there than I had anticipated. My purpose is to help other human beings. 

I accomplish this through individual mentor ship, pro bono advocacy work, in my professional corporate disability inclusion job, and every aspect of my life.  It’s at the core of who I am as a human being.  I believe in kindness and empathy and try to walk the walk each day of my life even when those I work with or are around me at times do not reciprocate.  What a world we would live in if everyone just took a little bit more time to put themselves in other people choose to understand a different perspective.

Where you in your journey?  What are you going through?  How are you going to use your experiences to turn that into a purpose — with an actionable plan in your personal or professional life?

I wake up each and every day by the Churchill quote “Success consists of moving from failure to failure without lack of enthusiasm.”

It’s about constancy to purpose. Keep throwing things out in the universe with consistent effort and you might be amazed at what comes back your way!

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