Sam Cawthorn is the authority in personal corporate resilience, best selling author, professional speaking coach, philanthropist and was awarded Young Australian of the year.
In October 2006 Sam’s life changed forever when he was involved in a major car accident, where he was pronounced DEAD. He was thankfully resuscitated, but left with an amputated right arm and a permanent disability in his right leg.
Sam was hospitalised for over 5 months and was told that he may not survive and best case was that if he was to survive he would never walk again. A year later he defied all odds taking his first steps into a new life, where his story would continue to INSPIRE and change the lives people all over the world.
It was Sam’s difficult journey that enabled him to develop a mental resilience and strength that gave him the tools to miraculously recover from an accident that could have taken his life. Sam’s story is simple, yet his message demonstrates the awesome power and strength found within the human spirit when faced with the choice to continue living as a victim of a tragic accident, or to make a choice to seize the opportunity of ‘life’.
Forever the opportunist Sam chose LIFE, and is now a hugely successful professional keynote speaker, reaching tens of thousands of people around the world each year. Sam is at the forefront of global trends and has the unique ability to transform impossibilities into possible realities.
A lot of people have asked me what it is like to die, given that I was pronounced dead for some three and a half minutes. They say that when you die that your entire life flashes before your eyes, that you remember every moment of your life from the first time you rode a bike to your first kiss. I guess I would say I feel ripped off, as I certainly didn’t experience that. What I did experience was a bright light, it was a brightness that I cannot describe. After a long period, this light came before me, I felt washed with this sense of peace and harmony that I had never felt in my life. Only to wake up to find myself plugged into a life support machine, I was told that the paramedics had been able to get my heart re-started and then I was on life support for a week following my accident.
I was born and raised in Tasmania, after leaving school I went to work for the Australian government as a Youth Futurist. At the age of 26 I was in the prime of my life with the wife, the kids, and a great job. As part of my job I was regularly doing quite a few kilometres in my company car which was a big V8 station wagon, I fell asleep at the wheel at around 3pm in the afternoon and veered on to the wrong side of the road, resulting in a 206km head on collision with a semi-trailer truck. It was my fault as I fell asleep at the wheel. My right arm was ripped off in the accident so I now live with an amputated right arm above the elbow as well as with a permanent disability in my right leg which no longer works, it is permanently stiff. This has obviously affected different areas of my life from being able to pick up my children with both arms through to my career options. It is quite interesting because at the time of my accident I had two kids, about a year after my accident we found out my wife was expecting another. The doctor at the time joked that although I had been pretty banged up in the accident, at least we knew something still worked.
It is interesting that we have all heard of this terminology and the concept of bouncing back, we have all heard ‘look how we have bounced back from this global financial crisis’ or ‘look at how she has bounced back from the breakup’. Throughout my entire rehabilitation, which was difficult to say the least, I never suffered from depression or felt the need for counselling as I still took the positive view that I was still alive with a purpose for being here. Many other people who have been through similar accidents or crisis are no longer here, one of the biggest lessons I have learnt has been how I can be grateful of everything that I have been gifted. I still have my head on my shoulders, I am still a good-looking guy, what can I say? I had to dig deep and by navigating through this whole transition from being a person who is full able bodied to a person now living with a disability, certainly was difficult. Someone said something to me when I was in hospital which still sticks with me to this day and which I speak about often, they said ‘Sam it is your decision, not your condition that determines who you are’. It is so true, we are all so blinded by our conditions and by what is going on around us, we forget that the greatest gift that god has ever given us is the freedom of choice. I simply decided that I would not angry or bitter about my disability.
I decided not to go back to my old job despite this being the intention during the rehabilitation, I decided to bounce forward as opposed to bouncing back, leading to the start of my new career as a professional motivational speaker. I have now spoken in 36 countries with people from the president of the USA, Richard Branson, and the Dalai Lama just to name a few. Meeting these people, we hold on pedal stools has made me realise that they are just ordinary people who have either overcome amazing obstacles or who have achieved amazing things. To start with I was speaking as a resilience expert, teaching individuals and organisations how to overcome a crisis, the concept of adversarial growth being that the most adversarial periods can lead to the greatest periods of personal growth in our lives which is why I initially joined the speaking circle.
Sharing my story
From that accident and telling my story, I went on to being Australian of the year. I have now written 6 books, one of which made the New York Times’ Top Three International Sellers of the Year. It has been about learning how to tell my story well, to master communication and to literally build a career from having a car accident.
Appreciating the little things in life
For me, I like going back to the core basics of life such as the food in my fridge, the roof over my head, the clothes on my back, the air that we breathe, the friends that we have and the money in the bank. For me these are the core basics, it is interesting when we consider that more than 50% of people in the world do not have access to these things. Then you further consider how many people have accidents similar to mine who are now no longer with us, who can’t walk or who are living with permanent mental health issues. My gratefulness comes from just being grateful for the very small things in life, I feel so grateful that I am still alive. If you look at the growing rates of depression around the world today, research now tells us it is very difficult, allowing of course for chemical imbalance, for you to be grateful and depressed at the same time. I am always looking for ways I can just say thank-you.
Caring for People
I am a firm believer in not only living my life gratefully but also looking at how I can serve humanity and people less fortunate than myself. Research tells us that 1 in 5 people in the world live with a disability, but research also shows that 80% of those disabilities are not visible, on top of that 80% of people with a disability live in developing countries. The reality is that poverty will never be history until such time that disability is addressed, not a single Millennium Goal addresses disabilities. We started a charity called Caring for People which is aimed at helping kids with disabilities in developing countries to transition from feeling helpless to finding self-worth and to being able to access an education, you can find out further information on what we do by visiting our website, caringforpeople.org.
Advice to my former self
For me the number one thing would be to spend more time with family, to spend more time with my kids.
I think that a really important habit is that of proximity because proximity is power, and what we mean by that is that you are the average of your five closest friend, it is about the company that we keep. We should always be looking at connecting with people from whom we can learn from or whom we can teach.
The other habit is always looking at the bright side of things, simply realising that each day is great. I do like my mornings rather than my late nights, I am an early riser. Normally I would wake up at 4 or 5 am, I feel that when most people are asleep that is when I can get most of my work done.
I did mention this earlier on but my favourite quote is ‘it is your decision, not your condition that determines who you are’.
I enjoy fables and one of the best fables I have read is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, it is about one man’s journey of discovery within himself as he goes on an adventure.
I am currently writing my latest book which is called Story Showing, the concept being that for too long we have been hearing of story-telling, for me it is not about telling because telling is dictatorship and there is no authentic connection inspiring from within. It is not about telling a story but story showing; an average communicator will inform, a good communicator will persuade, a great communicator will inspire and an excellent communicator will transform. However, the pinnacle of communication is transcendent communication which is like an out of body experience, in today’s world where everything really is about story it is not about now telling people things but showing them and inspiring them from within so that we can teach other people to see things from our point of view.
What we look at is the visual representation of your message, whether you are selling products or services or whether you have a message, and how you can deliver this in a very inspiring way, how can you transform an audience or a client or a customer? As we know story is one of the most powerful and traditional ways of communicating, what we want to do is really transform the whole way we look at stories and to become story showers.