Hippos and Tumors

March 9th is a special day for me. Ironically, when I think of events that transpired on that day, I’m filled with a profound sense of gratitude and peace and certainty that life is good! I say ironically because up until today, March 9th 1996 and March 9th 2005 were the two worst days of my life.

On the first one, March 9th 1996, an enraged hippopotamus tore my body and my life apart. I lost an arm whilst a colleague, Evans, lost his life. Coming out of that experience, I made a lot of bad choices and was pretty miserable – fortunately family, friends and people I’d never met cared enough not to buy into or support my victim story, choosing rather to remind me by their words and their actions that I am the sum of my choices; that I’m who, what and where I choose to be in life.

They also reminded me that as long as I was going to choose to indulge in being miserable and see myself as a victim, then my life would live up to my expectations, and stink!

My search for the meaning of life and a way in which to live it fully has led me to spend time in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. I’ve spent time superficially scratching the surface of Christianity, Buddhism, the Hebrew mystics, western philosophers, English pubs and beautiful women… always searching, looking past what was right in front of me; a simple six-step approach to life that would give me the best shot at living the life of my dreams:

  1. Stop what I’m doing (thinking, caught up in the middle of) and take time to breathe. I usually take 4 deep breaths.
  2. Look at what’s really going on (versus getting caught up in “the story”).
  3. Choose to do something that I want to do; something that will open the possibility for the best result that I can foresee occurring out of my actions in that moment.
  4. Don’t just think about it… do something… take action.
  5. Appreciate the moment… life is good!
  6. Go back to step #1 and repeat the process.

Then March 9th 2005 dawned, it was the worst day of my life to date; the day my daughter Erin celebrated her four-month birthday by having a tumor removed from her brain. The experience provided numerous opportunities for me to get caught up in the story. I took brief forays indulging in being a victim, getting angry at God, myself, my wife, life, the Doctors, Erin. It turns out that none of that really seemed to help me or anyone else much. What I did find that worked, and continues to work for me, was the simple six-step approach to life listed above. It enabled me to move forward and seemed to give me the best shot at living the life of my dreams.

As I’m constantly learning and adapting to change, I’m discovering that though life may at times seem complex, the solutions are often quite simple. I’m grateful to my teachers –  the learned men and women, accomplished philosophers, mystics, business leaders, family, friends, colleagues and everyone else whose paths I’m blessed to cross during the adventure that is my life.

Sharing what I’ve learned and what I’m learning is part of my motivation for contributing to this blog. I know I can switch on the television any time of the day or night and get my daily fix of pain and suffering.  I can get bombarded by others and my own unproductive moods of resignation, resentment and arrogance. And, I know if I were to buy into all of that stuff that I see and hear I could be excused for thinking that life stinks and that we are all doomed!

But that would be to ignore my daily experiences; my daily interactions with people who share the fundamental human experience of being champions; who, no matter how often they get knocked down, find a way to get up again… often stronger and wiser and with a greater capacity for love than they had before whatever it was that occurred in their lives. Thank you all for your continuing inspiration.

We all have our stories, our hippos, our tumors, our bad days at the office.  How we’ve responded to those experiences imprints the rich tapestry of our lives. Sometimes the way we’ve responded has worked for us, at other times it hasn’t. But, for almost everyone, there was learning to be had through these experiences.

I’ve shared these very personal experiences today and I’ll continue to share my thoughts and experiences with you and my fellow motivational speakers with whom I have the privilege to co-author this blog. I humbly, respectfully and gratefully invite you to share your personal experiences with me. I ask this of everyone and anyone who strays into our space and also knows that “life is good!” Because, it never hurts to be reminded of that!


Success simplified; lessons learned down a hippo's throat. Speaker, Author, Coach who will parachute in when traditional solutions won’t get it done.

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  1. Oh, Paul. What a blessing to have you on this blog. You may never realize just how much your story and your words of wisdom and encouragement will touch someone in their moment of need. I know it touched me. So consider my surface scratched too! :) As motivational speakers go, you’re tops. For you have the most important ingredient I think a motivational speaker should have – the desire to encourage others, and to see past your story, to theirs. Job well done my friend. My life is richer because you are in it.

  2. Paul, I just want to say thank you about a thousand times.   Seriously. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  You must tell your story. You must. There are just toooooo many people out there in the world (like me, a motivational speaker, no less) who need to be reminded of these things.  We will NEVER get it.  We will NEVER arrive.  NEVER.  We will just keep falling and getting up and moving forward and falling and getting up and moving forward – and we NEED people like you to remind us of the important stuff. 

  3. Paul – thanks so much for sharing your six-steps.  I love what you said about we all have our tumors, our hippos- isn’t that the truth!  Thanks for helping us all today – may this March be your vest March ever, filled with gratitude and joy!

  4. Paul, I am so moved by your words!  All the emotional whirlwinds that can sweep us away from our fundamental, important experiences and relationships that shape our precious lives have been set straight again for me.  Many thanks, many, many thanks!  Beautifully written. 

  5. Thank you all for your kind words and continuing inspiration. I echo Kelly’s words and sentiment… my life is richer for you all being in it.

  6. Paul, when you share, you connect. What an incredible gift for a motivational speaker! Thank you.

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