The Book on Your Limitations

“If your life were a book, and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?” Amy Purdy begins her TED Talk, Life Beyond Limits, with this penetrating question, and it’s central to her empowering message. I love the question because it captures the core of Eyes Wide Open life and leadership—recognizing that in every moment, you choose who you are and how you want to live your life. Purdy embodies this elemental truth.

She grew up in the heat of the Las Vegas desert, yearning for adventure in colder climates, and at age 19, she set out to find it, leaving home the day after her high school graduation. Purdy was well on her way, traveling and snowboarding with great passion, when her life took a detour: a bacterial meningitis infection landed her on life support in an Intensive Care Unit, with a 2% chance of survival.

Purdy beat the odds and the infection, but she left the hospital “pieced back together” like “a patchwork doll.” She lost multiple organs and both of her legs. What next? That’s the story Purdy shares with us in her Talk.

Purdy chose to take control of her reality. She recognized that the extent of her potential lay in her mind, not her limbs. She realized that if she could overcome her loss and her fears, and commit fiercely to the belief that her dreams were within reach, she would make it so—she would bring them within reach. She chose to see her life Eyes Wide Open, a life without limits. It’s an inspiring view.

Purdy explains that innovation becomes possible when we confront boundaries. Obstacles inspire imagination, often enabling us to travel even further than we intended. We thrive not by breaking down our borders, but by pushing off of them, co-opting our limitations, surmounting them to achieve our potential. Purdy saw this all clearly, and she chose to live it.

Her perspective resonates deeply with mine. As losing my sight gave me eyes-wide-open vision, Purdy credits her illness for igniting her imagination. Like I see blindness, Purdy views the loss of her legs as a blessing. Like me, she views her disability as a gift that has enabled her to thrive.

Purdy’s Talk is intensely personal and moving. She shares the magnitude of her loss, the pain of her struggle, and the disciplined optimism of her philosophy. For example, she describes her frustrations with her first prosthetics, her determination to discover the potential advantages of the devices, and her work to design and produce the legs that would carry her to her success. There’s humor and humility in her Talk.

And triumph. Four months after losing her legs, Purdy was back on her snowboard. She went on to win three back-to-back World Cup gold medals in snowboard cross, and to become the top-ranked para-snowboarder in the U.S. In addition to snowboarding, Purdy is an author, actress, and model, and she has been a contestant on both ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and CBS’s The Amazing Race. She also founded Adaptive Action Sports, a non-profit organization that helps youth and injured veterans with disabilities pursue their interests in adaptive snowboarding and skateboarding. In every sense of the phrase, Purdy lives life without limits.

What do you think? What’s your favorite TED Talk? Join the discussion and let me know. I want to hear from you!

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