When I launched lifemeanswhat.com, the idea was to "crowdsource the meaning of life" by producing short films and videos on a diverse array of subjects which would entertain, inspire, and hopefully motivate reflection on the questions of why we're here and what we're doing with the gift of life.
Anybody and everybody could be a viable subject for our films, as each of us has a particular set of life experiences which makes our perspective on the subject equally as valuable as anyone else's. Indeed, some of the most interesting pieces we've done are man-on-the-street interviews where we've juxtaposed one person's thoughts to another's in quick succession to display wide-ranging disparities or unlikely convergences .
The notion for the site was that we would survey both ordinary people and extraordinary people. Of course, this raises the question of what distinguishes between the two. Aren't we all ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others? Surely every one of us has something exceptional about us, even if it is latent or unbeknownst to us and unintentionally hidden away.
Yet most of us occupy a median range on the spectrum of normalcy. We each have our challengesand our blessings, but most of us are neither so gifted nor so blighted as to render us outwardly remarkable one way or another. Or at least that's what most of us seem to believe.
Our newest piece is a profile of Chris Waddell, a man who has faced extraordinary circumstances and who seems to have discovered through them that we all have the capacity to accomplish far more than we may have thought. Chris was a competitive college skier when he suffered an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. But he refused to let this stop him. He soon became the most decorated paralympic skier in history, then climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with only the strength of his arms, amongst other astounding accomplishments.
Each of us faces challenges every day, some great, some small. And the reality of life is that the challenges continue; even as one ends, the next seems to be waiting imminently in its wake. The question that Chris poses is how we will choose to face them. "It's not what happens to you," Chris reminds us in his humble but empowering way, "it's what you do with what happens to you."
Certainly this guidance is more convincing coming from someone who has encountered and overcome enormous challenges, but it is not relevant only to those on the peripheries of the "ordinary" spectrum. Rather this is an invitation to all of us, a call to action to pick ourselves up from our positions of normalcy and attempt to accomplish things that we doubt we can or fear we can't.
Chris was 'ordinary' only before he decided to be extraordinary. It may be true that life gave him a bit of a nudge in that direction (indeed he admits that he views his injury as a gift because without it he never would have been the best in the world at anything ), but his message for the rest of us is that we need not wait for something to happen to us, and that we have the strength and wherewithal to deal with whatever does.
Our interview with Chris left us humbled and inspired. Check it out here and see if it doesn't make you want to conquer all of your fears and hesitations, be extraordinary, and go figure out the meaning of life yourself: