Four Steps to Greatness

Have you ever felt like giving up?

I mean, really give up! Are you are ready to give up on your marriage, dreams and/or life itself?

I have been there. I’ve felt the despair, failure and helplessness and the feeling of being all alone.

Those kinds of thoughts result when we believe the lies told to us. Lies like, “I’m not good enough,” “no one really loves me,” “I have nothing to offer,” and “I’m no good and I’ll always be a failure.” Because I’ve been there I want to share with you a story of survival and accomplishment.

I was in Gold’s Gym one morning in 2002 when an attractive, petite, 5-foot-tall stranger, about my daughter’s age, strolled by. New to the gym but with a loOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAok of experience, she was dressed for a workout at about 5:30 AM – pretty noteworthy in itself.

She bore a raised, rectangular scar on her thigh: the telltale mark of a skin graft. I was struck by her determined and self-assured body language as she walked past me – even though she wore a support on her left knee and a brace on a scarred and shriveled left arm and hand.

Over the course of the next few months, I watched her with interest. She was always upbeat, and always had something encouraging to say to others. I was very impressed by her tenacious workout: she was relentless in spite of her weaker left arm and hand.

I was even more impressed that she seemed unaware that she might have any kind of limiting physical condition. Her attitude and demeanor were especially memorable because this is a place where many young women are concerned more with their makeup than cardio.

A few weeks after I first saw her, when she and I were doing weight training, I was granted permission to ask a personal question. I asked about her arm and hand. She answered directly and honestly, and she has been my hero ever since.

* * *

Shannon Bart, my co-author and collaborator in a forthcoming book, is truly an amazing woman. Not only has she overcome challenges that would have stopped lesser people, she has excelled in spite of them.Success Puzzle Image

She’s been an inspiration and source of encouragement to many people. Her experiences, her education, her achievements and her remarkable perspective on life make her uniquely qualified to contribute to this book and take the role of your coach and mentor. I think she will become your hero, too.

Here’s her story:
Shannon was physically active in her youth. A talented gymnast, she pushed herself to compete and succeed, and as a freshman was a member of at Arizona State University’s gymnastics team.

Unfortunately, during a practice she tore her anterior cruciate ligament. It was an injury that required surgery and marked the end of her gymnastics career. A hospital stay was followed by six weeks on crutches and in physical therapy. Although this could have been devastating, Shannon wasn’t discouraged: she pressed on.

By the fall of 1997, Shannon was married and pregnant with her first child. But in October, 26 weeks into her pregnancy, she went into preterm labor for no apparent reason. Her doctor ordered strict best rest and tried to determine the nature of her condition.

Within a month, she’d been flown to the High Risk Pregnancy division of Columbia-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, where her labor continued, her doctor still unable to uncover the underlying cause. Eventually, it was discovered that Shannon had a degenerative kidney disease. She would need a kidney transplant sometime within the next five years.

“Can I have more children?” she asked. Shannon and her husband, Sean, had talked about having three. “Maybe after you have a transplant,” was the Doctor’s bleak prognosis.

During the remainder of Shannon’s pregnancy, she had to endure eleven weeks of steroid injections, strict bed rest, 2 amniocenteses, medication every ninety minutes and continual home monitoring.

When that – and thirty hours of labor – was over, she delivered, by emergency c-section, a three-pound, ten-ounce baby boy: Hunter. The little guy’s heart stopped beating in the delivery room.

question markThankfully, he was resuscitated, but he had to stay in the hospital an additional four weeks. Hunter has grown into an energetic boy who wants to build houses, like his dad, and the top speller in his class.

This sounds like a great success story already, doesn’t it? But we’re not through.

A mere six months later, Shannon’s life, and that of her family, went spinning out of control.

Shannon, Sean and Hunter were on a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to visit her mother. One morning, at about 5 A.M., Sean swerved their SUV to avoid a collision with a construction vehicle. Their SUV flipped over.

As the car rolled, Shannon’s left arm and hand were thrust through the broken sun roof and skidded down the pavement beneath the overturned car. By the time the SUV landed upright her arm and hand had been crushed and stripped of flesh, muscle and sinew.

Sean pulled Shannon and Hunter from the car. He applied a tourniquet to her arm to stop the bleeding and flagged down a truck driver to call for help.

Shannon will always wear the scars of that accident. She has no idea how the surgeons put her arm back together: she calls it a medical and scientific marvel.

She remembers asking the emergency room doctor, “…are you going to give me something for the pain?” There was no pain yet, but she was sure there was going to be some very soon.

Healing came slowly: she endured another two weeks in an Albuquerque hospital and seven more weeks in Albuquerque, healing. It took twelve months to return to a “normal” home lifestyle. With the help of Sean and family members, progress inched along at a snail’s pace.

Even after four surgeries, a skin graft, a muscle graft and a series of “cleaning outs,” Shannon is missing about 3 inches of bone in her left arm. She is also missing nerve function and sensation, and she carries with her, wherever she goes, a metal plate and screws.

Instead of becoming bitter, or getting angry at God or the world about the misfortunes that have befallen her, Shannon has remained positive and grateful for what she does have: a family and friends who were always there for her.

Much to her credit and never-say-die attitude, she completed her Masters Degree in Psychology while going through the horrors of rebuilding an arm.

“I love my arm,” she tells me. “Even after the fourth surgery the physician was not sure I would keep it. If the graft had failed,” she continues, “he would have had to amputate it. It is a daily reminder to me of how blessed I am to be alive. I have the opportunity to share my life with Sean and raise my son and grow old. My scars are a testament to who I am.”

Shannon is my hero. Here’s one reason: she didn’t flinch when life threw her a curve ball. She isn’t bashful or ashamed of those scars. She Building a Wallwants people to ask about them. She loves giving positive insight to people who need it.

Does she want to revisit the challenge? Here’s what she said: “I don’t particularly want to do it again, but if God gave me the opportunity to do it all over without the accident I would tell him, ‘no, thanks'”. Since the accident, Shannon is a different person. I think she became a better one.

Eventually the Barts moved to Bend, Oregon, Shannon’s home town, and found a new nephrologists. The first year back in Bend, she had five kidney infections. She underwent surgery, which seemed successful but five years later, her kidney began to fail.

More labs tests, medications and doctor appointments came next. She had to consider dialysis and a kidney transplant. Shannon made the decision not to go on dialysis. She knew she had a health problem, but she never conceded she was sick – even when she was very ill. And, she didn’t want to leave her son with memories of Mom in dialysis.

A seasoned surgery veteran, Shannon chose to have a kidney transplant before she needed dialysis. One day she told me, quite off the cuff, “Don, you won’t see me for a few weeks. I’m going to Portland for a transplant.” I didn’t even know she had a problem, let alone know a serious one.

She described her choice to have surgery this way: “It’s like you are walking down a train track, in a tunnel, in the wrong direction, and there’s no way to get off. You know the train is going to hit you, you just don’t know when.”

The search began for a matching donor. Shannon found one in her own home: it was great friend who happened to be living with Shannon and Sean. The three of them went to a Portland, Oregon transplant clinic. They spent five days in the hospital and an additional four weeks in recovery in a spacious hotel room nearby.

Shannon’s mother was there to care for Shannon and Jeramie. Shannon told me, “The whole thing would not have been such a blessed experience without all my family who visited, prayed, and supported us.”

She calls this life threatening experience a “blessed experience.”

Many people I know might have found another way to describe it – and not in such positive terms. But this is one facet of Shannon that has earned her a place in my heart, and another reason she’s my hero.

In spite of the obstacles and challenges, she faces life and people positively with her chin up, treating life like a treasure hunt.

smilesShe writes, “My recovery was an amazing experience. I felt healthy within 24 hours of the surgery. My labs were normal for the first time in almost ten years. I had no complications, no infection, no rejection and a month off with no responsibility except to sleep, eat, read and be well. I made a concerted effort to enjoy every minute of it and remember how happy I was. I have continued to enjoy great health and daily gratitude for being alive. I am a big proponent for living donor transplants and getting that transplant before people are at death’s door.”

And, characteristic of Shannon, she feels very strongly that the story is not as much about her as it is about the people in her life who helped her through all her trials. She takes the spotlight off herself and places it on others. She believes this is their story. “It was easier,” she wrote to me, “to be the patient than to be the ones in the hospital waiting room. I wouldn’t have traded spots with them for anything in the world.”

She has tremendous respect and love for her husband, Sean. She recently confided to me, “… my husband, Sean, has never wavered in his love or support. I am not the woman he married. I have changed physically and personally and he has never looked at me differently than the day we got married. Okay, maybe differently – but not in a lesser fashion. He is my hero for so many reasons”.

This wonderful, beautiful woman I’ve described to you is truly in a unique position to serve as your role model. It’s my hope that you can get a new positive picture of what life can be.

If you think you there’s nothing to live for, think again. If you think God has turned His back on you, He hasn’t. If you believe you’ve nothing for which to live, you’re wrong.

God has a plan for your life. A good plan, too. But as long as you’re focused on your own “problems” you won’t be able to see what that plan is and enjoy the life God has for you. Here’s what I want you to do:

Tom-Sales-Numbers1Step One: Whenever you are at your “rope’s end,” think on the good things. Even when life seems bleak there’s always some good on which you can identify.

Tom-Sales-Numbers2Step Two: When you don’t know what else to do, focus on others. One of the basic flaws in our psychological culture is its focus and obsession with “self.” Here’s the truth: if you can learn to be concerned with the needs of others, you won’t have the time or energy to think about your own “problems.”

Tom-Sales-Numbers3Step Three: If you come face to face with despair, learn to give. After you’ve leaned to focus on the need of others, learn how to give to others. Freely give your time, money and services to good causes.

Tom-Sales-Numbers4Step Four: Take personal responsibility for your actions. If you blame others for your position is life, those whom you blame are controlling you and you cannot move forward. If you’ve made bad choices, say so and break the vicious cycle and go on to greatness. It is your choice.


Regardless of where you are in life, or the challenges you face, there are millions of people who would trade places with you. Shannon has success 4faced many more obstacles than you or I will ever have to face. Let her be your hero and role model. If she can prosper in spite of her challenges (or “opportunities” as she would describe them), so can you.

It is now up to you. The only question that remains is, will you become an achiever? You can! Will you? My challenge to you is to go for it!

Live life to the fullest and don’t believe the lies, only believe the truth: You are bright enough, smart enough, good looking enough, and all the other positive words you can imagine.

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