Alan Peterson shared his story with an audience of global women entrepreneurs at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s 2017 MyEO Women of EO Summit in Athens, Greece.
It’s the most powerful personal development question I’ve ever been asked: “What is the motive of your expression?”
In other words, what is the core reason―the why― behind the essence of how you communicate? Of the words that you use? Of your daily actions and decisions? I first realized the impact that one’s motive of expression can have on another person after a life-altering experience on 21 June 1986.
It was 120 degrees in Arizona. As we often did, my friend Eric and I were floating down the river in inner tubes with ice chests and beers. But this time we went all the way to Parker Dam.
About 100 feet before Parker Dam, there’s a thick rope with buoys and skull-and-crossbones signs: “Danger. Do Not Cross!”
To a healthy 20-year-old, that’s an invitation saying, “Come. Welcome. Cross.” Minutes later, Eric and I stood on top of the dam. I don’t remember who said what or who decided first, but we looked at each other, we looked down and then―we jumped!
What looked peaceful from above was actually ice-cold water churning in vast, powerful circles that tossed us about like ragdolls. As a trained lifeguard, I thought I could swim out of anything. Not this.
I became extremely fatigued within minutes. I saw Eric only once in the swirling water as our paths crossed. I’m sure he saw in my eyes what I saw in his: fear, and the recognition that we were in trouble. That was the last time I ever saw my friend.
Then the current pulled me to the center of the dam where I was yanked down violently.
The water turned green, then got darker. My ears popped as I neared the bottom of the dam. I was trying to get to the surface, but no matter how hard I swam, I made no progress. After a very long time, I popped up. I took the biggest gasp of air I’ve ever taken because I’d never been held underwater for so long.
Luckily for me, the dam keeper checks the water levels at 4 p.m. daily. He saw me and threw a life-ring with a thick yellow rope. Somehow, I got it around my waist. I was completely spent.
He pulled the rope as fast as he could, but I was pulled back to the center of the dam. I screamed, “Please don’t let me go down!” I knew I wouldn’t make it a second time.
Despite his efforts, I went down again. I felt the thick rope snap like kite string.
Once again I tumbled. I somersaulted. I went down. My ears popped.
But this time, it felt like I stepped out of that thrashing body. In a trancelike state, I felt peace. I had but one thought, “How can it end like this?” I had big plans to study abroad and travel the world. To start companies, create adventures, to make an impact in the world…I wasn’t done yet. I had hardly started.
Eventually, back in that thrashing body, I surfaced. Paramedics and firemen threw another rope, pulling me to safety before the violent water claimed me again.
I crawled up on the rocks asking, “Where is my friend, Eric?” I knew the answer by the look in their eyes: they never saw him.
I spent a sleepless night in the hospital. I ruminated over the following question: “How could I face Eric’s mom?” I knew I screwed up. I felt responsible and ashamed.
The next day, I went to see Eric’s mom. I remember parking on their long driveway, my friends calling out, “Alan’s here, Alan’s here.” But the calls were in my background because all I could see is Eric’s mom walking down the driveway, straight for me. I was trembling. She walked right up to me, gently put her hands on my face and softly declared, “Alan, life has great plans for you! Life has great plans for you.”
Life has great plans for you!? Where could such words come from after she just lost her son?
Do you think those words were impactful to me? They changed my world. It was a declaration. An expectation. An obligation to honor what was lost, for the rest of my life.
I’ve thought about that a lot over these past 31 years― what was the motive of her expression? She could have said a lot of impactful things―good, bad and ugly. But she chose her words carefully and with them, she changed my life.
So, please consider in your own life: What is the motive of your expression?
Are you deciding, acting and choosing your words from a place of scarcity or abundance? Are you communicating to get something―or to give something? Is your speech limiting―or are you creating limitless opportunities and aspirations for others?
Do you make mostly “I” statements―I did this, I did that―or are you compassionately curious about others? Are you thinking and listening to respond or to understand? To be right and not wrong? From the head or from the heart?
Motives of expression are either fear-driven or joy-driven. Which are yours?
To empower your words, you must identify where your words come from, change them accordingly, and then understand that you create a legacy through words, actions and decisions. What will your legacy be?
I’d like to think that if Eric were here, he would say, “Mom, was right; life has great plans for you!”
Life has great plans for you, too. So, think carefully about your thoughts.
Because thoughts become words. Words become actions.
Actions become habits.
Habits become your character.
And, your character becomes your destiny.
Empower your words. By doing so, you will empower your world.
© Alan Peterson, Joy Driven Life, 2017