When the pandemic last year created shutdowns across the world, Chad Hymas was in shock and awe. As an award-winning speaker and coach, Hymas had a busy traveling schedule and, for him, the pandemic was like “a tidal wave, knocking me off the map.” Everything came to a halt.
But his team got creative and soon set up a studio where he could give live-streamed talks. Hymas is a great proponent of adapting to change, and the team’s quick work was necessary. All of a sudden, people were asking Hymas to talk exactly about change, and how to adapt.
“I’m not an expert on the pandemic,” Hymas said, “But with my loss, paralysis in 95 percent of my body and still being able to travel alone, that’s given me a little bit of credibility to talk about something like this.”
At age 27, Hymas was married and had two young boys with his high school sweetheart, ran a successful landscaping business, and had realized his dream of becoming a rancher. Then, in 2001, there was a tractor accident; Hymas was crushed under a one-ton bale of hay. He broke his neck. He was pronounced paralyzed from the chest down, with feeling in his shoulders that gives him limited use of his arms and hands.
He lost his body that day, he said, along with his confidence, self-esteem, and livelihood. He couldn’t do the work he was doing any longer without the use of his limbs. He couldn’t even take care of himself, and he had his wife and two young children depending on him. As Hymas said, he would soon realize how much he depended on them as well, and had all along. Thoughts of them kept him going when he was struggling to breathe, waiting for help as he was crushed under 2,000 pounds of hay.
Hymas pressed forward. He turned his loss into a gain, becoming an award-winning wheelchair athlete and setting a record by wheeling 513 miles from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas in 2003. He became the youngest speaker inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame of the National Speakers Association, among other accolades. The Wall Street Journal declared him one of the top 10 most inspirational people in the world.
“I have a friend named Willie Jolley who has a thing about setbacks,” Hymas said, referring to the well-known inspirational speaker. “A setback is a setup for a comeback. I don’t look at the pandemic as something that’s preventing us from personal growth. If anything, it’s condoning it and helping us grow.
“I do think this pandemic’s an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to focus, to re-evaluate, re-energize, re-focus, and be more diverse and creative in maybe the way we approach business, or relationships.”
An Entrepreneurial View of Personal Growth
After Hymas’s accident, he didn’t immediately view his changed situation as an opportunity. Few would. It was his father who asked him, while he was still in the hospital, why he couldn’t still work on being a better person regardless of his circumstances.
Hymas didn’t want to listen at first; he grieved and went through a period of dark thoughts. But eventually, he realized that his dad was right and that he needed to move in that direction.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur and interested in growth that way,” Hymas said.
“I had to provide for my family: What was I going to do to take care of the financial obligations that a family has and raising a family? What can somebody do with no legs and no hands?” he said.
He took to watching and following role models for various areas in his life, such as making friends with couples who had very successful marriages.
“I’ve taken that and tried to use that to the best of my ability and move forward,” Hymas said.
“I only have 5 percent of my body. If I focus on what I’ve lost, 95 percent of my body, I’d be miserable. I’m unhappy, unproductive, and unsuccessful, and things just don’t go the way I would like them to go. But if I focus on what I have, more comes to me in the process.
“I don’t get more feeling back, but I’m more productive. I’m more productive in the office, I study more, I read more, I communicate with people more, and I talk more. I think that is a huge benefit to dealing with the loss, to focus on what you still have. And you honor that loss by the way you go on.”
Loss has been a theme for many people during this pandemic—including, for many, the very painful loss of loved ones, Hymas acknowledged—but loss shouldn’t be the only thing we focus on.
“We can blame and we can grieve, and those are natural feelings that we have, but I think we honor that loss by the way that we live our life, whether we bolster ourselves up and try to be stronger, and to put our focus and to channel that loss and our feelings toward that loss in the right direction [and] if we can use that to better the lives of people,” Hymas said.
A crucial step in the grieving process is to find meaning, and it often doesn’t come until many other stages have played out.
“I’ve never really gained much until I really lost everything. I mean I’ve lost everything more than once in my lifetime, and it created one of those opportunities,” Hymas said.
“You honor those losses by the way you face the pandemic, by the way your attitude is toward the crisis.”
The Right Questions
When we’re stuck in those painful situations, we want an answer that will help us get out of it. Hymas says a lot of people don’t find those answers because they start by asking the wrong questions.
“Instead of asking, ‘Why? Why’s this happening to me?’ ask when, where, how,” he said. “What can I do? When can I start? How can I make this possible?”
Hymas is one of the only quadriplegics who regularly travel alone, and he says it’s because he asked those questions: How can he travel alone? Who can he contact to help him achieve this?
“I think a lot of answers that we get when we’re faced with challenges come from basically how we ask the question, and when you start the question with ‘why,’ very seldom do you find the answer that you’re looking for in order to make yourself productive,” he said.
“Those people that don’t hear the message of the pain, it’s going to be more painful for them.
Hymas added that one thing he realized in the upheaval of 2020 was due not to the virus, but rather to what he calls the political pandemic. People all have their own belief systems, and efforts to redeem or reject or interject into others’ belief systems don’t often result in positive outcomes, he mused.
“I still need to be open to adapt and change,” he said.
As an individual, what he can focus on is himself, and his beliefs and choices. He can vote but it doesn’t mean he can control what happens on Capitol Hill. He can get into a discussion on social media and add to the rhetoric, but he won’t feel good about himself in the long run because of that.
“I think a lot of people can take a hard look at that,” he said. He’s seen political beliefs rip apart even very loving and close-knit families. “They can’t fathom that you’d vote for somebody that has this belief; whatever the excuse, they can’t believe it, so they cut off all ties.
“It really destroys whole families at a time when families should be coming together and holding true to family values rather than letting something like this come between us.”
Hymas grew up helping out on his uncle’s farm, and that inspired his dream of becoming a rancher and guiding elk.
“I’ve always wanted to be a guide; I just thought it would be in the form of the outdoors and hunting. [I’ve] found that I don’t have to be dressed in camouflage or carry a rifle to be a guide,” he said. “I do need to carry my binoculars though, so I can change my vision and perspective constantly.’
Perspective is king, Hymas stressed. He realized, after his accident, that he could still guide people, by helping them to better themselves. It was a definition so far beyond his initial dream that he realized he had been dreaming too small.
“Being a guide on 600 acres, it’s a big piece of ground; it’s a lot of work,” he said. “In my wheelchair, I’ve been able to touch more ground than most people’s feet, and speak in 89 countries. So that’s a bigger piece of ground.
“Sometimes I think we get caught up in thinking too small. … Bottom line is, there are several right answers to solve a given problem. It just takes some binoculars and a wide lens for us to broaden our bandwidth and how we see things, so we can still accomplish the goals in even a broader perspective than we had dreamed of at the beginning.
“Don’t limit yourself based on your vision at the beginning.”