Can you think of a moment when someone’s words drastically impacted your life? Maybe this moment came from a parent, a teacher, or a mentor. Maybe it came from a doctor, a coach, or a friend. For better or worse, words can have a huge impact on the way we live our lives.
They can make or break someone’s day. They have so much power and influence, much more than we often give them credit for. How you choose to use this super-power can make a profound difference in someone else’s world. I’ve learned this firsthand.
This lesson came to me on the fourth night of my unexpected ICU stay. Four days earlier, I was just a normal, athletic, 18-year-old freshman college football player—until I made a tackle that left me paralyzed from the neck down.
After emergency surgery, I was given a mere 3 percent chance of ever moving below my neck. Let me clarify, not a 3 percent chance to walk but a 3 percent chance just to move. My life had changed forever.
Sleep was nearly impossible. It was so quiet I couldn’t hide from my thoughts and fears. Most nights, I cried myself to sleep.
At 2:00 a.m. on the fourth night, I lay wide awake in the gurney.
It wasn’t just worry that kept me up; every two hours, a doctor or a nurse entered my room to make sure my vitals were in check. Typically, their interaction with me was always routine and clinical. But on this night, a physician entered the room and did something different.
She knelt down next to my bed and said, “Chris, look me in the eyes.” Thinking back on it now, I remember she was kind of mean about it.
Her voice was direct and commanding. She sounded more like a character from an old-time Western movie than the slender woman in her 60s with short red hair and glasses who knelt beside me.
Our eyes locked and she said, “My name is Georgia. I’m from Wyoming. Do you know anyone from Wyoming?”
I told her no and wondered to myself, “Where is this going?” She continued: “Well, people from Wyoming don’t tell lies. I’m here to tell you—you will beat this. You will beat this.”
She delivered these words with so much conviction, I couldn’t help but start to cry. Up to this point, I had questioned whether all the time and effort I put into my recovery would ever pay off.
Dr. Georgia didn’t say, “You CAN beat this,” She told me, “You WILL beat this.” Every part of my being believed Dr. Georgia in that moment, and instantly my faith was restored. A day later, when I started physical therapy, I heard her words echo in my head: “Chris, you will beat this!”
Day by day, I grew stronger and stronger. Dr. Georgia helped me discover just how much impact one person’s words can have.
Fast forward five weeks: Though my stay in the hospital was far from over, at this point my resolve was unshakeable. I would lie in bed dreaming about one day moving my legs and walking again. I put these dreams into action by working as hard as I could in every physical and occupational therapy session.
I decided I needed to do more, so I asked my physical and occupational therapists to write down workouts for me to do outside of my scheduled therapy time. I kept reminding myself, “Your future will take care of itself when you take care of today.” A few days later, on Thanksgiving Day of all days, with my family by my side, a miracle happened.
I wiggled my left big toe.
Just one week earlier a doctor had said I would never move my legs again. But there, at that moment, I had proved him wrong. And the big left toe was just the start. Over the next several years, I slowly gained strength throughout my legs. Eventually, I was able to walk across my graduation stage. A couple of years later, I had enough strength to walk my bride, Emily, down the aisle.
Because of those four little words—“You will beat this”—I never gave up. And five weeks later, I was able to defy my prognosis.
Do you think Dr. Georgia has any idea of the impact her words had on me? We rarely find out if what we say makes a difference, but I’m here to tell you that it does.
When we allow ourselves the realization that our words have the power to hurt or heal, we awaken within us the ability to inspire others. Because the truth is, we all have the same power Dr. Georgia has. She chose to use that power to inspire me, and because of that, my life changed forever.
Ever since I heard those inspiring words, I’ve committed myself to being a “Dr. Georgia” to everyone I meet in life. This commitment is the reason I became a motivational speaker, it’s the reason I became an author to share my story with the world, it’s the reason I started a nonprofit, and it’s the reason I committed myself to fostering and adopting children in need.
I want to challenge you today. I challenge you to be a Dr. Georgia for others. Our words have the power to hurt or to heal, and everyone is fighting a battle whether we can see it or not.
We all know someone in our lives in need of inspiration. So the next time you interact with them, try replacing a passive statement of “You can beat this” with an emphatic one like “You WILL beat this!”
Not only will you energize and inspire others, you’ll feel energized and inspired in your own life. We all have the power to change lives. The only thing left to do is to use it.
Chris Norton was given a 3 percent chance to ever move again but has defied the odds. He is a motivational speaker, author, philanthropist, father of 7, and is featured in the documentary 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story.