To Overcome Challenges, Stop Comparing Yourself To Others: Dean Furness (Transcript)

Full text of wheelchair athlete Dean Furness’ talk titled “To Overcome Challenges, Stop Comparing Yourself To Others” at TED Talks conference. In this talk, Dean shares how, after losing the use of his legs in an accident, he discovered a powerful new mindset focused on redefining his “personal average” and getting better little by little.


Dean Furness – Wheelchair athlete

It seems we have been measured almost all of our lives. When we are infants, with our height and our weight, and as we grew it became our speed and our strength.

And even in school there are test scores, and today with our salaries and job performance. It seems as if those personal averages are almost always used to measure where we are in comparison to our peers.

And I think we should look at that a little differently. That personal average is just that, it’s something very personal and it’s for you. And I think if you focus on that and work to build that, you can really start to accomplish some really amazing things.

This idea started for me on a December evening in 2011. I had just stepped outside to do our evening chores to feed our horses. I hopped into our tractor, and a few minutes later, a five foot tall, 700-pound bale of hay fell from the loader, crushing me in the seat of the tractor and in the process shattering my T5 and T6 vertebrae.

I didn’t lose consciousness, but I felt this buzz throughout my body, and I knew what had happened right away.

My hands were reaching for my legs, but my legs didn’t recognize anything touching them. And in fact, I couldn’t feel anything from the center of my chest down.

So there I was, about 100 feet from the house, with my arms wrapped around the steering the wheel, trying to hold myself up, waiting for help.

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And unlike what you see in TV and the movies, as much as I tried to get the dogs to go to the house and get help… they just stared at me.

Well, 45 minutes later, my wife came home, and I heard her step out of the house and, like, normal, if I needed help, “Hey, do you need help?”

And I said, “Yes.”

And there was a brief pause and then I heard her yell, “Do you need 9/11 help?”

And again I yelled, “Yes.”

Well, not long after I was enjoying my very first helicopter ride all the way to the hospital. Now, the injury wasn’t very dramatic or graphic. I simply broke a bone or two.

And in the process, I was told I’d probably never walk again. It became very normal for me to use a rope to sit up in bed, because my abdominal muscles no longer work. Or to use a board to slide out of bed into a wheelchair, or to even wait for people to reach things for me.

Everything that I had learned and had known about my height and my strength and my balance and my mobility was blown away. My entire personal average had been reset.

Now you could be sure in those days I was being measured more than ever, by the doctors and nurses for sure but maybe more so in my own mind. And I found myself comparing what I thought I was going to be able to do going forward with what I once was able to do.

And I became pretty frustrated. It took some very consistent prodding from my wife, who kept saying, “Get your eyes up,” before I could get moving forward.

And I soon realized that I almost had to forget about the person I was before and the things I was able to do before. I almost had to pretend it was never me.

And I’m afraid if I had not made that realization, my frustration would have turned into something much harder to recover from.

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