“Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.” – Aldous Huxley
What if at age 46 you were burned beyond recognition in a terrible motorcycle accident and then four years later were paralyzed from the waist down in an airplane crash? Then, can you imagine yourself becoming a millionaire, a respected public speaker, a happy newlywed and successful business person? Can you see yourself going white water rafting? Sky diving? Running for political office?
W Mitchell has done all these things and more after two horrible accidents left his face a quilt of multicoloured skin grafts, his hands fingerless and his legs thin and motionless in a wheelchair.
The 16 surgeries Mitchell endured after the motorcycle accident burned more than 65 percent of his body, left him unable to pick up a fork, dial a telephone or go to the bathroom without help. But Mitchell a former Marine, never believed he was defeated” I am in charge of my own spaceship,” he said. “It’s my up, my down. I could choose to see this situation as a setback or starting point.” Six months later he was piloting a plane again.
Mitchell bought himself a Victorian home in Colorado, some real estate, a plane and a bar. Later he teamed up with two friends and co-founded a wood burning stove company that grew to be Vermont’s second largest private employer.
Then four years after the motorcycle accident, the plane Mitchell was piloting crashed back onto the runway during takeoff, crushing Mitchell’s 12 thoracic vertebra and permanently paralyzing him from the waist down. “I wondered what the hell was happening to me. What did I do to deserve this?”
Undaunted, Mitchell worked day and night to regain as much independence as possible. He was elected Mayor of Crested Butte, Colorado, to save the town from mineral mining that would ruin its beauty and environment. Mitchell later ran for Congress, turning his odd appearance into an asset with slogans such as, “Not just another pretty face.”
Despite his initially shocking looks and physical challenges, Mitchell began white water rafting, he fell in love and married, earned a master’s degree in public administration and continued flying, environmental activism and public speaking.
Mitchell’s unshakable Positive Mental Attitude has earned him appearances on the “Today Show” and “Good Morning America” as well as feature articles in Parade, Time, The New York Times and other publications.
“Before I was paralyzed, there were 10,000 things I could do,” Mitchell says. “Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left. I tell people that I have had two big bumps in my life. If I have chosen not to use them as an excuse to quit, then maybe some of the experiences you are having which are pulling you back, can be put into a new perspective. You can step back, take a wider view and have a chance to say, “Maybe that isn’t such a big deal after all.”
Remember: “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.”