Life is not all sunshine and rainbow.
There are good days and there are bad days. We can get to a pinnacle point of our life but all of that can be taken away from us in a heart-beat.
If ups and downs and suffering happen to everyone, then how come some people can overcome extreme adversities which seem deep and dark, while some get frustrated with petty little things that are light and shallow like getting stuck in traffic? According to Michael Crossland, our pain and suffering in life is not so different. What’s different is our solution, our tools in our toolbox.
When Michael agreed to come on my podcast and chat, I was thrilled. I have watched his talk many times, I can cite many of his quotes. He’s been knocked down, not once, not twice but many times in life since he was 11 months old. Hearing his voice as he narrates his personal stories, struggles and how he had almost given up is extremely inspiring.
At the age of 11 months, Michael was diagnosed with an incurable cancer in his central nervous system (CNS) called Neuroblastoma Stage 4. Our central nervous system consists of our brain and our spinal cord, it controls most functions of our body and mind.
The doctor told his family to go home and spend time with the little boy because the cancer had a 96% death rate. Michael, according to the medical advice given, was destined to be home-bound, he would not go to school, he would never play sport and, if he reached teenage years it’d be a miracle. Their glass was 96% empty as they were told.
His mother decided to believe otherwise. She was only interested in the chance of her son surviving. She chose to grab hold of the 4% hope, being glass half-full. The journey was not easy for her and for little Michael.
After more than five-a-half years of chemotherapy, it didn’t do the job and Michael was still ill. They agreed to put Michael on a new experimental drug in 1998. After three months, the new drug killed 24 out of 25 children. All the children including Michael were moved to the burns unit, covered with blisters from head to toes.
Michael spent most of his upbringing going in and out of hospitals for medical treatments and chemotherapy. All he ever wanted as a child, was to live a normal life like his peers.
When I asked Michael how he did it, Michael humbly credits his mother and calls her his rock.
I am one of the lucky ones not because I am still alive. I am lucky because of my mother’s unwavering commitment.
His dear mother, had to go to death counselling once a week.
- Can you imagine the pain and stress going to death counseling for your loved one week after week, and for years?
- Seeing and feeling all the physical and emotional pain you child is going through? And
- not knowing whether you will be able to see them again tomorrow when you go to sleep at night?
“Everything will be okay son”, she often says to motivate little Michael. This has become Michael’s personal mantra which has helped him go through many ups and downs later in life.
After many years of treatment, he survived from Neuroblastoma. He started making friends at school and playing a sport that he loves, baseball. He started to feel like a normal kid and then at the age of 12, he got his first heart-attack. He was told he would never be able to play sport again.
As a very young boy, Michael learned no one’s ever going to tell you what you can do they will only tell you what you can’t. It’s our choice whether we want to listen. He decided to believe in himself.
Within two years, he made it to the Australian baseball team under 16. He flew to America to play baseball and signed a scholarship to go to college.
But as you all know, life is much like a roller-coaster. We can get to a pinnacle point of our life and all that can be taken away from us in a heartbeat.
And for Michael, it did.
He slid into a base playing baseball and woke up three days later. His heart could no longer compete and his health rapidly deteriorated. Feeling disappointed, he was sent back to Australia as their family could no longer afford the treatment financially.
Michael never had a plan B nor does he believe in having a contingency plan. He believes in giving everything he can to plan A. And if plan A doesn’t work, he’ll come up with another plan A.
Michael then went into banking. He worked his way up and became one of the youngest senior executives very quickly. At the age of 23, he reported directly to the CEO, looked after 600 staff with 20 banks around Australia and New Zealand. He created what he thought was success. But one thing that was missing for him was happiness. And he was so far away from being happy.
In 2010, Michael got bacterial meningitis. He had fluids in his brain, he suffered from bell’s palsy, a medical condition which causes facial paralysis and he had to learn how to walk again and talk again. He was battling both physically and emotionally, to a point that he didn’t want to fight anymore. He recalled his wife would come to the hospital hug him, kiss him, and say I love you every night. And Michael would wait for her to leave the room before he said, I love you and goodbye.
During those dark times, Michael pivoted and walked away from the corporate world. He started to serve and give back. He got into speaking and became a humanitarian.
We must give without remembering and we must receive without forgetting.
Michael created Frontier Projects where the beneficiaries receive every cent that gets sent to support child sponsorship and sustainable solutions. Their manifesto is to be the voice for the voiceless. To enable and empower every child with the fundamental right to live a life free of exploitation, free from trafficking and abuse, to receive education, drink clean water and eat every day. After Michael was told he would never be able to have kids, his wife and him built a massive home for children, an orphanage in a remote village in Haiti and a school shortly after that.
In 2016, Michael’s world came crashing down again after they found four more tumors in his throat. They removed three out of the four but the fourth one is wrapped around his vocal cord.
One thing that he realizes living through many ups and downs in life is that, the quality of our life is not determined by the number of days we have on this earth. The quality of our life is about how many things we can fit into those days to live a remarkable life.
With all the challenges Michael had to face since a young little boy, the obstacles only motivated him to strive for better and to live a normal life like others. There are many things which we enjoy each and every day, the ability to see things, the ability to smile, the ability to breathe, the ability to move; they may seem very basic for most of us, but to many, they are privileges.
After many years of IVF, Michael found out he was going to become a father in 2017. They were inundated with love and excitement. And then came December, his wife was airlifted to the Sydney hospital after getting a lot of backpain. Four days later, she gave birth to a beautiful little baby boy, Lachy James.
Lachy had a horrible illness called sepsis and the doctor told Michael’s family it would be a miracle if Lachy made it to the end of the week. For the first time in Michael’s life, he had to walk in his mom’s shoes. He watched Lachy get resuscitated twice and that made him realize it’s far easier to be in bed than the person standing next to the bed.
Lachy battled for many months, and he was mentally and physically strong just like his dad. Today he’s a healthy three-and-a-half little boy which according to Michael, craps a lot! In January this year, to make the family complete, they gave birth to a gorgeous little girl, called Summer Grace.
As humans, we tend to pay more attention to negative experiences than to positive or neutral experiences. This is called negativity bias. This also explains why negative news tend to go viral and would trigger our amygdala far more easily than positive news.
People often say I am positive and optimistic. Like Michael, that came from life lessons. I had bell’s palsy twice which I had to relearn how to speak. I once had my son in my arms when he suffocated for five minutes. I thought I couldn’t save him and would never be able to see him again. These life lessons taught me about life, importance of health and to appreciate small things like our ability to see, smile, speak and taste.
I believe the key to living a happier life, is to be grateful for what we have and not what we don’t have; to be humble, to give without remembering and to receive without forgetting as Michael challenges all of us.
Hearing from Michael as he narrates his life stories is extremely inspiring. To sum up our chat, here are eight ways you can change your ecosystem, to reinforce your mind, to help you live a happier life.
1. Discipline and routine
Michael has a daily routine which consists of Activation, Meditation and Appreciation.
He exercises first thing in the morning, often in pitch dark before other people get up.
Humans have 70,000 thoughts every day and 80% of them are negative. One thing Michael has learned going through all the ups and downs in life, working with top CEOs and pro-athletes is the power of our mind. If simple breathing technique works on children, imagine the wonders they can do for adults.
Have a gratitude journal, text people whom you are truly grateful for. Speak to manifest so you will be acutely aware of them. See below.
2. Keep a gratitude journal.
Write down all the great things in life.
3. Speak to manifest.
The best way to be grateful is to speak it. Michael texts 7-8 important people each day about 2-3 things that he’s truly grateful for. Message your loved ones first thing you get up in the morning. Text your mate to say you care about them.
4. Focus on things which you can control.
There’s a place for technology and social media but it’s easy to buy in things emotionally. Focus on the things which you can control and not the things you can’t control.
5. Replace fear with faith.
Our heart is much bigger than you think. Give back and help people, be human, and be humble. Show authenticity and humanity and see the beautiful traits in the world. We all have the choice to focus on the light and joy in our life instead of the negativity.
6. Digital Detox Day
Try to disconnect from social media, one day a week. Give yourself and your mind space and peace so that you are not available to the social world all the time.
7. Be present
Michael calls it Phone Free Day. One day a week, he does not make any outbound calls. His son and daughter have never seen him sending an email or going on social media. When his family is around, Michael gives all his attention to them.
8. Define and pursue happiness
In the pursuit of happiness, some of us become narrowly minded and turn the world away from us. Define your happiness. There’s nothing greater than making an impact on someone's life. Demonstrate kindness as you are pursuing happiness.
Someone once said to Michael, he’s been dealt with some crappy cards in life. And this is what he said back to them.
“If I have cards, I am still in the game. Don’t spend your life comparing your cards to other people. Be grateful we are still in the game, do you best to play those cards as effectively, optimistically and as positively as you can.”
For all of us. We so often wait to be in a place of extreme darkness before we begin to appreciate the little things that we take for granted. Don’t wait until it’s too late to change. Don’t wait until you lose someone before you make the effort to tell them you love them. Text somebody, tell them you care about them.
If we do this together, this is how we can bring more authenticity and humanity back to this world.
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