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Choosing How to Respond to Trauma

The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. -Marshal Ferdinand Foch [Tweet this.] | [Share on Facebook.]


It was a simple answer.

And it wasn’t the one he was expecting.

I was standing in the front of a crowded auditorium in Shanghai and had just finished sharing the defining story of my life. For the previous hour during my keynote speech I’d described the day I was terribly burned as a child, the months I spent in the hospital, and the vast challenges I faced afterward.

It was a devastating, transformative, and tragic experience.

So, this man asked a question with a seemingly obvious answer:

“John, if you could go back in time, go back to that Saturday morning, go back to that moment when you picked up the gasoline and got burned, would you do it all again?”

I looked at him, thought about it for a moment, and answered honestly.


He looked at me with a puzzled expression.

Would you really choose to almost die? Would you choose to be burned on 100 percent of your body? Would you actually opt in to the desperate fight for life, or spending five months in the hospital, or being barely functioning for another eight months after that? And would you seriously choose to walk through life with scars covering your body, fingers amputated, and whispered glances and pointed fingers every day of your life?


And I’ll tell you why.

The fire was devastating, almost killed me, and certainly sparked a lifetime of challenges.

But it also molded me into who I am today.

So while it is true that if I’d not been burned, I’d remove all the difficulties caused by the fire. It is also true that I’d destroy all the gifts galvanized because of it.

You see, everything beautiful and enriching in my life today was born through the tragedy of those flames. Through the painful ashes of recovery as a child, I grew in character, audacity, compassion, faithfulness, and drive. It led to a clear perspective on what actually matters and a bold vision for what’s possible. Because of the fire, I don’t take things for granted, am grateful for each day, and am certain that the best is yet to come…

…So, would I do it again?


And as you read on, you’ll know why and agree that you would, too.

* * *

The above story is an excerpt from the introduction to my #1 national bestseller On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life. (Download the first two chapters for free.)

My friends, the traumatic experiences in your life most likely looked much different than mine. From bankruptcy to divorce and medical diagnosis to broken relationships, we’ve all had inflection points or times after which our sense of “normal” was completely rocked.

More important than the inflection points themselves, though, is how you choose to react to them.

It’s your choice.

Today, choose to Live Inspired.


My most recent Live Inspired Podcast guest, Dr. Laurie Nadel, is a psychologist who specializes in post-traumatic stress. She identifies “trauma” as anything that leaves you feeling like you’ve lost your control, your safety or your identity. During our conversation, she identified the five gifts that will help you manage your trauma and eventually – after healing – come out the other side living truly inspired. Check out the full interview with Dr. Laurie Nadel here.

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