Monthly Archives: October 2017

Story Untold: “Your Interpretation Is What Matters In Life”


Sean Stephenson has made a career out of making lemonade. When the Chicago native was born, doctors predicted he would not survive more than 24 hours because of a rare bone disorder, Osteogenesis Imperfecta.

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“My bones are more fragile than most people, and because of that […] sneezing could break ribs, or putting on a pair of pants too quickly could break legs. By the time I was 18, I had fractured over 200 times,” says Stephenson.

The condition also left Stephenson three feet tall and wheelchair-bound. Despite these challenges, the 38-year-old therapist has become a world-renowned motivational speaker and author, his message reaching everyone from Richard Branson to the Dalai Lama. In his early twenties, as a university student at DePaul, he interned with President Bill Clinton and wrote his first book, How You(th) Can Succeed! For Stephenson, the key to life has been about interpretation.

“You can be in a prison cell and be elated, or you can be in a mansion and be in despair. And it comes down to how you are interpreting your reality,” he says. “You don’t have control of practically anything in life. But what I do know we have control over is what we make something mean.”

“You have to recreate the reality you want every single day. I don’t think anything positive ever really sticks. I think you have to re-stick it like a Post-It note every day in a new position.” – Sean Stephenson

A longtime fan of Tony Robbins, Stephenson started his motivational speaking career as a teenager, talking to elementary school students about his disorder. Soon enough, those audiences grew to include hospitals, then corporate audiences, then executives. Stephenson, a natural on the stage, found he had a gift for captivating an audience.

“I had an advantage. And the advantage was that everybody was already staring at me, so I might as well give them something to remember me and remember life by,” says Stephenson.

“When a three-foot-tall man in a wheelchair tells you that you can live life without feeling bitter, and you can live life and look at what you do have instead of what you don’t have, you’re more likely to listen to that.”

Today, Stephenson’s message of optimism, love, and self-care has been heard in over 16 countries and translated into nearly a dozen languages, with appearances everywhere from The Oprah Show to The Biography Channel. When asked what keeps him motivated, his answer is a simple one:

“I’ve faced death so many times. And yet I’m still here.”


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Story Untold: “You Can’t Buy Happiness; You Need to Go Find It”

Searching for Sero on Story Untold

Home for John Rathwell and Tracy Guenard is a pretty small space these days: since May of 2016, the Gatineau, Quebec couple has been crisscrossing Canada and the United States in a newly-polished 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia, meeting people and sharing their stories of pursuing happiness.

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“It’s a beautiful van,” says Guenard. “It’s small — 15 feet long — but it’s got all we need, really. It’s got two beds — actually, we could sleep four in here, if it’s a tight space — we have a sink, a two-burner stove, water, a little fridge […] and on the roof, we have stand-up paddleboards, a big Thule box with gear if we want to go hiking or camping, and in the back, we have our mountain bikes.”

The project, dubbed Searching for Sero, aims to shine a light on mental wellness and suicide prevention. It’s a topic that has touched the two quite closely: within a span of mere months, Rathwell lost his father to suicide, and Guenard lost her aunt.

“My dad had just retired,” says Rathwell. “Standing on the other side, to me, [he] finally had his whole life in front of him. He worked seven days a week; he took every overtime shift he could get; he drove an hour and a half just to get to work. And now he’s retired; he’s finally free. But I guess that wasn’t really the case.”

“You wonder about life in a very different way than you would if someone you loved died from natural [causes],” adds Guenard. “There’s a lot of thinking associated with it. And not only do you question that person’s life, you question your own as well — and that’s what we found ourselves doing.”

“I had what most people call the ‘golden ticket’: a permanent job, good salary, good pension, all of that. I had a condo in Gatineau; I was pretty well settled, but then I decided to let it all go and go for a life of adventure and something quite different.” – Tracy Guenard

With a growing feeling that there was more to life than what they were getting out of it, the two eventually came up with a plan to travel across the continent and collect stories from the inspiring people they met. Rathwell, a renowned adventure sports photographer, would gather the photos; Guenard, with her background in criminology and youth intervention, would handle the writing. After Guenard told Rathwell about her readings into the connection between the neurotransmitter serotonin and happiness, the project’s name was born.

“At first, it was just going to be a summer thing […] It kind of started to take its form over the course of that winter and spring into what it is now,” says Rathwell.

“[It’s] a ridiculous idea,” Guenard laughs. “You roll into town and randomly look for people you don’t know, and hopefully they want to talk to you, and let you take photos, and write their life down on paper. Yeah, that’s going to work, right?”

So far, it has — with over 60 stories amassed over the past 16-odd months spent travelling across Canada, and then south into the United States. The couple’s story has spread across the continent, amassing thousands of followers on social media.

“The variety of stories we have now […] everybody’s is so unique. And everybody we talk to motivates us in their own unique way,” says Rathwell.

As for what the couple has learned from the experience?

“Nobody can tell you what brings happiness. That needs to come from inside. That needs to come from you,” says Rathwell. “You can’t buy happiness; you need to go find it.”

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Story Untold: “What You Can’t See Is Often More Important Than What You Are Able To”


At 17, Richard Holmes had everything he had wanted: a successful career as a mountain biker; a life in beautiful Whistler, British Columbia; sponsors wanting to endorse him. Despite the accolades, he had one other thing that was tearing at his confidence and progressively worsening in the process: a stutter.

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“My speech was definitely the worst that it had ever been,” says Holmes, now 25. In a sport that requires networking with sponsors, the Waterloo, Ontario native found himself shying away from the spotlight.

“You want to advertise yourself as much as you can, and I would give people a name I thought was easier to say. I think about that now, and I think it’s absolutely hilarious: that I would rather this person not remember who I am, even though I’m trying to do this as a career, than for them to hear me stutter.”

For Holmes, the events epitomized the social anxiety he had felt around speaking for years, ever since he had first met others outside of his immediate circle of family and close friends.

“When we [would go] around introducing ourselves at a [dinner] table, [I would] spontaneously go to the washroom so I wouldn’t have to introduce myself,” he says. “I always associated those social situations with people I don’t know with this constant feeling of trying to avoid — avoidance and hiding.”

Determined to stop the cycle of embarrassment and hiding, Holmes left his promising career in British Columbia to undergo intensive speech therapy at the Speech and Stuttering Institute in Toronto, approaching it with the same intensity he had used in training as a cyclist.

“I would go out of my way to put myself in challenging situations,” he says. “So even things like approaching random people on the street, there was a point where I would go up and do that: approach different people and ask them about something random. I almost made it into a sport, where I was seeing how much I could challenge [myself in] this new way of communicating.”

Holmes took acting classes, enrolled in Toastmasters, and started competing as a public speaker. In 2012, he was invited to share his story at TEDxUW — a talk that has amassed over 20,000 views.

“One of the most rewarding things about [therapy was] learning how much of communication is not [about] fluency,” says Holmes. “When you’re a person who stutters, you really think that’s what’s holding you back, but I think just working on general communication skills was great.”

Now a Master’s student in speech language pathology at the University of Toronto, Holmes has seen his story come full circle — helping others experiencing the same struggles he sought help with not too long ago. He credits his stutter for giving him perspective on life:

“Nothing is going to be easy, ever. You’re going to have to put up with frustrations, and struggles, and things are going to be hard. [But] if you do it for the reason that’s meaningful to you, that’s what makes those things worth it.”

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Story Untold: “Reality Is Bigger Than What We’re Told It Can Be”

crook new

What if our collective idea of a good life — a house with a yard, two cars, maybe a summer home to boot — is missing the mark? Adrian Crook, the Vancouver-based author of 5 Kids 1 Condo, has been exploring that question.

Living in a 1,000-square foot condo in the West Coast city’s Yaletown, Crook’s musings on life spent in close confines with five kids — ditching the family car for public transit and embracing the benefits of downtown living — have become an inspiration to minimalists and urbanists alike seeking an alternative to the increasingly fleeting promise of a single-detached home in the suburbs.

“Like it or not, that’s how people are going to be living in the future — in multi-family dwellings like this one. We’re not all suddenly going to be able to return housing prices to a third of what they are today,” says Crook, a video game design consultant and co-founder of Abundant Housing Vancouver, a non-partisan group advocating for additional, more affordable housing options in Metro Vancouver.

“For me, [it’s] the larger issues of sustainability. We can’t all live in sprawled-out detached houses. It’s way less efficient, uses way more resources, and it’s not something I want to show my kids.”

The single father’s story has caught the attention of CBC News, Global News, The Globe and Mail, and Invisible City — a phenomenon that still brings a little chuckle out of Crook.

“What I’m doing, living in a condo with a fairly large family by North American standards, wouldn’t warrant a line of ink in any other newspaper around the world,” he says. “It’s not unique. But here, because we’ve been taught that it’s the gold standard — that [a] house with a yard [is] the only way to raise kids, despite there being very little evidence to support that — [it’s] still regarded as the way to go.”

Crook, who works from home and commutes when necessary by public transit, points to the social benefits of living in a place where you’re constantly bumping into other people, as well as the lessons in empathy gained from sharing a small space with others.

“I really just want [my kids] to see that their reality is bigger than what they’re told it can be,” adds Crook.

He describes the problem as a case of collective confusion between standard of living and quality of life:

“Standard of living is this measurement that ties into the amount of things you have or what you own, and quality of life is a measurement of how much you’re actually enjoying life, regardless of what you own […] We have such a standard narrative — especially here in Canada — where it’s just like everyone’s headed towards marriage, and a house, and two cars. That’s sort of that life that’s perfect. And I want them to see that people construct their lives in a bunch of different ways.”

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