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.”