“Some people need a brush with death to start living,” says bestselling author of Crash and keynote speaker at the FCSI EAME 2018 Conference, Niek van den Adel. He would know – a motorbike accident in 2010 left the Dutchman paraplegic and wheelchair bound. The heartwarming element of van den Adel’s story is he firmly believes the accident changed his life for the better, not worse, as he will explain in full in his presentation in Rotterdam on Saturday 20 October.
Here, in an exclusive extract from Crash, he explains how he has come to accept, and even embrace, his disability.
A glass half full
Happiness is a choice.
I know I give people an allergic reaction when I say this. They start talking about Syria, Libya, the Ukraine, Islamic State beheadings, and evacuations. But when I was a kid and didn’t want to eat Brussels sprouts, I didn’t care about poor people in Africa who didn’t even have Brussels sprouts. Knowing about poverty elsewhere didn’t make Brussels sprouts taste any better.
In my situation, in the country I live in, I think happiness is a choice. The only thing I want to do is teach people you can always choose happiness. Even when you lose everything, when things seem to be at their worst, and when your pain will remain for the rest of your life.
I’m giving a speech for the Dutch Paraplegia Society. The event makes me a little nervous. First of all, there will be tons of professors and other smart people on the podium. It’s also the first time I’ll be giving a speech to one hundred and fifty parathletes – yes, that’s what Dutch people with paraplegia call themselves. But bring three disabled people together and they will form a complainer’s club immediately.
I start my talk. ‘Who believes happiness is a choice?’ A few people raise their hands. Not very many. ‘Okay. Now if happiness is a choice, is despair one too?’ No more hands in the air. I sigh. This’ll be some tough thirty minutes.
Because I do believe so. I believe I’ve somehow chosen to be paraplegic. And it feels good, because I’ve got it all in my own hands. This might also explain why I was still in the intensive care unit when I was already praising my survival and all the amazing people around me.
All we need is a little bit of love, that’s all. The rest will then fall into place. The glass is half full.
Preparing for the best
Everyday, when I’m standing in a traffic jam surrounded by grumpy people, I could choose to be moody too, or be happy I can still drive a car. You should be happy you’re sitting in one of these cars, instead of laying below one, I think. I sometimes get annoyed in the supermarket if I can’t grab something from the top shelf, but I can make the most of it by asking a pretty lady to help me.
Nowadays, I’m more surprised with all the complaining in this country than ever before. Last week, it stormed. This didn’t mean twisters tore houses completely apart. No, it meant traffic jams were longer, trains were delayed, and flying roof tiles damaged a few cars. Big deal, right? But the whole country was in shock. We called this ‘bad weather’ a few years ago, but nowadays we even have a special colour for it: alarm code red.
In the summer, when it was very warm, we got code red again – because more elderly people died than on average, and our crops got less water than usual. A failed harvest is still very rare, but this doesn’t seem to matter.
We always want to prepare ourselves for the worst. But why do we pay so much attention to worst case scenarios? We’re worried about what’s happening, but even more worried about what could happen.
Why don’t we celebrate the nice weather, and all the girls in short skirts walking around town? I’ve recently realised I’m done with this negative approach. Yes, maybe that’s easy to say in my situation. I’m happily married and about to start a nice job. I’ve got a house, a dog, a great family, and a loyal bunch of friends. On the other hand, I’ve had more than my fair share of setbacks.
Many mega-complainers don’t have to deal with daily pain, pills, spasms, and incontinence. Maybe this should be my second mission, I think on this windy autumn day. I want to show people there’s still so much about life that’s completely wonderful.
It sounds gooey, I know, but gooey can be good. I don’t want to whine about the storm, so I’ll play in it instead. Look how lovely the rain is. Look how much my garden plants are growing.
I end my presentation with a Q&A. Some questions from the audience are hyper rational, others show earnest interest, and a few are just plain negative. ‘You work as an expert of experience for De Hoogstraat, right? Are you really good at advising? Three years of experience is nothing, right? Tons of people have been paraplegic for ten or twenty years already.’ I don’t have a perfect answer immediately.
The rest of the day the question nags at me, and even follows me home. Yes, ten years of paraplegia means ten years of experience. But does an older cook always provide tastier meals than a younger one? I don’t think most famous chefs are all senior citizens.
Is a senior IT consultant always better than a young one? Maybe the opposite is true. The phrase ‘expert of experience’ consists of two words: ‘experience’ and ‘expert’. Experience surely comes with age. Expertise, however… I’m not so sure. Now that I’ve finally come up with a perfect answer to this question, I write it down immediately in a blog post. You never know when someone else will want to grill me.
Happiness is a choice.
Niek van den Adel is keynote speaker at the FCSI EAME 2018 Conference
To purchase Crash, or to find out more about Niek van den Adel’s story, please visit: www.niekvandenadel.nl
Niek van den Adel and Peter Smolders
Translation: Kim Einder
Copyright © 2017 Niek van den Adel and Peter Smolders
Cover design Ben Gross Cover photo René Gonkel