Three Foot Giant

Most of his bones were broken during delivery. Doctors recognized a genetic mutation commonly known as “brittle bone disease”. He was put in intensive care at Chicago Children’s Hospital. Doctors warned his parents that he would probably die soon. 

Miraculously he survived, but spent much of his childhood in pain. He also had severely stunted growth and limited mobility (very common for people with this disease). Fully grown he stood just under three feet tall and was restricted to a wheelchair for life.

Most would think somebody with these challenges would need a lot of help from others. Yet he turned the tables. His first motivational speech was at the age of 17. His passion was not to seek help, but rather to give help. 

When he was 19, he met his motivational speaking hero, Tony Robbins, who would become his mentor, championing his initial success. While attending DePaul University, he worked as an intern for President Bill Clinton. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in political science in 2001, he published his first book, How You(th) Can Succeed!: Transforming Dreams into Reality for Young Adults.

This is the story of Sean Stephenson, a therapist, author, and motivational speaker I met in 2012 at a speaking event organized by a networking group I was a part of. Sean and I both gave speeches that day. I vividly remember being blown away by his energy and articulation on stage. He sure motivated me. 

After his powerful and moving presentation, I was determined to meet this man who showed such strength and courage in the face of obvious personal adversity. As I approached him, I was drawn in by his infectious smile. The thing I remember most about our conversation was that he asked a lot more questions about me than I did about him. 

Sean published his second book, Get Off Your “But”: How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself,  in 2009, for which Tony Robbins wrote the foreword. As his popularity grew, Sean started earning between $20,000-$30,000 per appearance for his motivational speaking. 

His TEDx Talk entitled The Prison of Your Mind has 6.6 million views on YouTube. I recommend you check it out. He starts out by saying, “Never believe a prediction that doesn’t empower you…When I was born the doctors told my parents I would be dead within the first 24 hours of my life. Now, 35 years later, all of those doctors are dead and I am the only one who remains.” Powerful. Insightful. Comedic. He had it all.

But my favorite video of Sean is his iconic “Dance Party” video. In just three and a half minutes it will brighten your day. In Sean’s honor, I purchased the URL and pointed it to the video on YouTube. When you see it, you will probably want to share this memorable URL with friends and family so they can experience it too. 

Sean was also the subject of the television documentary, Three Foot Giant. I can’t think of a more fitting title. In his brief lifespan of just 40 years, he made an impact that would positively influence the lives of thousands, including me. 

Have you ever heard of the Japanese art of Kintsugi? It is the ancient practice of repairing broken pottery with gold. Instead of hiding cracks, Kintsugi highlights them, turning what could be seen as flaws into exquisite veins of gold, transforming the object into something even more beautiful and valuable than before.

Sean Stephenson embodied the spirit of Kintsugi. Life literally broke him into pieces on the day he was born, yet over the years he miraculously repaired himself with the golden values of joy, laughter, motivation, patience, and most of all, resilience. His life was a masterpiece of optimism, courage, and inspiration to those around him.

As I kneeled beside him in the photo above, it felt as though his presence towered over me. He truly was a Three Foot Giant.

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