April 23

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How Taking Direction from a Starfish Made all the Difference

The starfish story, a game changer

Public speaking is one of my greatest pleasures. Sharing my story in-front of small school groups or large conferences does not phase me in the least. It excites and motivates me. 

This was not always the case. 

I gave my first ever public talk to 16/17 year old's in a school close to where I live. It was over 15 years ago. I was a very different person back then. On dialysis, shy, lacking in self confidence and definitely a little disoriented with life. 

I was working part time and had recently joined the local Lions Club. I was encouraged to think of a project that would bring value to the community. Through brainstorming with other members the idea of speaking in schools about Organ Donation seemed a good fit to everyone in the Club. Everyone except me! 

I was a shy West of Ireland guy who felt an outward fear at public speaking and the inward fear that I had nothing of value to say.

I proceeded with the talk and at the end of telling my life story, and speaking on the importance of Organ Donation, I was overwhelmed by the applause and sincere praise of the students and teacher.

Positive feedback like this spurred me on and speaking became an important part of my life. A ‘calling’ some say, thankfully I was listening. 

I started telling the “Starfish” story in schools and found it resonated with the students. They got it; we all have the potential to make a difference.. 

Was I making a difference? I was never sure how impactful a speaker I was. 

I certainly became busy as a speaker in schools, colleges and youth organisations and always received terrific feedback, especially on the “Starfish” story. 

But I always wondered deep down what difference I was making. I feared people felt grateful after my talk. Grateful and relieved that my life (hospital dialysis 3 days a week) wasn't their life?

One day in a shop I bumped into a student from a school I had spoken in. He recognised me and struck up a conversation. He informed me of the sad news that a fellow classmate and friend had passed away in a traffic accident. It was a tough, difficult time for everyone associated with the school. A positive, he added, was that the family donated his organs. 

He went on to say, the student who died was carrying an Organ Donor card, due to the talk I had given. 

I thanked the young student, turned and felt a tear welling up. At that moment the last line of the “Starfish” story “I made a difference for that one” hit me hard.

I knew many people are alive today because of the donation by that young person and his family.

I also knew the pain for the family and the small consolation in knowing that his death, gave others life.

When people speak to groups they may feel that they're not making a difference. Those listening may feel the issues of the world are too big for any one person to create change. Here the Starfish story helps.

The reality is not to help everyone, or to try and change the world, but to make a difference to one person. 

For me, I see myself not speaking to those before me as a group. I speak to the heart of each and every person before me. To individually inspire each person to feel they can be the difference. That they can be the solution and that they can be the change.  

To me the “Starfish” story is deep and meaningful. I genuinely feel, through that story, many lives have been changed. Its core message of making a difference, not to everyone, but to one person at a time can create a positive ripple of change in the lives of many people and in relation to many of today's issues. 

When someone tells you, "...you can't make a difference", smile and carry on believing and doing what you think is right.

George Bernard Shaw sums up the “Starfish” story best by stating that;

“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”


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Did you know...

I also run a private support group for people suffering kidney disease. Through this group you will have access to myself, and people with similar health issues. This group works as a supportive environment to promote tips, tactics and information to aid in improving your health and quality of life.