Leadercast Live 2018: Jen Bricker
At Leadercast Live 2018, Jen shared her story of being born without legs. After her birth, she was abandoned by her biological parents before being adopted by one of the 299 couples who were on a waiting list to adopt her. Though her life could have taken 298 other paths, Jen said she’s confident that she landed in the right family. Her parents instilled self-worth and value into her life from day one, and they modeled good character for her and her three brothers.
Through their example, her parents taught her that we all have the power to speak life or death into others with our words. Each of us has an audience we’re impacting, and once we become aware of it, we need to do something about it.
We all have talents, abilities and values, and though we can be deceived into thinking some are greater than others, Jen said the truth is that we are all equal. The same is true with obstacles. Jen’s obstacle was being born without legs, but yours is something completely different—but both are still obstacles. We all have challenges to overcome, but also gifts to share, which means we’re all meant to inspire and motivate, said Jen. It will look different for each of us, and that’s OK.
3 Truths From Jen:
1) We have to experience the everyday, ordinary moments of life to have big, explosive firework moments.
2) Everyone can motivate because everyone has someone who identifies with them.
3) Use what you’re good at and what you love to change someone else’s life.
Watch the video to hear Jen's full talk from Leadercast Live 2018, and click HERE to download a printable PDF of these takeaways.
So, you know, I travel around the world, I speak, but I also do acrobatic and aerial performing. I hang from the ceiling, I jump around like a monkey, always upside down, rather than right side up. But every time I start a speech, there's like this little, little Jen on my shoulder that just cannot believe I'm actually speaking at this point in my life. Because if you would've asked me... oh, 10 years ago, I was just starting out as an acrobat and an aerialist and I found my people, I found my groove being with artists who were just like me, love to be on the floor and stretch, and, like I said, be upside down and be a little crazy. I found my identity. I loved it. I felt at home.
So then speaking kept coming into my life, and my mom...it started when I was younger, so my mom would say, "You know, Jen, you're kind of motivational. Maybe you should speak one day." And I was...at this time, I was an athlete. Like, "Mom, please. Oh my gosh, no. I'm an athlete. That's for old people." I had it in my mind because growing up, all I saw were older people, usually men with a suit and tie. That's what I associated being a speaker with. And so I thought, "Well, I'm none of those things, by far none of those things." So it just didn't make sense.
And then I got older, started performing as an aerialist acrobat into my adulthood, and it started coming in again, but even more. "Jen, you know, you should be a speaker. Have you thought about being a speaker?" Or then some people wouldn't even ask, "Oh, you're a speaker, right?" And I was flat out offended. I don't know what was going on in my brain, but I was just... I'm an aerialist. I found my people. I'm an artist. What do you mean? I'm not a speaker. I don't have gray hair.
This was my retirement plan. So I thought, okay, I'll retire from performing late 40s, and then I'll start speaking, and then I'll write a book. But man, did God have other plans for me. It kept coming into my life. And I was such a brat. I had the wrong attitude. I was like, "I'm good." "You should be a speaker." "No, really, I'm good." "No, really, you should speak." "No, really, I don't want to speak." Because I thought it was gonna take away from my life. I thought it wasn't where it was supposed to be at.
And thankfully, I put myself aside because I realized, you know what? This is part of my destiny. This is part of what I was literally made to do. And so I started speaking. It will be really easy for me to tell you, "Oh, I started speaking and it was great and I was super happy." That would be a lie. That would not be true. And it's not something that I'm proud of my behavior at the time, but I gotta be real. We gotta be real with each other. We gotta be real with ourselves every day, all the time.
And so the truth of the reality is that I started speaking because I knew I was supposed to, but I was a little...I was still irritated because, again, I thought, "Man, great, I'm a speaker. Awesome. Why does everybody wanna be a speaker and I don't want to be a speaker?" It just...and that made me even more mad. And so this happened for about two years, and then one day, I had a gig at a speaking gig. I woke up that morning and everything changed.
The way I thought about myself being a speaker, something clicked, some light bulb went off, and I thought, what an honor and what a privilege? What an honor and a privilege to be a speaker, to share my life and my story? That's why I was given my life and my story, is to share it. It's not for me to keep it secret, keep it to myself. It's not about me. Me being on this stage is not about me. Me being on the cover of my book is not about me. It's about the reach that it can have for millions of people around the world.
So when I stand up here today and start this speech off and say it's an honor and a privilege, which I think we've all heard that, everybody says it, becomes a cliche, maybe holds your weight, but you have to know the story and the reason why behind when I say that I truly mean it. So it's an honor and a privilege to be on this stage sharing my story right now with all of you at Leadercast. So thank you for that.
You know, people...I've had interview after interview after interview about my life, and people say, "Well, you were born without legs, left in the hospital, put up for adoption, not even given a name. You were abandoned." I'm like, "Whoa, let's just bring the drama down. This is not even your life." Wow. I'm like, "Well, when you put it that way, I guess it does sound a little rough. A little hard way to come into life."
But the irony and the beauty and the truth is that being born without legs, left in the hospital, put up for adoption, and not given a name was the biggest blessing in my life. That's the day my life turned its course for the better. Hey, Jen, have you lost your mind? Did you hear what you just said? What do you mean? How was that the blessing in your life? Are you just trying to be a cute motivational speaker and like make us feel good?" No, I mean it, and I know that it's true because I've seen it play out my entire life.
My parents, they never had adopted, they never fostered, they had 3 boys, 10, 12, 14 years old, and they definitely didn't know anything about people without legs or disability or whatever category you wanna throw that one into, and every odd was against them. But my mom always wanted a baby girl. She had my three brothers, she couldn't have kids anymore, and she never gave up her perseverance, her faith, her prayer, her persistence. That patient. I mean, we can't even wait two minutes at Starbucks for a drink without getting angry, right?
She waited 10 years, 10 years, and she heard about me one day. And I feel like it kind of went something like this. She hears about baby girl, born without legs, needs a home. And it's like she just, I was up for auction, "I'll take one. Yap, right here." That's pretty much how it went down. So she calls the social worker and says, "Hey, you know what? We're interested in this girl." She didn't even see a picture of me. They didn't even know what I looked like. She just knew. I guess when you know you know. Calls the social worker, the social worker said, "Okay, that's great. Take the weekend, talk it over with your sons and your husband, get back to me on Monday."
So they sat my brothers down, and I would have loved to have been a fly on this wall. The story just melts my heart and is so typical of teenage boys. But they sat them all down and they asked them individually, "Okay, so what would it look like, what would it mean to you if we adopted this baby? What would it mean to you to have a sister with no legs? You know, what if...I don't know, what if their friends come over and maybe they think it's weird or they have an issue with it? Or to my oldest brother, who was gonna be dating in a couple of years, same scenario, what if you bring a date home, maybe they have an issue with it, something like that?
Each one of them, at 10, 12, and 14 years old, said the same thing. They said, "Well, if they have a problem with her, then I don't want them in my life anyway." Yeah. I think that's pretty incredible for boys of that age, that they were...they just had that. I mean, to me, that's sign like 501 million that that's the family I was supposed to be with, right? There were 299 couples on a waiting list to adopt me as a baby. I mean, it's flattering to be that popular. I'm not gonna lie.
But think about what that practically looks like. That means 299 different future Jen Brickers, different ways that I see the world, different ways that I see myself, certainly different ways that I see everybody in this room, and probably safe to say, I wouldn't even be on this stage right now. Wouldn't have had... Tripp wouldn't have had all the things he had to say about me. Who knows where I would be? With a family that maybe sheltered me away or a family that gave me no importance, you know, on whatever end of the scale.
But I ended up in the middle of a cornfield, in southern Illinois, in the middle of nowhere, with the most salt of the earth, down to earth parents, in a community where I thrived. You know, I had such a disassociation with the fact that I didn't have legs. There was this wheelchair basketball company in St. Louis about three hours from where I grew up, and I was, I don't know, probably 11 or 12. And they asked me to come and maybe join the team or practice or a tryout or whatever. I literally said to my parents, "So how do you play with kids like that?" I just had no clue. I had no clue because when you're told that you're important and you're beautiful and you matter and you can do anything you want, you believe it.
I wanted to do the limbo. Again, grew up in the middle of nowhere, roller rink, kind of a big deal. Don't hate, don't judge, there wasn't much to do, all right? So I was obsessed. I was gonna win that limbo. I was determined. Picture this. Me rolling into a store with my parents, with all the confidence in the world, not seeing anything of the ordinary, and I'm trying on roller skates on my hands. The person selling is like, "Who does she think she is? What's she doing with these roller skates on her hands?" I'm trying them on like, "Ooh, I like these," and, "Oh, you know, these are a little tight. I think I'll take pink ones." She's like, "What are you gonna do with these roller skates on your hands, girl?" I'll tell you what I did with those roller skates on my hands. I won that limbo every single time after that.
You know, my parents are really the heroes of my story, right, the life, the meat and potatoes of my life and my story. They basically taught me with their actions. We've all heard actions speak louder than words, right? And that example of rollerskating, they had every reason in the world to discourage me from doing that. "Eh, you're pretty small and might be a little dangerous. I don't know, I mean, roller skates on your hands, it's kind of different. I don't know." Not once.
And as a child, that discouragement, that's negativity. That's exactly how I would have taken it. You can sugarcoat it, you can wrap it up any way you want, but that's negativity. And you can speak...we, all of us, everybody in this room, has the power to speak life into someone or death into someone with their words. The power of what you say and what you speak into someone's life, what you speak into your life, and what you allow to be spoken into your life is huge, and that will end up shaping you.
So I got the limbo down. I wanted to learn how to skate backwards. Of course, I'm on the roller rink, and I'm halfway out there, farthest away from the beginning as you can be. They blow the whistle, switch skating. Now you don't know how to skate backwards. I'm like in real time, what do I do? Anybody remember "Thomas the Train, Little Engine That Could?" Do we love Thomas in this room? Okay. So I start to remember him. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. And I go, "Oh my gosh, I'm on wheels. I'm like Thomas. I think I can."
And so that little analogy, he helped me figure it out. He helped me get through that moment as an eight-year-old trying to figure out how to skate backwards. Huge for me at the time. But what I realized, as I've gotten older, is that Thomas and his I think I can is totally relevant in our lives today. We are faced with choices every single day over and over and over. I think I can. I think I'm gonna get out of bed today. I think I can. I think I'm gonna choose to own the day and not let the day own me. I think I can. Is happiness a choice, Jen? Every single day over and over and over. Is kindness a choice? Every single day. I choose to be happy, I choose to be kind, I choose to be joyful. So what, Jen? Who cares if I smile at somebody? That's not a big deal.
If you look at those little moments every day, "little," "insignificant," they don't really matter. When they add up, because we have so many of those choices every single day, if you look at that in a week, a month, a year, five years, you've already shaped who you are with those little choices that your ethics, your morals, your character. It's those very "little," "insignificant" choices that are huge. 4th of July comes around once a year for a reason. It's special. So the moments in our life that are the "4th of July" moments, you have to have those everyday ones in order to create the big explosive amazing firework moments. It's truly building character. You got grit, you just go through it.
I had a gig in Toronto yesterday, and I performed and I spoke for 6,000 amazing six through eighth graders with so much energy, and my flight was late, and my bag ended up in the international thing, and I got to my hotel so much later, and I was tired. And a crazy alarm went off this morning twice in my hotel room and I almost ripped it right out of the wall. My point is being here on this stage today was far more important than me complaining and wallowing and you just figure it out and you choose and you make the choice. It's not anybody else's choice, anybody else's fault, you make the choice every single day.
My parents used to say, "Well, if it's worth it, if you want it bad enough, you'll figure it out." So if you want it bad enough, you'll figure it out. That next job, that scary move, person you're in love with, but you're not saying anything, whatever it is. Because you know what unifies us in here, we all have obstacles and a lot of people's are invisible. You don't know what's going on in someone's here. But we all have struggles and we all have obstacles.
Another thing we all have, gifts, talents, and abilities. Every single persons in here is equal, is of equal value. Yeah, but, Jen, my life's boring, and no one pays attention, and I don't have a platform. I mean, it's easy for you, you're on the stage. I don't have a social media following, I don't have a stage, I don't have people who listen to me. I'm not making an impact. You are. You have family or friends, co-workers, people in activities or groups that you're involved in. That's your platform, that's your stage. You are making an impact, whether you wanna realize it or not. So you can just...you can deny that or you can recognize and take ownership of it.
But when you realize it, you've gotta do something with it. You can't just sit on it anymore because you can't unknow what you know. Now your eyes are open. Yeah, but, Jen, I don't have any significance. I mean, certain people are made, like motivational people and inspirational people. That's for them. That's not for me. I totally disagree. Every single person in here is meant to inspire and motivate. But it's going to look different and that's okay. Certain people that I can reach, someone else can't reach. Certain people that someone else can reach, I can't reach. That's why we all have different stories and childhoods and places that we grew up and adversities and struggles that we go through. It's gonna take vulnerability though.
Wooh, I don't wanna tell anybody past my first date perfect clean resume. Nope, I'm perfect. Well, not gonna get very far with that. You keep it surface level, you're gonna stay surface level. But if you wanna open up, you wanna get green, and you wanna get real, people will get real with you. People are gonna respect that. But when you open up about the things that you struggle with, the things that aren't on that perfect shiny resume, look how awesome I am, my Instagram profile, I look good, I got filters... I mean, I love me some filters, I can't help it. But once we can get past that and just be, who are you, this is who I am, that is when change happens.
Because someone is gonna identify with you, and they're gonna, "Oh my gosh, he's going through the same thing I am? I thought he had it all together. Oh my gosh, she struggles with that? I would have never known. I think she's beautiful." And that is when change happens in someone's life. But you gotta believe it. No one can believe it for you. No one can make the choices for you. No one can believe for you. No one can act for you, move for you, love for you. That's all you. No excuses, be honest with yourself, be real with yourself, be real with others. We don't have much time on this earth. Just make it count. Live it like you mean it. Live it like that is the reality because that is the reality. We don't know when our last day is. Be excited. But I want you to believe and know.
Think of someone that you admire and you have so much respect of. You think, "Oh my gosh, they have so much influence, they have so many followers, they have so much inspiration, motivation. I think they're amazing." Realize that you have that same power inside you. The good power, the pure power, the loving power, the power to change someone's life. And it's through the passion of the things that you love, that you were born with, the desires in your hearts, that's it. So it's a win-win for everybody across the board.
So use what you're good at, what you love, what you're passionate about to change someone's life. But I gotta know and you better bring the passion. So answer me this, do you believe you can change your life? That was weak. Do you believe you can change your life? Well, I am over my time. It's been an honor to be on this stage. You guys have been awesome. Thank you for your love, thank you for your time. Thank you.
Born without legs, Jen Bricker’s biological parents left her at the hospital. One would think she would be destined for a life of hardship. However, the hand of destiny brought her an amazing adoptive family, who gave her one simple r...
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