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4 Lessons on Courage I Learnt From a Boy With No Arms

Imagine yourself as a baby, born in the middle of a war. You’ve been exposed to the sounds of people dying all around you; the crumbling of buildings, the explosions of guns and the cries of the wounded. You too, are a victim of this war. Your limbs have been twisted into deformed stubs of flesh that frighten your parents, making them squeeze you and your injured sibling into a shoe-box, and leaving the two of you to die outdoors.

The story above is not a work of fiction, but the true story of Emanuel Kelly, a young man who auditioned for the X Factor UK and became an instant celebrity overnight because of his optimism and courage.

His life could have easily been a life full of self-pity and victimization, but somehow, in the face of humiliation, rejection and fear, he sang his heart out and gave his all despite the whole world watching his every move.

It wasn’t his voice that made him memorable, it was the honesty and courage displayed on the stage that left everyone speechless. His transparency reminded me that we spend too much time worrying about the wrong things, losing time over the smallest details.

It made me think about how we can live a life as courageously as Emanuel, and how his life made me want to change mine.

Emanuel, here are 4 life-long lessons you taught me in your six-minute long video:

Living Courageously in 4 Steps

1. Understand that courage is not the absence of fear
Emanuel’s life was definitely not an easy one, and I can only imagine the struggles he had to face from personal identity and social acceptance to chasing his deepest dreams. Most of us are too afraid to even reveal the desires of our heart, let alone follow them. We are too afraid to be ridiculed, to be rejected and to have these dreams crushed by the opinions of others. I’m sure Emanuel has experienced all of this, and quite frankly, many people would ridicule this boy’s desire to become a professional singer because of his disabilities.

But did this stop him? No.

He was afraid. You could see it in his face, in the trickles of sweat that sat upon his nose and in the movement of his eyes. As afraid as he was, he kept putting one foot in front of the other and walked onto that stage.

Being courageous isn’t the same as being fearless; it is going ahead and moving forward despite being afraid.

2. Believe in your dreams

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… “

He sang “Imagine”, a tribute to a world without barriers, murder or destruction. Most people would assume Emanuel’s dream was to become a singer. However, I think his dream goes beyond fame and music. “I want to make people happy,” he mentioned during an interview.

I believe Emanuel’s dream was to live in a world with no despair, no fear, and no pain. He not only wanted to live in this world, but he wanted to inspire and encourage the people who live in it, too.

Although Emanuel was left to die, deformed and broken, he deliberately puts aside his destructive past and looks towards a brighter future. Despite coming from a place of terror and pain, he dreams of a better world, and he believes in it, too. He believes the world is a good place, that good people exist, and because of this perspective he sees opportunities in every obstacle, he sees lessons in every failure, he sees strength instead of weakness, and he sees hope instead of despair. His belief in his dream gives him the strength to move with courage in all he does, and shapes the world he lives in.

If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it – Jesse Jackson

3. Embrace Change

Unfortunately, Emanuel did not make the finals (keep lots of tissue on you if you are going to watch the video of his elimination) but his response was, again, inspiring. Visibly shattered and disappointed, he politely said “thanks” to the host and gave him a tear-jerking hug.

All that he had worked for was erased in a matter of seconds, and Emanuel could have easily thrown a fit, demanded a second chance or stormed off the set, but instead he accepted the judge’s choice and moved on.

Being able to embrace change makes it easier to move forward, even in the face of some of life’s greatest obstacles.

4. Trust yourself

Emanuel put himself in the spotlight and risked having his dream snatched away from him. Sadly, his dream to win X Factor was shattered, but he handled it very well. If he had the courage to stand in front of a million people and sing his heart out with the risk of losing it all, he had the courage to pick himself back up and stick the pieces together again.

The path to courage is a one-person journey, and the only support we will receive lies within ourselves. As we walk towards a more courageous life, we have to remember that no matter what happens, we can handle whatever life throws at us.

Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose – Tom Krause


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