Life advice is awesome under one condition only: when it’s being given by someone who has truly lived. That’s Kyle Maynard defined. At 26 years old, Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. He’s an award-winning mixed martial arts athlete, best-selling author, and Arnold freakin’ Schwarzenegger has described him as “the real deal.” But Maynard didn’t always believe he would have a life like this. He talks us through two key moments in his youth where he felt a sense of hopelessness, and shares how he shook fear and doubt, and found the mindset that has been his path to success.
This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.
Kyle Maynard is the author of No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life.
Kyle Maynard: Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” He said, "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else, and doors will open where there were previously only walls." To me that is like a big part of the way that I want to live my life now, is to follow my bliss. And if you don't have something that makes you feel blissful I think that you have to go and take your eyes and look for ways in which you either are passionate about something or that you can make a difference in somebody else's life.
And I think the times that those things intersect are the times for me that are the best. So if I'm doing something that's going to go and make a difference for somebody else but it's also something that I care about a lot myself then I'm most excited for that.
Right now people have been asking me, “What's your next mountain? What are you going to climb?” I tell them photography, because I want to learn that. And it's challenging to figure out how can I use a camera and adapt it to me.
And sometimes I've had some embarrassing moments—I’m at such an amateur level right now, and just because I've gotten to meet some amazing photographers and videographers and I go and talk to them about this stuff, and I'm like elementary school student right now with it.
But I know that I have to fail a lot, and maybe the first 10,000 pictures that I take are going to be basically useless, but the next 10,000 might be decent, and the next 10,000 after that might be pretty good. So the quicker I can go and take that first 10,000 that are just probably going to suck, the better I'm going to be, and quicker I'm going to get to the ones that are decent.
I want to just maximize that time of like that early-stage failure, and that's not even really failure, but it's just like those little learning curves, the learning pain, and then eventually it will be pretty good.
One of the tougher periods in my life when I felt hopeless was around ten years old, and I started just having fears and doubts over what my future was going to look like; just not knowing if I'd ever be able to live on my own, if I'd ever be able to have a girlfriend someday or a job or like any of those things.
It was just a lot of fear and doubt. And actually I think a lot of what loosened the grip on that hopelessness was—I can look at two particular moments and sports helped with that. It was making my first tackle in football, and it was winning my first wrestling match.
In football the guy who went to go and block me had no idea how to block me, and I had no idea how he was going to go and do it, so he just stood straight up and I dove under his legs and tackled the quarterback. First play I got the sack. So I told my dad that night, “I think I'm done with youth football I'm going straight to the NFL now!”
And then in wrestling I lost every single wrestling match for a year and a half, so I lost 35 matches in a row. I hated it. My mom and dad were kind of dragging me out to wrestling practices, dragging me out to matches, and I wanted to go and give up, I wanted to quit.
And even if you asked my dad if he thought that I would have ever won a match, he had been a wrestler and he would have told you no. But he continued to kind of push me to stick with it.
Anyway my dad said, "Everybody loses their first year in wrestling. Everybody loses every match their first year," he said, "but everybody wins at least one match their second season because you'll find somebody who it's their first season, so you'll beat them."
And so I ended up winning my first match off of like a seventh grader - I'll never forget it, just the experience of it looking at my opponent and I could see he was a firs-year wrestler, and I thought, “That's my kid that I'm going after.”
And so we shook hands and all of a sudden—I think when you have hope you start looking for all the evidence as to why you're going to succeed. I think when you lack that hope then you start looking for all the reasons as to why you're going to fail.
And for this first match I started seeing this kid, I'm like: “He's kind of scrawny, he's not warming up the right way,” and then we shook hands before the match and I was like, “He’s got a weak handshake.”
My brain is scanning for all this confirmation bias, but like a positive form of it to go and see all the evidence as to why I'm going to go and beat him, and then all of a sudden I took him down, landed on top, and I was like, “Whoa, this is awesome! … And I have no idea what to do now.”
My dad told me to let him up, and I ended up taking him down and let him up, took him down and let him up and won that first match by like a mercy rule technical.
And that moment in time certainly started to loosen the grip on some of the fear and doubt that I had about my future, of what life was going to go and look like for me as quad-amputee in the future, and I would have had no idea that life could have turned out to be as amazing as it had.
But that's what I think a lot about now: What drives me is to go and reach those ten-year-olds who are currently lacking hope?