The thing that struck me most when meeting motivational speaker and philanthropist Nick Vujicic was not his lack of limbs, his charming sense of humour or his Australian accent with a Texan lilt. It was his keen sense of time.
Seemingly, his teleprompter had been turned off during his talk at yesterday's Achieve the Unimaginable event in Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena. Vujicic then stopped his session to ask someone backstage to urgently bring him a clock, so he knew how much time he had left to speak. "I want to be respectful," he told his confused audience. "I won't go a minute under," he said with a laugh (there is that sense of humour). "But I won't go a minute over, either."
Later, he told The National more about his obsession with time. "I have learnt how to reverse engineer all my goals, prioritise them and then time manage them," he says.
“With about 18 employees over three different organisations, I’m able to discipline myself.” When he can, he switches his phone off four days a week, takes his wife on a date every week and always gets eight hours of sleep a night.
He has worked hard over the past 36 years to achieve such self-discipline. Due to a rare disorder called tetra-amelia syndrome, Vujicic was born with no arms or legs on December 4, 1982 in Melbourne. He has one small foot on his left hip, which he has learnt to use with great dexterity.
Vujicic's life has not been easy. His parents, who moved to Australia from the former Yugoslavia, where they lived in a refugee camp, taught him to expect nothing in life.
"My dad used to say: 'you weren't given arms and legs, but you were given a brain. Hire employees, so they can be your arms and legs.'" Despite his disability and being bullied at school, Vujicic threw himself into being an entrepreneur at a young age. His first job, in which he earned A$1 an hour (Dh2.49), was to vacuum the floor, a skill he managed using his shoulder and chin.
It is not hard to be inspired by his story. Vujicic and his family have overcome many challenges together, including an attempted suicide: at age 10, he tried to drown himself in a bathtub. "That was my disability – allowing people's opinions to discourage me," he says. "Imagine I actually did that."
Nearly 20 years later, he is an incredibly successful man. He now lives in the United States with his Japanese-Mexican wife and their four children. He travels all over the world to recount his tales to riveted audiences, the largest of which reached about 800,000 during a session in Ukraine.
He has hosted about 3,500 talks in 63 countries for 6.5 million people. Vujicic is now planning to launch a TV talk show, so he can reach many more people easily.
“Now, what do people see when they see me? Not my body – but my soul.”
This is what gets him out of bed in the morning, and what sees him push through on days when he might not feel particularly motivated. "There is one thing that recalibrates my mind – whether it's 12,000 people, 1,200 people,12 people or one person, no matter how big the arena is, there is always going to be one person who's never going to be the same again. And you can't put a price tag on hope," he says.
“It’s not to say I have a great day every day, but when the going gets tough, you have to refocus and understand it’s that one person who’s going to walk away crying and changed forever.”
There is a good chance that at least one such person walks among us in the UAE, too. At the Dubai event, Vujicic received a standing ovation before he even began speaking. People also wept during his speech. "Do you want to know why people like me?" he asked the crowd. "Because I love you. Love has no bounds. When my parents saw me, they loved me without limit. It's amazing what love can do when we love each other and love the world."
Through his company Attitude is Altitude, Vujicic, who is also a Christian evangelist, is trying to instil this message among the world's youth.
"We have 'Altitude education' and we are actually approaching many governments about our new curriculum, which is social, emotional learning – and it brings these values into the school system. The next generation of any society in the world are lacking more values," he says.
“You have academics, you have money, you have power … but, all around the world, values are everything. Everyone has to respect each other and everyone, as best as we can, needs to love each other.”
Through his motivational talks and speeches, he also shares his seven principles of success: I don't know what I can achieve until I try; when I fail, I will try again; obstacles equal opportunities; failure is my classroom; dream big; never give up; and, lastly, have faith.
But, in order to better prepare for that success, we all have to learn how to manage our time better. “Today, we’re on demand, we can get what we want, when we want, and with that culture around the world, we’ve lost the attitude of gratitude. We need to reintroduce time to reflect and meditate.”
So what advice does he have for those looking to achieve a more positive mindset? He says start by writing down five to 10 things you are grateful for. "You know what I love about your culture?" he asked the 10,000-strong UAE crowd.
“You always say inshallah – God willing. Write down every day what you’re thankful for. I’m smiling because I’m not complaining about not having legs and arms, I’m just going to do my best. It’s not that I have more than you, or you have more than me.”
Next, we need to "soften" our hearts, he says. "It's this thing called compassion that I feel we've become numb to. So get the focus off you and experience or go out and help others who may not necessarily be able to help you. It's easy to write a cheque, but to get your fingernails dirty in Africa or India, it really touches your heart … that will then help you to recalibrate your mind and find out who you are, what you want and what your goal is."
To define those goals, he suggests a simple exercise. “Every three to six months I fill up six whiteboards of everything that’s in my heart.”
"I write all the things I want to do personally, [for] family, business and everything else. And if something falls off, then it wasn't that important."
It all comes back to having the time to achieve it all. “We only have 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so in all of that, how do you keep your mind fresh and relative and raw, so you don’t just feel like you’re going about a routine? You get out and do something different.”
Ultimately, this will help you unlock the key to your life, he concludes. “Sometimes you don’t need a miracle, you need to be a miracle.”