As I listened to the speakers at ASFA’s Spotlight on Insurance, I was struck by the myriad of ways and means the superannuation industry can help people at their most vulnerable.
Is it a perfect system? I’m not qualified to say, but I took the opportunity to share my own story at this event, in the hope that anyone working within insurance in super can understand that it is possible to come back from a life-shattering occurrence.
My life changed 28 years ago when I was 12. I had the world at my feet. I was a promising athlete; I’d waged a six-month fight to be one of the first two girls at my school to play soccer. I was in year six, excelling at my studies and I’d just taken a big step along the path of my lifelong dream of becoming a vet. I felt bullet-proof.
But that was all turned upside down one hot Sunday afternoon. I was playing in a relative’s pool with my younger brother and I wanted to do a really clean dive into the water without splashing a lot. It felt like any other dive until I tried to swim up to the surface and I couldn’t move.
In intensive care at Royal North Shore later that night, I was told I’d broken my neck and I’d never walk again. I literally felt like my life was over. The Spinal Unit was full of people and I looked at the older guys, who probably had families and mortgages. I felt lucky that all I had to do was heal without any financial pressures.
I’d like to say I was resilient, even then, but that’s not the case. Like a lot of teenagers I sought out not so healthy ways of coping. Essentially that meant spending a lot of years drunk or stoned. I ended up in ever deeper pits of self-loathing. But as I got older, my attitude began to change and I began to look at what had happened to be as a positive.
So, how on earth can ending up a quadriplegic and needing a wheelchair for the rest of my life be positive? I’m proof that it actually can be. I reverse engineered how I turned my life from the lowest of the lows to becoming optimistic, ambitious and not only document my journey so far, but the one I’m continuing now. That became a framework I published in my book ‘How To Be Resilient’.
Now, I teach resilience to large organisations that are going through significant change, helping their leaders shift the way they perceive and respond to change and adversity.
Resilience is the most valuable skill that we can learn to succeed in business and life. Thriving businesses, with happy, engaged and valued employees can actually help create strong communities and families. And I firmly believe there are amazing opportunities to be found in change, adversity and uncertainty.
I believe that I’ve experienced the adversity I have so I can be the pebble in the pond, to demonstrate that, as humans, we are bigger than our circumstances. I’m grateful for that experience.
From an insurance point of view, my injury is classed the same as that of Christopher Reeve, who needed a ventilator to help him breathe after his horseriding accident. I probably am a poster girl for TPD. The language, the definition of TPD plays a big part in the way we experience and respond to things. I didn’t see myself that way.
If the industry could look at the way it uses language it may help a lot of people who go through adversity and struggle to develop resilience. But one of the most valuable elements of becoming resilient is support. If insurers and superannuation funds can engage with their vulnerable members with a view that they’re on the same team, that would be of significant benefit.
If there’s a partnership through the whole process, the elements of understanding and support, it will help people to go through the experience with a lot less stress. We all look back and worry about things we might have done differently and we can look too far ahead, which creates anxiety as well.
I think where we should all aim to get to, is to be very present, and intentional in the language we use, to create the best possible support network for people in times of great change and challenge.
Find out more about Stacey’s story and work at staceycopas.com.