Meg Johnson is a motivational speaker and author who empowers and motivates audiences globally with her motto: When life gets too hard to stand, just keep on rollin’. She is a founding partner in Jumping Turtle LLC, which inspires people throughout the world through live motivational conferences and harnessed motivation shared on the Our Turtle House app.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up an “army brat,” meaning I moved around a lot because my dad was in the military. I was born in Monterey, CA, moved to Washington D.C., Chicago, Ill, Boise, ID, and Salt Lake City, UT.
On my own, I ventured out to Florida to intern at Disneyworld. I did have an experience when I was 18 that helped prepare me for bigger challenges ahead. I wanted to move to Germany so I said goodbye to my high school boyfriend and flew there to be a nanny. My boyfriend and I planned to be married when I came home from Germany (he was going to serve a mission while I was gone). Lots of people make good nannies, but I didn’t and was kicked out five days later.
Upon arriving home, I discovered my boyfriend had another girlfriend (he couldn’t wait for me for five days?!) and I was so amazingly upset. I laid on the floor of my room crying until I vomited. I lost 11 pounds in a matter of days. I didn’t want to blame God (God is such an easy target when things go wrong in our life) so I prayed for help. I made myself get off the floor and go to church on Sunday. I didn’t want to. But for some reason, people at church kept asking me to do things.
One person asked me to be the “official” chorister for one class. I was asked to be the president of the smaller young single adults group for my area and someone else asked me to be the president of the larger group of young single adults for a much larger area. I was also asked to direct a roadshow for my church.
I went home from church with four different callings, or jobs, and a new knowledge of how to combat sadness and how God answers prayers. It was working through those new jobs that kept me faithful, happy, and in touch with people and not sobbing on the floor of my bedroom and vomiting. I was able to make it through that very sad time of being kicked out of Germany and dumped by my boyfriend. William Blake said it best, “I sought myself and myself I could not see. I sought my God and my God alluded me. I sought my brother and found all three.” I knew what to do when my life hit hard times – focus on serving others. God doesn’t give us Goliath trials without first giving us opportunities to fight and conquer a smaller lion or a bear (Sam 17!) This knowledge helped me when I was paralyzed. Without the use of the muscles in my hands, stomach, back, or legs, I felt useless. But I remembered fighting my lion and bear when I was kicked out of Germany and dumped and applied the same knowledge.
I began serving in a local elementary school and discovered a love for myself, my new body, and my wheelchair. I then joined the Utah wheelchair rugby team, went back and graduated college, got married, and went to Ms. Wheelchair America and won the Spirit Award – while there, I had a platform, a short description of who I was and what I stood for. It was “Creating a new reality through service.” We all have new realities, hard times, disappointments, and more that surprise us. But if we take the focus off ourselves and put it on someone else, we’ll discover that it’s actually us that comes into focus.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I would have understood earlier that everyone is on their own journey and is progressing at their own speed. We can cheer others on no matter what speed they are going. People don’t have to believe what we believe or do what we do to “earn” any kind of approval or love. We are absolutely under no obligation to ensure that anyone does anything. Our one and only job is to love others no matter what they do and don’t do.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I am completely unqualified to comment on this! I’m probably the one handing out bad advice….!
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Here is an excerpt from one of my books, When Life Gets Hard:
After I accidentally jumped off the cliff, I was flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City. There, the doctors repaired both of my legs, my left wrist, and my neck. During these surgeries, my lungs collapsed. I spent two months in the Respiratory ICU with breathing devices attached to me. I was intubated, which just meant that I had a large garden hose in my lungs that came out of my mouth and it breathed for me. With this tube in my mouth, I could not talk, I could not laugh, I could not eat, I could not drink.
Days passed with no lung improvement. The doctors told my family that I would be on a ventilator for the rest of my life. It was during this time when I HATED the overused comment on ‘how lucky I was to be alive.’ I thought that being dead would have been so much better.
I woke up one morning very aware of my pathetic, miserable situation; I could not walk, sit up, eat, drink, or even breathe myself. I started to cry. Because of the garden hose poking out of my mouth though, I only choked. It would not have mattered anyway; no one was there with me that morning. The tears flowed freely.
There was nothing I could do to better anything and I knew crying would only make things worse. I opened my eyes I looked around my hospital room and I prayed for love for everything I saw. I prayed for love for the window, for the view of the parking lot, for the light switches. I prayed for love for the incessant and annoying monk music CD that my mom had put on repeat. I prayed for love for my immoveable legs, for the numerous IVs in my arms, for the empty visitor’s chairs, for the large rubber tube that came out of my mouth and breathed for me. I prayed that I would love everything I saw.
As I asked for all this love, I got it. My heart began to swell inside me and I felt like I was being lifted off the bed. I was so happy that the tears spilling down my face were the happy kind. Moreover, I am sure you could not tell, but behind the rubber hose, I was smiling. A respiratory therapist came in to administer medications through the large rubber-mouth tube, which normally was a very unpleasant happening, but on that day, I beamed at her. I mean that literally, as literally as you can beam, I guess. I was so full of happiness and light that I felt like I was glowing. I stared the therapist down, hoping she would know what I was trying to say. I needed her to know how good it felt to be me. She focused on her work but kept giving me sideways glances. I could tell she did not want to make eye contact but she could not help herself and when she saw me smiling, she smiled back.
This is the power of love.
In Indonesian, a common phrase is “terima kasih,” which means “accept love.” Indonesians use this phrase in telling someone they are grateful and in thanking them. Basically, their words for ‘thank you’ and ‘love’ are the same word. In English, sometimes I feel as if it is the same, not with the words, but with the feelings used as I express love or gratitude. As I expressed my love for the items in the room around me, it was s if I were saying thank you to each one.
The power of gratitude is a strong foundation on which to begin the fight to pick yourself back up after you fall, as nothing can change your attitude faster than gratitude. A quadriplegic without the use of his arms, hands, legs, or body at all, said “attitude makes all the difference, but gratitude brings me joy.”
Some may think that, for them, there is very little to be thankful about. They may think their life is much too awful to have anything to be grateful for. They are very mistaken.
On that day in the hospital with tubes in my lungs, arms, and nose, I found many items to love and be thankful for. The items I chose to be grateful for were basic included an empty chair, a window, and a light switch. Recently I sat at my computer with my paralyzed hands, I typed out an entire page of things I was grateful for. It took me ten minutes because I am not a very fast typist, but the ideas came swiftly and I did not have trouble coming up with more items. The list was very long indeed and included over 275 things for which I was grateful.
And all of those things are things I am grateful for – in my little finger.
My little finger does not move. All of my fingers I can feel except my little finger. It tingles and is numb most of the time. I cannot feel hot or cold with it.
There is always something to be grateful for.
One of the greatest philosophers from ancient Rome was Cicero. Though he considered his greatest achievements to be in the political realm, Cicero will forever be remembered by me as having taught this profound truth: Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.
As we are grateful, we will recognize that other virtues like honesty and integrity will come easily to us. Being grateful is not only an important step, it is a crucial step in fighting to pick yourself back up after something bad has knocked you down.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
My wonderful husband J We were married in 2008, four years after I was paralyzed. He has been my greatest supporter and enabled me to become a speaker, writer, and mom. He’s the best.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 5:30 and do my hair and makeup first while I listen to a General Conference talk(s). I then go to my office and write out my to-do list for the day, including the questions, fears, concerns I have, and the things I need (strength, optimism, gentleness, love, etc.) that will enable me to do all of the things I’ve written. I then pray for my day and the things I’ve written. After I pray I update my to-do list with changes I feel I need to make. I then read my scriptures. I then write in my journals, I write in one for myself and one for each of my two daughters. I keep notes on my phone throughout each day so I can remember what I’d like to write about each morning. I then exercise. I drink 32 ounces of water from the time I wake up until the time my morning routine ends, which is 7:45. I then dress for the day and make breakfast for my family. My daughters sometimes need help with their morning routines and will come in during mine, but they are learning to wake up, pray, read scriptures, exercise, practice piano, and THEN they can play. My girls are 7 and 4.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
This is a very good question and the answer is my morning routine. My morning routine is the greatest help for my life. Taking the time to mentally create my day makes my day go by smoother and when it goes nothing as I created, I roll with it and make adjustments as needed. If I lie down at night, not having accomplished anything I set out to do that day, it is not for lack of trying!
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
The biggest thing to me is doing anything important in the morning, preferably before anyone else wakes up. If something is very important, do it early. I’m often way too tired at the end of the day to write in my journal or exercise. This has to be done first.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The Book of Mormon and the Bible have influenced my life the most. The grounding fundamental principles of kindness, love, acceptance, and service have shaped my thinking and way of living and serving, no matter what does or doesn’t happen in my life.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” Mark Twain. It reminds me that it’s okay to not have support when you venture out on an idea and good ideas should always be acted upon!