In Learning from Legends

Can you imagine finally achieving your dream, after years of hard work and struggle, only to have your body fail you just when you’ve hit your stride? Sadly, this is what happened to acting legend Michael J. Fox when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the prime of his career.

“Deep down I knew that my love of working – that mega-volt crackle that licked up my spine when a well-written joke was well-timed and well-received – was still there…The unfortunate irony was that at a time when I felt in full possession of the emotional and intellectual dimensions of my performing identity, I could no longer count on my body to play along.”

This month we’re reading Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox. Even though we’re still in the early pages of his book, it’s already abundantly clear that Fox’s optimism – his belief that any situation, given the right circumstances, can improve – has been the key to not only surviving this debilitating degenerative disorder, but turning a devastating diagnosis into an opportunity.

As Fox’s story unfolds, we see a gifted actor robbed of his passion early in life. However, instead of giving up or giving in to the negativity, he allowed his unfortunate circumstances to evolve into a new-found passion: finding a cure.

“For everything this disease has taken, something with greater value has been given – sometimes just a marker that points me in a new direction that I might not have otherwise traveled.”

Inspired by other legends-turned-advocates, like cyclist Lance Armstrong (who started the Lance Armstrong Foundation after battling testicular cancer) and actor Christopher Reeve (who started the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation after a horseback riding accident led to a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the neck down), Fox started the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease and, to date, has funded nearly $176 million in research.

These three legends are living proof that for every cloud there is a silver lining, if you just have the optimism to find it:

“If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on.” – Lance Armstrong

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve

“I can get sad, I can get frustrated, I can get scared, but I never get depressed – because there’s joy in my life.” – Michael J. Fox


Conversation starter: How has optimism helped you overcome the challenges you’ve faced while pursuing your dreams?

Read along! This month we’re reading Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox.

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  • Budger

    I just found your blog, and I am intrigued. Life is made up of perceptions. For pessimists, their perception is a view of a closed door. For optimists, it is a view of a door waiting to be opened to expose opportunity. I try to treat every challenge, from health to work, as a way to discover opportunities. I’m not always successful, but there are always other doors. If you don’t open the door, you will never know what is on the other side.

    • Erika Liodice

      Hi Budger,
      I couldn’t agree more! You never what golden opportunity is hidden beneath what appears to be a negative situation.

      So glad you found us! It’s nice to meet you…and I hope you’ll continue reading!


      • Rhonda

        Thank you Erika! I will be back.

  • Terry Paulson

    I also have read and quoted Michael Fox’s work. I couldn’t agree more with the reality that optimism is a choice. My new book, The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results, covers some of the same ground. Your readers may want to take advantage of a recent post on my website where I included 20 top tips on what people can do to claim their own optimism advantage (

    Michael Fox, like other optimists, is a realist. Optimism comes from a track record of overcoming obstacles. The more they overcome, the more optimistic they are that they can do it again. They are realists because they want to know what they face, so they can get busy making the best of the hand they are dealt. The one thing Michael Fox can not change, by his own admission, is that he has Parkinson’s. He gets busy doing what he can with the rest of his life…which is impressive.

    Thanks for your informative and positive post on optimism. Your readers would also enjoy some of the content on my Optimism Advantage blog. Thanks again for acknowledging Micheal’s book.

    • Erika Liodice

      Hi Terry,
      Thanks for sharing your 20 top tips; they’re GREAT! My favorites are: You Can’t Win if You Don’t Get in the Game, Keep Perspective, and Serve and Be Served.


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