with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode, we meet Janine Shepherd AM, Resilience and Motivation guru.

Janine was an Australian cross country skier, when in 1986, while training for the Winter Olympics on her bike in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, she was hit by a speeding truck. She broke multiple bones in her body, lost 5 litres of blood and spent the next 6 months in the spinal unit of a hospital where she began her long journey from probable death to recovery.

While learning to walk again, she gained her private and commercial pilot’s licences and has gone on to receive an instructor rating, an aerobatics rating and seaplane rating.

Janine has also completed multiple academic qualifications and written 6 books, inspired films and coached and spoken to millions of people. She has 3 children, and received the Order of Australia (AM) in 2001 and the Outstanding Young Person of the World in 1998.

In this episode we talk about: 

  • How the power of cultivating gratitude and the gift of acceptance got her through her hospital experience;
  • How letting go of her former identity helped her discover a new one beyond her wildest dreams;
  • The resilience she developed while going through a marriage breakup, financial disaster and moving countries;
  • Finding laughter and rewiring your brain for a different experience of life; and
  • How the ketogenic diet helped her become pain-free.

Connecting with Janine Shepherd AM

You can reach Janine on her website and can find her various books on Amazon.

Books and resources mentioned in the episode


“So for 10 days I was I guess between life and death. I was airlifted from the scene of the accident. I was run over by a speeding truck, airlifted by the Westpac Helicopter to a large spinal unit in Sydney and that's where I spent the next six months of my life, but the first 10 days were the critical time. My parents were told, “Expect the worst. We don't think she's going to survive this.”


On what her hospital experience taught her

  • Suddenly I was in an environment of people that I had nothing in common with, but now I had everything in common with, because we'd all had accidents, we'd all had the same hopes of dreams of life after the spinal ward.
  • So I learned a lot about life. I learned a lot about connection and how we're all essentially the same, we all want the same things in life. I also learned a lot about compassion because I was extremely blessed in that I had amazing people looking after me, from the orderlies to the nurses to the doctors that were there 24/7, went above and beyond the call of duty to look after me, from the nurse that would sit by my bed all night when I was having a tough time and just wipe down my forehead or sit with me and talk to me all night before I went into spinal surgery. They showed me what it was like to really care for someone and I'd never really experienced that before.
  • When you meet someone you automatically make a judgement about them, what they're wearing, what they look like, what sort of a person they are and I say that it was a soul connection. We didn't know what each other looked like, but we still formed these incredible bonds and we cared for each other because we knew what it was like. We were all going through the same thing and when someone would get wheeled for surgery or for a test or something, when they would come back into the ward we'd all sort of celebrate, “Woo-hoo, welcome back!” So it was a very intimate and very moving time.

On the power of cultivating gratitude

  • “You make a living out of what you get and you make a life out of what you give.”
  • I love the quote by Zig Ziglar. He says, “You can have anything you want when you help as many people get what they want.” So for me it's my way of saying thank you and being grateful for everything that I've been given in life because I understand at the time I didn't understand the power of gratitude, but of course now we know that science tells us that gratitude actually rewires our brain and that was actually a very powerful tool that I used in the spinal ward. I made a decision very early on that everybody that came to visit me, I would be grateful, I'd be happy, I'd smile.

On  how letting go of her former identity helped her discover a new one beyond her wildest dreams

  • They warned me in the hospital, they said, “When you get home it's actually going to hit you. You're going to get depressed.” I thought, “Not me, not Janine the Machine!” But it was true and I did and I got home and it was the dark night of the soul.
  • I questioned why I came back. I didn't want to be in this body. I wanted my life back. I really got to the point where I remember one night actually, pulling myself off my bed and I remember just being on my knees and just saying, “God, you show me a way out of this or show me a way through it,” and that was really the classic dark night of the soul, rock bottom.
  • So I discovered that the more I held on to the idea of Janine the athlete, what I've lost, all of that, the more I suffered and so I let go.
  • Marcel Proust had this great quote, which is, “The journey of discovering is not seeking new landscape, it's in having new eyes.” So for me, it was as if I had new eyes. I had to recalibrate everything about my life and who I was. I made my decision not to see myself not as a person with a disability – and I am, I'm a walking paraplegic – but I had to see myself as a person with opportunities, and that was a great shift for me. 
  • I thought, “Okay, I'm going to find out why I came back. Why did I come back? There must be some meaning in this,” and it was as if my eyes were opened. It was at that moment with that shift that an aeroplane flew over and I really literally looked up and thought, “Okay, well if I can't walk then I'm going to fly,” and it was crazy. Everyone thought I was crazy.

On the gift of acceptance

  • The first pillar of resilience is acceptance. It's a very misunderstood concept. People think acceptance is giving up, acceptance is actually very empowering.
  • For me, the first thing I needed to do with my accident was to accept that this has happened. Once I could do that it gave me the opportunity to say, “Okay, so now what?”
  • Acceptance is a very powerful place to be. In fact, for people that watch my TED Talk, there are five chairs on stage and I created that talk around The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell.

On the resilience she developed while going through a marriage breakup, financial disaster and moving countries

  • I've used the concept of neuroplasticity to change the way I think, to develop new skills in life.
  • There are some skills you need, like for example, there were certain skills that I had when I had my accident and that was great, but then suddenly my marriage broke down and was like, “Well, how come this is so hard?” and there were more skills, there were different things that I needed and again with when I lost my house.
  • So resiliency is fluid, it's moving. There are certain skills that we need to develop and cultivate at different times in our lives. There are key factors that I think that research has shown that they're really important factors of resilience. For example, having a great network. Nothing happens in isolation. 
  • Being able to reach out to loved ones, to people around to know that you do have that support is a really important part of resilience, and being able to reframe things.

On rewiring your brain for a different experience of life

  • Another thing we need to do to really rewire our brains, we really need to create lasting change in our neuro networks, which means that we have to have a different experience of life. Rick Hanson, a psychologist, says that you need to actually really savour something for around about 30 seconds to create that change in neuro networks.
  • If you want change, you've got to work at it, you've got to go over it and over it and over and have that experience until suddenly you've created a new neuro pathway and that's what resilience is all about. It's about changing and rewiring our brains for a different experience of life.

On laughter as an important key to resilience

  • We define ourselves by the things outside of us and if we think that we're our job, we're our house, we're our car, that's how we define ourselves. In America of course, it's very much all about that, it's about the externals. When you start to define yourself by the externals you're in a slippery slope because we're going to lose everything eventually, even our bodies, right?
  • So you really need to look inside and ask those questions, “Who am I? If I'm not those things, then who am I?” and I think that's becoming who we are, it's really tapping into our spiritual selves.
  • Humour is healing and it allows us to sort of detach from whatever we're going through.

On how the ketogenic diet helped her become pain-free

  • So I started very, very serious ketogenic eating, cut out alcohol, all alcohol. Now I wasn't a big drinker, but I started looking at the pathways of, “Okay, this is how the body works, it's going to burn that first, then burn this.”
  • Then about four weeks afterwards I woke up one morning and I thought, “Oh my goodness, where's the pain gone?” And it was incredible!
  • For anyone that's interested in the ketogenic diet, it's an anti-inflammatory diet. So I'm pain-free, virtually pain-free, off all medication, everything.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders 

  • Love the hills!
  • As an athlete, I always trained on the hills. And what are the hills? They're the things that we don't like, they're the challenges in life and the things that we normally run from and we now know that the more we turn towards the hills, the more we reduce the fear circuitry in our brain and the magic happens on the other side of the hill.

Stay epic,