Who Is Meg Johnson?
You have to search far and wide to find a someone as delightful as Meg Johnson. She oozes goodness from every pore. And her story is remarkable! After a horrific accident left her paralyzed, Meg found happiness and joy serving others and helping others in similar circumstances find their voice. She loves throwing parties and constantly has a party in her heart. She makes people feel absolute joy and welcomed. Her lessons about loving where you are and finding gratitude in all things have helped her have an incredible positive outlook on life despite physical limitations. Hope you enjoy this podcast!
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Personal Life of Meg
Before her accident, Meg was a professional party planner and ballroom dancer. Her boyfriend at the time never danced with her. That relationship ended after her fall, but during her recovery she had reconnected with Whit, her ex-boyfriend she had remained friends with. He waited until after her recovery from the fall to propose to her, and Meg has commented that he always makes her smile and knows how to cheer her up. She has spoken fondly about a memory from “when Meg dropped the chicken pot pie they were going to have for dinner, she says Whit cheers her on, like when he just smiled and said, ‘Looks like peanut butter, huh?’” and she has also said that Whit was there in the hospital when she was recovering, making balloon animals. He was there when Meg graduated Weber State University. He was there the first time she drove a car after her fall. They have been happily married since 2008 and now live in Utah, have two wonderful daughters and love to host as many tea parties as possible.
How Did Meg Fall?
In 2004, Meg was in Zion’s National Park hiking with her boyfriend. This was the first time for her in this area, but Meg was enjoying hopping from boulder to boulder on the trail, until she accidentally mistook a boulder for a large 45-ft drop below. Meg has said “I knew what I had done like right as I did it, I knew I jumped off a cliff, but I was just so shocked because I swore there was a boulder right there, but it was a mountain top far away. It was my first time in this area; I wasn’t familiar with it. So it felt like I was suspended in the air for a really long time as I was thinking the implication of this.”
Meg landed on her hands and knees, sadly causing both arms and legs to break upon impact along with her collar bone and four bones in her neck. After seeing her arms sprawled out in front of her, Meg managed to make a fist with her hand. She spent what felt like a long time wondering whether she was even alive. Eventually, Meg blacked out and was soon taken to the hospital.
Meg has spoken about how difficult her recovery was. She went through denial, utterly unconvinced she was paralyzed. However, after some time spent in the hospital, she came to realize and accept what had happened to her. She also realized that moment after the fall when she clenched her fist was the last time she would ever do so.
What Has Meg Achieved?
Even though Meg is now wheelchair-bound, she hasn’t let that keep her sitting still. Meg was paralyzed halfway through college but finished her degree at Weber State University. She has a BA in communications with a minor in English. Since then she has taken part in what’s called Murder Ball, which is rugby for wheelchair users. She has also taken part in a Ms. Wheelchair pageant, and her reach has included teens and littles in wheelchairs through the Teen Spokes and Princess Pageant. She has since taught high-school students in Northern Utah, and once her story had gone viral, she has been on numerous television and print stories, become a motivational speaker, and released books and CD’s inspiring people all over the world.
What an inspiring, brave, and talented woman Meg Johnson truly is!
Meg Johnson Podcast Transcription
Charan: Meg rolling.
Meg: I’m always rolling.
Charan: You’re always rolling.
Meg: I’m always rolling.
Charan: Oh, man. Come on. How many more rolling puns are we going to get before the day’s end? I have no idea. This is amazing.
Charan: Guys, this is Charan Prabhakar, I am with the Lemonade Stand Podcast and this is Meg Johnson and we are so grateful, Meg, that you’re in, even agreed to come and be on this podcast, so thank you for your time. Appreciate it.
Meg: He says, “Come and be on this podcast,” but actually, this is my house and he came all the way here so that he could visit me and learn about me.
Charan: Yeah. So, you know what? Hugely, we’re both benefited, so this is amazing. But thank you so much for even agreeing to do this because I heard your story is incredible and just meeting you in person for like the few minutes before we started this podcast, I was like, “Man, I’m so inspired.” And so, this is great. So thank you again.
Charan: But the Lemonade Stand Podcast, we were discussing a little bit earlier, is all about Lemonade Stand Stories. When you’re a kid, your first business could’ve been starting a Lemonade Stand and then seeing how that goes and then from there you’re able to go do other ventures and whatnot, so I would love to hear your Lemonade Stand story.
Meg Johnson Talks About Her First Business
Charan: Now, this could’ve happened maybe before your accident or even after, but can you remember the first time you started a business of sorts or anything like that where you wanted to go out and inspire the world?
Meg: I did have a lot of garage sales as a kid.
Meg: I would pull things out, mm-hmm (affirmative). And I wanted to also make mailboxes at one time.
Meg: But I did it in the wrong order, so instead of making the mailboxes for my family, because I thought that’d be so cute, my mom would have her mailbox, my dad would have a mailbox, my siblings all have their own mailboxes, but instead of making the mailboxes first, what I did was collect all the mail.
Charan: Good first step. Yeah.
Meg: And so, I had all of this mail piling in my closet and I was like, “I don’t think this is a good business.” And so then, I just became a delivery mailer.
Meg: A postal worker instead of a mailbox maker. So I guess-
Charan: But hey-
Meg: … I really get a feeling business is…
Charan: Listen, that’s fantastic, though. See, you delivered mail, though, which is amazing. I can’t think of anyone else that’s done that for a business. How old were you when this happened?
Meg: I was, oh, goodness, it was elementary school, must have been third grade, second grade.
Charan: Okay. Awesome. So that was your first go at business. Did you do anything else along the way?
Meg: Anything successful?
Charan: Hey listen, any experience is successful. So that was amazing.
Meg: Well, I was actually… Well, I don’t know, this isn’t creating my own business, but I was an excellent waitress.
Charan: Oh, yeah.
Meg: Because I took myself to a trucker stop and nobody tips like truckers.
Meg: And if you know that, then… and I would go home with very, very heavy pockets.
Charan: Really? Man. That’s great, because I was a bellman and I didn’t get tipped that well as a bellman, but a trucker place, that would be interesting.
Meg: Shameless flirting. That’s the name of the game.
Charan: Oh, yeah. I could do that. I will shameless flirt with any truck driver to get those tips.
Meg: Some may be more successful than others.
Charan: I’m sure you probably will be way more successful than I ever will be.
Meg: Well, at least maybe with truck drivers.
Meg Johnson Talks About Being a Party Planner
Charan: Yeah, exactly. So you did that for a while. Now, let’s talk a little bit about, I guess before your accident, if you don’t mind talking about that, and we can kind of talk a little bit about the events that led up to it. But what were you doing before your accident?
Meg: Before my accident I was… what was I doing? I was a children’s party planner. That’s what I was.
Meg: In fact, businesswise, the only thing I ever really wanted to be was a party planner.
Charan: Oh, cool.
Meg: I love parties. In fact, I have a seven-year-old now and she just turned seven last week, and our biggest argument about her party was I really wanted her to invite everyone from her class.
Meg: And she didn’t want to, and I’m like, “No, you have to invite everybody.” She was like “But there’s two classes.” I’m like, “Let’s invite both classes.” And she wants small parties and I want big parties, and that’s what I was. I was a professional party planner before my accident.
Meg: And they were big and they were awesome and we made the news.
Meg: It was like I had this 4,000 square foot area and I turned it into a jungle for one party and I turned it into a-
Charan: Oh my gosh.
Meg: … like a theater for another party, and we hired all of these great entertainers and storytellers. Anyway, jugglers. In fact my husband is a juggler and so he came in.
Meg: He juggled for one of them too.
Charan: Oh my gosh. This is unbelievable.
Meg: Oh my gosh, I love parties. I love them.
Charan: And yeah, I mean, you’re continuing to live the world of parties, I suppose, but was this just something which is always in you? You were like, “I have to throw parties.”
Meg: Yes, always in me.
Meg: Always in me, all through high school, junior high school, elementary school, loved any kind of party. Any reason to celebrate and so-
Charan: You would do that?
Meg: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Even for my church community, I always find a way to squeeze my way into the party planning committee.
Meg: Neighborhood parties. So anyway, that’s just something about me that’s very strong.
Charan: Well that’s amazing. I mean, was it about parties that just drew you to them? Was it just the sense of community, the sense of celebration? All of the above?
Meg: Yeah, all the above. Really any reason to celebrate. Even now, if there’s a good reason to celebrate I’m like, let’s-
Charan: Let’s do it.
Meg: Let’s do it. I own all the stemware, like for…
Charan: Oh my gosh. That’s unbelievable. It’s funny because I was mentioning to you, I’m from India and my cousins in India are like you, they just love to party so much. But it’s all within the family, and any reason they have to celebrate, they will find that reason to celebrate. And so, when I was with them, someone might stub their toe, time to party. Someone did whatever, it was time to party.
Meg: That sounds like my kind of people.
Charan: They’re amazing people. And it was so funny, because one of the times when I was with them, they were just so excited that like… I mean, they all had Indian accents, so they were like, “Hey, Charan, wonderful story Charan, we have a wonderful party to go to.” I’m like, “Cool. What’s up?” “Wonderful restaurant open in India. We have to take you there and celebrate.” I’m like, “Great. What is it?” And they’re like, “It’s called Pizza Hut.” I’m like, “Wait. What?” They’re like, “Yes, Pizza Hut.” I’m like, “No, I know what pizzas are,” and they were trying to explain to me how you put toppings on pizzas, but they were so excited about it that I’m like, it was unbelievable and I was going to Pizza Hut for the first time just because they love that whole environment.
Meg: Oh, those are good people. I always wondered if you were… I always did kind of feel like other cultures and me mesh.
Charan: Well, I’m telling you, man, there’s a lot of people like you out there that love the celebration, so that’s awesome. I’m so glad that you have that in you and you want to throw a party or whatnot.
Meg Johnson Talks About Her Accident
Charan: So you were doing party planning, you loved doing it. Now, let’s talk a little bit about the accident and things that led up to it and then how your life changed after that.
Meg: Okay. All right. Well, what happened was, I was a party planner and every weekend for sure. And then I went with my boyfriend at the time to Southern Utah and I’m not from Utah, and so, this was my first time to Southern Utah, and I didn’t know, because Southern Utah is the beautiful red rocks and the red sand and the red dirt and the arches and things like that, and I’d never been there. And I was just like, “Wow, this is amazing,” And so we were out walking in this little red rock path and at one point the path forked, so my boyfriend went one way and I went the other way, because he was going to go watch some rock climbers, and I saw some boulders, and so all the boulders were kind of like candied yams, you know, the marshmallows and-
Meg: … all over the place. That’s what it looked like to me. And so, I was jumping on the tops of these boulders from one to the other, until I saw this one last boulder and I jumped for it, and on accident I just jumped off a cliff.
Charan: Wait, so you thought it was going to be a boulder that you were jumping onto, but it was really a cliff.
Meg: Yeah. I mean, because there’s somewhere about the red rocks makes everything sort of blend together.
Charan: Sure. Yeah.
Meg: And so, I didn’t realize there was a space-
Charan: Oh my gosh.
Meg: … like a canyon between my boulder that I was on and the one that I was jumping for.
Charan: Oh my gosh.
Meg: So I did, I jumped off this cliff and I fell about 45 feet to the ground and I landed, they think, on hands and knees because I broke both my arms and both my legs, my collarbone and four bones in my neck.
Charan: Oh my gosh. Were you conscious at all or did you completely…
Meg: Yeah, I was conscious. I have a hair in my eyeballs.
Charan: We can take that out. No problem. No biggie.
Meg: We don’t need to edit it. You guys care about my eyeball hair.
Meg: So anyway, I was… What was the question?
Charan: Well, you know what? Now I’m fascinated about your eyeball hair. But let’s get back to the time you fell off and you said you were conscious.
Meg: Oh, yeah. I was. So when I initially jumped off the cliff, I remember that, and the time slowed down or sped up or something, so I was just standing there in the air for a really long time and I knew what I’d done. I knew, and so, I flipped around to face the rocks that I was just standing on, and so, I was looking at those rocks and I reached for them to try to touch them, but I don’t remember touching them and I just said, even out loud, I was like, “I’m going to fall.” And I didn’t even look down or anything, I just closed my eyes really tight and I had the initial sensation of falling kind of like a rollercoaster, but then I felt like I went up and then I don’t remember anything.
Meg: Until I was on the ground.
Charan: Do you remember landing? You don’t remember any of that.
Meg: I don’t remember landing. I don’t remember. They think I either bounced off the rocks or anything, but on the ground, my boyfriend came to find me and I’d been hot, so I’d taken off my sweater, and so, he looked over the edge and he saw me on the ground.
Charan: Oh my gosh.
Meg: He knew my arms were broken because there was bones poking through the skin.
Charan: Oh my gosh.
Meg: He knew my legs were broken because they were in pieces in my pants, but he actually didn’t know the extent of my injuries and I remember him, he’d come down to see me. He’s like, “Can you feel this, can you feel this, can you feel this?” And I don’t remember what I said, but then he ran to get the rock climbers that he’d been watching, because he didn’t have a phone, and I didn’t have a phone, and then the rock climbers came and they had some phones. And so the one rock climber gets down with me and he calls 911 and he’d been re-certified in first aid and CPR just like the week before.
Charan: Oh, wow.
Meg: So even though there was nothing he could do, he knew that. I think sometimes it takes more confidence not to do something.
Meg: And so, my boyfriend was freaking out, and so the other rock climber took him away and then it was just me and the other rock climber, Rob, and I heard a lot of this story from Rob, and he told me that I kept telling him that my fingertips hurt. My fingertips hurt. Why do my fingertips hurt? And I’ve got blood coming out of my mouth and everything’s broken.
Charan: My gosh.
Meg: My collarbone and my neck is obviously broken and he’s like, your fingertips hurt, tell me all about it on a scale of one to 10.
Charan: You couldn’t feel anything else?
Meg: That’s all I complained about. What a blessing that that would be my biggest-
Meg: … My chief complaint was my-
Charan: Your fingertips.
Meg: … fingertips hurt. But I kept telling him. He’s like, “Can I do…” because 911 wanted me to keep talking.
Meg: There wasn’t anything they could do, so that’s why he was talking to me and he’s like, “Can I do anything for you?” I was like, “Call my mom. Tell her I’m okay.” He’s like, this strange man, “I’m not going to call this lady’s mom.” And I was like, “Anything else? I left my sweater up there. I need you to get it.”
Meg: And so, he just talked to me until the ambulance came, but then when I was gone, he told me later that he did climb the cliff to go get my sweater that was on top, and he saw the reason why my fingertips hurt and he saw claw marks going down the cliff face. I know it’s scary.
Meg: So I did, when I reached for the rocks I could touch them, but I don’t remember that.
Charan: Oh, wow.
Meg: But I’m glad that I did that ,because if I hadn’t, I’d have been like, “Oh, my collarbone really hurts,” and really later that was…
Charan: The pain, yeah.
Meg: That hurt worse than anything was the collarbone.
Charan: Oh my gosh.
Meg: Obviously my legs were paralyzed.
Charan: Yeah. So, were you at the hospital for a long, long while, or how did that all…?
Meg: Yeah, and so I’m a C7 quadriplegic. And so, what that means is I’m paralyzed from my chest down and my hands don’t work, and usually if you break your neck, your spinal cord injury, it’s pretty much an outpatient surgery.
Meg: They fix you up and then that’s all they can do for you. They send you to rehab. But for me, it’s because I broke my arms and because I broke my legs that I stayed in the hospital longer, so they did the surgeries on my legs, both legs have rods in them, and during those surgeries for whatever reason they did them at the same time as my arms, or my one arm, and my lungs collapsed. So I was in the respiratory ICU for three months, and I was in the hospital itself for four. And so, I was on a ventilator, and so now with all this talk, everybody knows what a ventilator is now, and so I’m like, “Oh my gosh. It sounds terrible.” So it was-
Charan: Oh man. So how long the whole hospital experience last?
Meg: It’s about March to June, so March, April, May, June.
Charan: Yeah, about four months or so?
Meg: About four months.
Meg: And I missed a whole spring, and so now every time spring comes around, I’m hungry for it. When I smell it, I’m like… I can’t breathe enough. I’m like [gasping 00:15:26]
Charan: Of course. Gosh, that’s crazy. I mean, the thing is just like, having that whole experience and being able to come out of that. But were you positive throughout the whole thing? Were there ever times when you were like, “Okay, this is just awful. This is the worst.” Or were you like, “No, I can handle this. I can go for it.”
Meg: A little bit of both, I guess. I’m generally a happy person.
Charan: Sure, I can gather that from now.
Meg: This took its toll and maybe put my happiness to the test. There is a poem by Ellen Wheeler Wilcox, she said, “It’s easy enough to be pleasant when life flows by like a song, but the man worthwhile is the one who will smile when everything goes dead wrong.”
Meg: And so, I’ve discovered secrets along the way that keep happiness with me, and I’ve learned that you can be a happy person generally, like I am generally a happy person, but there’s skills that it takes to stay happy. I have a college degree, but I’m not necessarily an educated person. I’m not a scientist. I don’t… Just give me a party. I just want to go and party.
Charan: Of course.
Meg: I barely graduated high school.
Meg: But that’s not me as the researcher, but I am deeply interested in staying happy, and so school of life, I’m still learning, but there are things to learn and I learned early on when I was in the hospital ICU, so it’s a tube that goes in your mouth and down your throat and then it branches out into your lungs as being intubated, and then so I was intubated, and then I had the feeding tube that goes in your nose and then you have to swallow it and that goes in your tummy, and then I had, so let’s see, mouth and nose. Then I had the PICC lines, that’s the lines in your upper arms for medications in both arms. And then I had the watering lines in my elbow pits.
Meg: And then I had tubes coming into each one of my lungs that drain the bloody fluid that my lungs were filling with. And because I’d fallen so far and broken so many bones and one time chewed through the intubation tube, the doctors were sure that I had brain damage, which I don’t, just to clear that up. Don’t have brain damage. Not that there’s anything wrong with people who have brain damage.
Charan: No. It’s great, if you have brain damage [crosstalk 00:17:49] But be happy for you having not a damaged brain.
Meg: Yeah. It’s goodness. And so, but I couldn’t talk to tell them that I didn’t have brain damage or to express it.
Meg: And so, to stop me from pulling the tubes out, they tied my arms to the bed.
Charan: Oh my gosh. You have zero mobility at all at this point.
Meg: Right. And I had the metal halo screwed into my head up here, arms tied to the bed, legs are paralyzed. And that’s how I was in the respiratory ICU. And I woke up, I’m not even sure if it was morning or night, but there was no one in my hospital room. My boyfriend was great, always there. My mom was great, always there. Nobody there. That’s why when I woke up and I started to cry and I tried to shake my head, which of course I couldn’t do.
Charan: You couldn’t do that, yeah.
Meg: And I was like, I can’t start my day like this. If I start my day like this, it’s only going to get worse. And so, I didn’t know what to do. And so out of desperation for something to do, I opened my eyes and of course I’m laying flat on my back. So I’m looking right at the ceiling and I pray, and I think everybody has a secret prayer in their heart to whatever God they pray to. And I’m like, “Bless me with love for that ceiling.” And I felt a little better.
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: And then I looked out the window and I said, “I’m blessed with love for that window, and that car and that hospital chair and the TV and the light switch and the blankets and the tubes.” And I prayed for love everything that I saw. And by the time I’d done that I was crying again only I was crying because I was so happy. I had gone from being so sad to the point of tears, to being so happy to the point of tears, simply by loving everything that was around me. At that time the respiratory therapist came in and started to administer medication, which hurts.
Meg: When she’s doing it into your lungs and stuff, but that day I beamed at her. As much as you can beam from under the tape and tubes and everything, I was staring at her and she kept looking at me and then doing her thing, and then she… I’m sure it only increased their suspicions that I did in fact have brain damage. But I needed her to know how good it felt to be me.
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: And that’s just one step in my non-working life that learned, you can control how happy you are with how you treat your environment.
Charan: Yeah. It’s so beautiful. I mean that’s such a profound great lesson to learn in those dire circumstances, because so many times we base our happiness on the environment. Oh, if the environment is a certain way or we have a certain expectations going a certain way, then we’re happy. But if things don’t go a certain way, then we’re not happy. And I loved how in a situation where you were so completely physically helpless and your happiness could have just drained away to complete and utter misery. You consciously, with the spirit that was in you, said, “I want love for everything I can see.” And just that alone allowed you to start feeling better and feeling happy. That’s an incredible mindset.
Charan: And see one of the questions I was going to ask you was, what was a moment in your life when you were able to turn lemons into lemonade? And I feel like that you just already answered that question without even me asking.
Meg: Yeah. That’s absolutely what it was because everybody gets lemons, but you need a sweetener.
Charan: You need a sweetener.
Meg: Because everyone has an ingredient for lemonade.
Meg: But you need the sweetener and then that’s the sweetener when you have to go purchase or buy it in some way.
Meg Johnson Talks the Keys to Healing
Charan: Yeah. And it’s so interesting when your spirit is all that you have left and within the spirit, can you find it within yourself to be like, “I want to find joy, I want to find happiness.” Do you feel like that level of joy and that happiness within you was a key to your healing?
Meg: Yes and no.
Meg: Yes, it was part of it. And really being grateful for your circumstances and loving where you are is the most basic first step that anyone can take, walking or not.
Meg: But there was more that I had to learn because that was when I was in the respiratory ICU. But when I came home from the hospital, coming home was a brand new trial because I’ve always been paralyzed in the hospital. I’ve never been to the hospital not paralyzed. I’d never broke any bone before in my whole life until I broke every bone.
Meg: And so, I never had to go. And then anyway, when I came home to my house, I’d never been paralyzed in my house before.
Meg: I’d never been like a young single adult, like 22 years old, trying to date from a wheelchair. And I’d never been… My boyfriend dumped me, which it’s terrible.
Meg: And then anyway, so I was single and lonely and in my old life with my new body and it was so hard. And I remember I was sitting on my back porch watching the grass grow. And the first holiday that I was home was the 4th of July.
Meg: And the very first person to come down the parade was, of course, the flags, and in one huge “guess what you can’t do” motion, everybody stood up. And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And I used to get really lightheaded. Well, I still get really lightheaded, but I’m more used to it now. But I was just so upset, I leaned over, put my head between my knees, and my mom had put a pin underneath my wheelchair, so that I could see it every time I got lightheaded and tip my head over, but she didn’t put it right side up, she put it upside down so that it was a butterfly pin. And so, it was right side up to me. And I was thinking about butterflies and I’m like, “You know what? They don’t start out that way.”
Meg: Butterflies are beautiful and everybody loves them. And they’re so cute and pretty; even men love butterflies.
Charan: Yeah, man. I love butterflies.
Meg: Who doesn’t love butterflies?
Meg: But I’m like, they don’t start out that way. They start out with a billion little tiny legs, merging and eaten away so happy. Then they build themselves a nice little-
Meg: … nesting cocoon, and then they emerge, are they okay with this? Did they approve this in this life? Was that something they were on board with? And I was thinking about myself and I was like, I’m kind of like that. And I think everyone goes through a change like that, where they become a butterfly, but they’re like, no, I really wanted to be a caterpillar. I was happy with the caterpillar.
Charan: Yeah. I want it just being on the ground and just keep eating away.
Meg: Yeah, exactly. And really any change is that metamorphosis. Is that the word, metamorphosis?
Charan: Sure. Sounds great. Metamorphosis.
Meg: Back to I’m a partier, not a researcher.
Meg: And so anyway, I was thinking, I was like, what do I have to do to learn to fly? I got to dry office these wings because a butterfly actually can’t fly-
Meg: Initially, it has to dry off its wings and pump the blood from the body to the wings and stuff. That’s my science, that’s as much as I know, I just told everyone, it’s like that’s what I know about butterflies. [crosstalk 00:25:05] And I was like, “What am I going to do? And I’m sitting there on the back porch watching the grass grow, and then I’m having other experiences where I’m high-centered on a road speed bump.
Meg: I’m not exactly sure. It wasn’t on the road, it was near an elevator. There must have been excessive pedestrian traffic going to the elevator because it was a speed bump, and my front wheels were in front, my back was laying back. I couldn’t go backwards, that’s not where I wanted to go. I couldn’t go forwards because I wasn’t strong enough. And then I took the weight off me. I had a bunch of laptops and bags on my lap. And so, I put them on the other side of the speed bump. And then, I was like, I grabbed my wheels again. And I was like, “Okay, all I’ve got to lift is me.” I don’t have any more baggage, I took it off. And when I realized that, then I was able to get over the speed bump. And I think sometimes we collect baggage in our lives, things that we shouldn’t worry about. We don’t need to, it’s not our stress, it’s not our life.
Meg: And so, we can just remove that and focus on ourselves for a minute and be like, “Okay, I’ve cleaned all this out. What do I have to do to get over this speed bump?” And so, back to the porch, sitting on the porch, watching the grass grow, I was like, I’ve got to do something to lift myself, because I was so depressed.
Meg: I had to drop out of college for that semester. I mean, I was in my rock climbing classes and all this stuff.
Meg: I couldn’t plan parties anymore. I probably could have planned them, but I did all the work too.
Meg: So they just canceled that program. And so anyway, and then my boyfriend cheated on me and so I was all alone. And so, I was like, “What do I have to do to get through this?” And I remembered someone saying, “The worst thing you can do to somebody is to take away their work because then they can’t stop to rest.”
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: And I was like, “I got to find something. I got to find anything.” And so, I had my mom pushed me down to this local elementary school. I asked the principal if I could volunteer. And she put me with the second-grade class, and I sat in the hallway in my wheelchair and kids would come out and read me their library book. And I was their cheerleader. I’m like, “You’re doing such a good job. I really like that book. That was a big word.” Then they cross their name off the list because I didn’t know how to use a pencil yet. And then they called the next student because I wasn’t strong enough to do it. And that little service was so small and inconsequential and meaningless, I’m sure to them, but it was none of those things to me.
Meg: From that tiny little act of service, I started to recognize that I had something left to give, I had someone left to be, something left to do. And so, I started to love the new me, the butterfly me and the things that I could do and I did it. My life started to take flight and I joined the Utah Wheelchair Rugby team.
Charan: Wow. Yeah.
Meg: Which if you’ve ever seen those rugby, it looks like bumper car keep away.
Charan: It sounds amazing.
Meg: At the end of each practice and game, I was covered in blood, my own and other people’s.
Charan: Of course.
Meg: And honey.
Meg: Because we have to be quadriplegics if you’re on the team. So everyone’s hands are paralyzed or missing. And so, we’d cover our hands with honey, so you’d lick your fingers [slurping 00:27:57].
Charan: Yeah. It’s amazing.
Meg: Very delicious for a little sweet and salty.
Charan: Yeah. Wow.
Meg: And then I heard about the Miss Wheelchair America pageant in New York.
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: And I never did pageants before, but I was kind of craving something a little bit more girly.
Meg: So I call them up. I was like, I’m Meg, I’m from Utah. What do I have to do to come participate in Miss Wheelchair America? And they’re like, “Oh, you’re from Utah. Well, Utah doesn’t have a state pageant, and you have to be a state winner to come to Miss Wheelchair America. I’m sorry, you can’t come.” And I was like, “Fine.” So then I get off the phone. Then I get on eBay and I bought myself a crown, and I called back the Miss Wheelchair America board. And I was like, “Hello, I am Miss Wheelchair Utah.” So they let me come.
Charan: No way. Are you kidding me?
Meg: And I participated in Miss Wheelchair America after I’d been paralyzed 16 months and 16 days. I remember because that’s how my speech started. “I’ve been paralyzed 16 months and 16 days.” I didn’t know anything, it’s an advocacy role, Miss Wheelchair America’s very advocacy. They advocate for people with disabilities and stuff.
Meg: And so, in the judging, they’re like, “How do you feel about the ADA laws in Utah?” And I was like, “Yes… the what?”
Charan: I’m so sorry. What’d you say?
Meg: I still don’t even know what they are.
Charan: I put honey on my fingers, what’d you say?
Meg: Did you go to party?
Meg: Because that’s what I want to do.
Meg: And so anyway, who won that year? It was Miss Rhode Island, but they gave out one other judge-awarded award, which is called the Spirit Award, which means we really like you and you’re super cute, but you don’t know anything about being in a wheelchair, and they gave it to me and I was so happy to receive that. I felt so honored-
Meg: … that they would give me this award and they brought it up to me and I opened it up and guess what?
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: It was a pin.
Charan: Oh wow.
Meg: Of a butterfly.
Meg: Yes. And so, and the flight of a butterfly is called a flutter.
Meg: Which really by definition means to fly unsteadily. So it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what we’re doing, we can still do it. Right?
Meg: And we can still do it and still take flight in our lives, even if we did… I would way rather… I used to ballroom dance.
Charan: Oh, wow.
Meg: And I would way rather be ballroom dancing too. And I cry sometimes in my heart and I don’t let myself cry too much. Just it’s okay to feel sad, but you just got to move on and I’ve got two little girls now, so I’m married, he’s hot [growl 00:30:23].
Meg: And we have two little girls and I can’t teach them how to dance, which hurts.
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: I just teach them that they do. And so, we have dance parties. We had one last night, everyone chooses a song.
Meg: It doesn’t matter that I can’t teach them the steps.
Meg: What matters is that I can teach them the willingness,
Charan: The spirit of it.
Charan: Win on win. Yeah.
Meg: It’s okay, if we’re not good, we can still feel great.
Charan: Yeah. I mean, that’s so great. Like, jeez man, I’m just sitting here listening and just so inspired. This is crazy. I’ve just loved everything you’ve said. I mean, I think the biggest thing for me that the biggest takeaway is the spirit and the willingness to do something. And even if you don’t feel like you can do it the most perfect, it doesn’t matter. Like you’re doing it. You’re having fun. You’re having a good time. I’ve never been an overly competitive guy. I just haven’t been. But man, I love to play sports and have fun because to me it’s the experience, it’s getting out there having a good time with your friends and creating these amazing positive memories, which it seems to me that your life is nothing but rich memories despite all these setbacks, you could say, it’s just provided a vehicle in a way to create amazing memories. And just for yourself now, but for so many other people that can listen to your story and feel inspired and say, “Yeah, I can, I can do anything. I can go do this. I can go do that.”
Charan: I grew up super shy. I was so shy growing up but even as a kid, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, how cool would it be to become an actor?” But I was like, “No, but there’s just no way. Because that’s something that someone else could do, not me.” But when I finally got around to it, like in 2004, I remember I had this epiphany that led me to become an actor. It was this realization of like, “Wow, I’m so stopped by my own fears. And that’s the only limitation I have are the ones that I’ve already imposed on myself. Nobody else could impose any type of fear on me.”
Charan: And so when I decided, “Okay, I’m going to face my challenges, whatever it is,” things just kind of flowed and things just became awesome. And so, it’s cool to me to see what you’ve been able to do because of your circumstances and not what you were not able to do because of your circumstances. Now you become a speaker as well, is that’s what you’ve been saying, right?
Meg Johnson Talks About Becoming a Motivational Speaker
Charan: So tell me a little bit about that journey. How did that go?
Meg: I didn’t mean to… After I came home from the hospital, one of the nurses invited me to speak at a nursing conference.
Meg: And I’d never done that before. And so, and I had wanted to be a speaker before I was paralyzed, but I started to take the classes and kind of go that route. But then I stopped because I realized I am not passionate enough about anything to speak about it.
Meg: And so, then I went to party planning. And so anyway, after I got paralyzed, I discovered some passion and not that I pursued it at all. But the nurse asked me to speak at this nursing conference. And so, I went and I kind of just shared what I knew up to that point.
Meg: And they started to applaud in the middle of my talk. And so, I thought I was supposed to be done. So I just left the stage.
Meg: That was my first experience with a public speaker. And then from that experience, someone else asked me to speak and then someone else asked me to speak. And then my whole speaking business grew and grew and grew just by word of mouth. And then quite a few years later, I got a website and the social media and stuff.
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: But then it just… And I think the reason that people relate to what it is I have to say, is not because we look the same, but because we feel the same, because I know that you don’t have to have anything wrong with your legs to feel like you just can’t take one more step in this life.
Meg: And you don’t have to be paralyzed to feel like you just can’t put one foot in front of the other or anything. And so…
Charan: Okay, you don’t have to be physically paralyzed to feel paralyzed.
Meg: Exactly. And then, I in my opinion because I walked for 22 years, I was paralyzed in 2004, about the time you had your epiphany about acting.
Meg: And so, I walked and I used my fingers and my whole body for 22 years. And I know that the hardest trials in this life do not affect your body. That’s like small potatoes on the totem pole of trials. It’s like the ground that holds up the totem pole, really any physical problems are trumped by spiritual dilemmas and emotional troubles and mental struggles and social struggles, even familial struggles. Everything else is harder to deal with and physical trials really are. I mean, it’s pretty basic.
Meg: And if you don’t know what a physical trial is, the waiting, that part is the worst. And if you ask anybody and they’re like, “I wish I just didn’t know. I wish I just knew what it was. I wish I just wasn’t in this waiting period” seeing the waiting period is all an emotional trial. That’s not even a physical trial.
Charan: Yeah. It’s interesting because I was listening to this guy speak today on YouTube. And I like a lot of his insights. And one of the things that he was saying is, he asked people like, “What do you really want?” And a lot of times people see these things like, “Oh, I want to be in a great relationship or I want to be in this or I want to have this, or I want to have that.” He said, “Sure, you could have those things. But what if you were miserable, even though you had those things.” And then they’re like, “Oh, well I guess we don’t want those things anymore.” And he said, “Really what you want is to feel joy inside and to feel happiness inside. That’s really what you want. You want to feel that sense of love, that sense of life, that fulfillment, and those are all things within you.”
Meg: You have total control over that.
Charan: Which you have total control over. Not things that are outside of your needs, but the problem is a lot of times because you are facing the world and you feel something’s wrong inside. You’re like, “Well, the only thing I can think of is my world outside needs to change. So I can feel better about myself.” But he says, “That’s not the right way to approach it. You can change the way you feel on the inside. And if you do that, you will actually start noticing your outside world starts to change as well. It’s almost like a reflection of what’s going on inside of you.”
Meg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Charan: So I think it’s beautiful. Now you mentioned something I wanted to kind of touch on. You talked about how it feels to… You don’t have to be physically paralyzed, feel that sense of paralyzation, like not be able to put one foot in front of another. This year has been very tough for many people.
Meg Johnson Talks About Getting Through the Challenges of 2020
Charan: Very, very tough for many people. And it’s been one of those things where no one saw it coming, no one saw what challenges they were going to face. And we still have no idea what the rest of the year is going to look like. I personally have lost a couple of friends, not to COVID, but they’ve passed away. And that was a challenge for me, for sure, because it made things seem very personal, very much at home. Like, “Oh my gosh, this is my friend.” So how have you viewed this year? And how have you helped, I guess, other people with, this year?
Meg: Well, this year has been really hard. And I think any time you hit someone financially, the domino effect is pretty severe. And then, of course, there’s the people passing away, that’s horrific. You would never want that. And I think the hardest trials in this life happen to people that we love, they don’t even happen to us.
Meg: And so, we have zero control over that, except for just to go and sit in their refiner’s fire that was never even built for you, just because you love that person. And so, yes, this year has been so amazingly hard. When I was paralyzed, my temperature control was gone. And so, I was always freezing, even though it was summertime and I’d have in the car the heat up full blast with a blanket on to trap the air. And I felt like it was snowing inside me, and my mom is one of those people that gets hot easy, and so she was dying.
Meg: But I truly think that it takes a very special person to care about another person, enough to join the refiner’s fire and to take the heat with that person, whether or not they’re related to you or anything. And I feel like this year for 2020, we’ve become pretty aware of other people, and I think we care about other people, maybe even a little bit more, even though we’re actually by law not allowed to be with other people, as many as we would like to.
Meg: But I think the care that we’ve had for other people and the care that we feel from other people has really been healing for a lot of people. I know that in my neighborhood, especially neighbors that I don’t even know have left little gifts on my porch, candy or eggs.
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: Some lady dropped off a thing of flour because she went and found flour at Costco. And so, she does share it with the neighborhood. She’s like, “I have flour.” And I actually was out of flour.
Meg: And so, I was really glad for that. But I think that, me personally, I have been touched by how much other people have reached out to me. And I am pretty limited physically with how much I can do for them, but I’ve tried.
Meg: But I don’t know, dinners and stuff for my neighbors and things like that. But at my level with my talents, and I think that’s the trick. You have to work with what you got.
Meg: And so, with my talents and the things that I know how to do with my company, we decided that we would do firesides, little talks every Sunday night for four people. And we just put them online and they’ve gone really far all over the world, which has been really nice. And it helps me to feel good to serve other people. And it helps me to feel good when other people serve me. It’s amazing how something that has been, like a year, that’s been so dividing, for some has actually brought some closeness-
Meg: … in some areas.
Charan: Yeah. There was this analogy that I learned about heaven and hell. And they say in hell, imagine that there’s this huge feast filled with the most delicious food ever, incredible food. And instead of your arms, you have these really long spoons, they’re just attached from your shoulder blade, but it’s hell because you can never get the food on into your mouth, the spoons are just too long. So you can put it on your spoon, you can see it, but you can never feed yourself and it’s become absolute hell.
Charan: In heaven, there’s a big feast, beautiful feast. And in instead of your arms, you have long spoons, but it’s heaven because people have learned that they can feed each other.
Charan: And that’s the trick. It’s the absolute change of perspective. And it’s all about compassion and helping one another out. And I felt that same thing. I think this year I’ve seen so many acts of kindness that don’t get noticed on the mainstream media, because the mainstream media, I’ve found, has been very divisive and fear-mongering and saying, “You can’t do this, you can’t do this, you can’t do this.” But I find that people in general are smiling and they’re reaching out.
Meg Johnson Talks About What Brings Her Joy Right Now
Charan: And I remember this one time, we went to Walmart, buying some stuff. And it was in the early stages of COVID and people were just like panic buying, like crazy. And so, there were shelves with nothing there really. And instead of panicking, people were looking at it and just laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. And I remember thinking like, “Yeah, this is pretty crazy.” But yet during those times we were laughing, we were having a good time. And I think that’s the key for me anyway, is to figure out ways to find humor and to laugh and to say, “Hey, you know what? We’re going to get through this together. We’re not doing this individually. We’re doing this together.” So I guess just really two more questions. What brings you joy right now?
Meg: What brings me joy right now?
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: Oh, goodness. Well, I still fight to be happy sometimes.
Meg: And because being in wheelchair is difficult-
Charan: Still tough.
Meg: … and really the mental and emotional state of tons of people is a difficult place to live. And so, I don’t feel like I’m alone in my fight for happiness. And so, I still take it very seriously. The things that I’ve learned how to do with through gratitude and loving where I am. Sometimes I’ll kiss the walls of my house. I’m so grateful for them and just little things. And every time I get mad at my legs for not being able to dance or stand or whatever… I’ve heard stories of people who are paralyzed that beat them or they get so mad because you can’t feel it and then take your anger out on yourself and there’s really no harm in that.
Meg: I don’t know. But every time I’m tempted to do that, I’ve never hit my legs. But when I get so mad at them, I’ll lean down and I’ll kiss them. And I remember I was driving my car just by myself, down the freeway. I drive with little hand controls, for those of you at home, I still drive.
Meg: And so anyway, so I was driving my little car down the freeway and I was talking to my legs. I was having a discussion with them.
Meg: And I was like, “Are you done yet? It’s okay if you’re not, but I just wanted to know. I know you have the power, people’s bodies are amazing, people’s minds are amazing. I’m ready when you are, if you would like to stand up and dance and walk again, that would be really awesome. Are you ready for that?”
Meg: And then I heard them talk back and they were sharp, and they said, “We are doing this for you.” They said, “You you want to walk? Think of how we feel. You think you want to dance,? Think of how we feel. We’re giving all of this up for you because you need to do something from your wheelchair. So don’t let us down.”
Charan: Oh, wow.
Meg: And I think that sometimes we get so discouraged with ourselves for having trials in this life. But what I’ve learned along the way is that our missions in this life are accomplished with our talents, but not by themselves.
Meg: Our talents need to combine with our trials. And when we combine those two together and find someone to serve, then we’ve discovered purpose in our lives. Like you’re from India?
Charan: I’m from India.
Meg: So I’m sure you have your own stories, maybe of racism-
Meg: … and things like that, that have been really hard for you. And when you were shy as a kid, I’m sure that was really hard for you and that’s a trial that you’ve experienced in your life.
Meg: But then also you have your talents of acting. And so, now your talent of acting combined with your trial, I mean of being from a different country, put together, you find someone to serve and you entertain them, you’ve discovered a purpose in your life. Same with me, I love to party and I’m in a wheelchair. So I found some people to celebrate where I found little girls in wheelchairs and I host, what’s called the Princess Pageant here in Utah, where we have a pageant, where little girls in wheelchairs, we have these teenagers that dress up, like all of the Disney princesses. I have all of the costumes in my guest bedroom. And then, they pair up with little girls in wheelchairs and they learn a dance and the little girls in the wheelchairs, they go up and they do their own little presentation. Then everybody gets crowned in sashes and flowers and gift baskets, and it’s huge. So that’s me with my trial, combining it with my talent and finding someone to serve, discovering a purpose in my life. That brings me joy.
Charan: Yeah. And I think that’s beautiful because I don’t know, I’m just a big believer in trying to share goodness, wherever you can go and using the gifts that you’ve been given, your personality and then just spreading cheer and spreading goodness wherever you’re at. And it’s great because there were times when I was in LA and my career was going well. I was booking a lot of TV shows and stuff, and I knew that I was not sharing my talents. I just knew it. I was like, “What’s the purpose of these shows? How are they really blessing people? And I just knew that it wasn’t the case. And so, I left LA because I’m like, I’m not doing what I feel I should be doing.
Charan: And so, when I came back to Utah, I was recruiting my own stuff with some people and it felt so much more purpose-driven and it felt so much more like, “Yeah, this feels right, this feels good” And so, I’m just a big believer in finding your challenges and developing them and saying, “Hey, let’s go and you have such a unique offering to the world.” And even what you’re doing with the little girls in wheelchairs in their Princess Pageants and stuff, I don’t know if you would have done that if you weren’t in a wheelchair.
Charan: But now that you are, now you can gather those people, gather the people that felt like didn’t have a voice before. And I think that’s a beautiful thing to be able to share your voice and help other people share their voice as well.
Meg: And I wouldn’t yet, with my trial combined with my talent, like a little math equation.
Meg: Equals your purpose.
Charan: Equals your purpose. Yeah. I like that trial plus talent equals purpose.
Meg: I guess we have to add in finding someone to serve because-
Charan: And finding someone to serve. Yeah. So trial plus talent-
Meg: Plus someone to serve.
Meg Johnson’s Advice to Her Younger Self
Charan: … plus someone to serve equals purpose. I love that. So last thing, what would you tell your younger self, the self that was before the accident?
Meg: If I could go back and talk to myself, on the cliff?
Charan: Yeah, sure.
Meg: So I’m 22 visited by my 38-year-old self.
Meg: I’m jumping around. I’d come back and goodness. Sometimes they wonder like, would I have stopped myself from jumping off that cliff? Would I have changed that?
Meg: I know that I wouldn’t have, I’ve learned too much that’s good to trade it for the good life that I would have created for myself, had I not accidentally jumped off that cliff. So I think that if I could go back and see myself, I probably would have pushed myself. Boom, you’re going to like it later.
Meg: It’s going to be okay. That’s probably what I would have told myself. I’d have been like, “You’re going to be okay.”
Meg: You’ll figure it out. You’ll find someone to serve. Maybe I would have told myself that initially, maybe that little math equation as I’m falling down, my older self would have been like, “Trials plus talent plus someone to serve equals purpose.”
Charan: And there would have been an echo because it was a canyon that you’re falling through.
Meg: Yeah. It would’ve made it sound a little bit more angelic.
Charan: Yeah. It would’ve come back to you.
Meg: I’d have been like this creepy lady.
Charan: Yeah. Who is this person? Why is she pushing me? It’s just going to be so great. I think one day we’re going to look back on our lives. Maybe after we’ve passed away, we’ll look back at our lives and just be so grateful for everything, for every little purpose of it. I think often about trials that I’ve gone through, and I don’t know. I look back and I just kind of like laugh out of joy and that’s a weird thing. It’s like, I laugh out of joy. I remember, I mean, just a few years ago I went through a really rough breakup. And what’s funny is that the person that we ended that relationship, we’re really good friends. And so, we were just kind of like talking and reflecting on that.
Charan: And as, she was talking a little bit about just kind of what led up to it and she’s like, “I don’t even know what I was thinking.” I was like, looked at her and I’m like, “You know what? I’m really grateful. I know it was rough when that happened, but look at the amazing lessons we learned.” And she was like, we both left, like really smiling and joyful. And the funny thing is, there’s no drama at all. It’s just joy. It’s good.
Charan: And so, I keep thinking like things that you think, you can never recover from, you absolutely can. And you just have to know that like, “Hey, this is going to be an uphill battle. It’s going to be a challenge” But whether you have your faith or whether you have whatever it is you hold onto, I really think that just going one step at a time and like you said, showing forth love towards everything that you can see. I think that’s a beautiful way to let go.
Meg: Oh, goodness.
Meg: You’re awesome.
Meg Johnson’s Motto
Charan: You’re awesome. Thank you, Jesus. This is amazing. I feel like edified. This is crazy. But yeah. Thank you so much. Do you have anything else you wanted to share? Any last words? Any last bits of advice?
Meg: Any last words? Oh, heavens, I don’t even know.
Meg: Oh, I should probably say something really profound. And why is, I do have a motto-
Meg: … and when I was paralyzed, one of the guys was also paralyzed, but he could walk. So he broke his neck, but regained his function. And so, his motto and for his company where I did physical therapy was pleased but not satisfied with his recovery. And I’m like, “I like that.” His name is Dale Hall, he runs Neuro Works, which is a really big rehab center here in the West. But I was like, “I like that: pleased but not satisfied.” That’s my new motto. And he’s like, “No, Meg, you can’t have that motto.” And I was like, “I’m paralyzed. People usually give me stuff. I want that motto.”
Charan: I want that motto.
Meg: He’s like, “No, you can’t have it. It’s mine.” He said, “But if you work really hard, someday you’ll come up with your own motto.”
Meg: And I’m like, “All right.” So I did, I worked really hard and I’ve come up with my own motto. And my motto is, let’s see, for the Miss Wheelchair Utah pageant, I guess I have to, was “creating a new reality through service.”
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meg: And then, that was my kind of stepping stone to my current motto, which I’ve used for a lot of years, which is the theme for the Princess Pageant and the other things that I do with my nonprofit. It’s “when life gets too hard to stand, just keep on rolling.”
Charan: I love it. It’s so good.
Meg: So it doesn’t even matter if you can’t even walk, or if you can, because it applies to everyone.
Charan: Yeah, no, that’s perfect. I mean, gosh, that’s just great. I can’t even say anything to add to that, so I’m not going to, no, this has been so awesome. I appreciate you taking the time first off for me to get to know you a little bit better and to share your story with me and to the world, really. I appreciate it. And I think, I really feel like people will be inspired by this. Because we were discussing earlier this year has been a hard year for many, but to keep on rolling, I think that’s the key. It’s to say, “Hey, you know what? It’s going to be okay. We’re going to get through this.” So anyway, Meg, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time and you’re awesome.
Meg: Thank you. Bye.
Charan: Thanks so much for listening to the Lemonade Stand Podcast and we hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform used to be alerted when we release new episodes. We’d also love to hear your feedback and the reviews, and if you or someone, you know has an awesome lemonade stand story, please reach out to us on social media and let us know. Thanks so much and have a great day.