If we’re connected on social, you may have seen that the world recently lost a special soul, Elsha Stockseth. I first met Elsha in 2017 when Dave and I took a one-day thousand-mile roundtrip drive to interview her for “Dream Out Loud.” She was well-known by the U2 community at that point, but neither of us had met her. She was unable to travel for that tour, but we knew it was important to include her in the film. We didn’t know how much it would change our lives.
We often overuse words like “special” and “amazing” and “miracle,” but Elsha was all of these things. Despite dealing with the daily challenges of living with severe muscular dystrophy, she was happy, positive, and peaceful. At that point, she couldn’t move any part of her body besides her eyes, but those eyes were full of light. It’s impossible to explain her beauty and grace with words, but those who were lucky enough to be in her presence know exactly what I mean. She instantly made you feel at ease around her with a kindness and the best laugh I’ve ever heard.
Her parents, Joel and Shanna, are equally kind and wonderful human beings. They showed us around the house and her “Blue Room,” which was full of U2 goodies and race medals. Oh yeah, she was huge in the local running community even though she wasn’t able to actually run herself. People would be her legs, pushing her through 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons, and even a few triathlons. Racing allowed her to feel a freedom she hadn’t known before and it became one of her favorite activities.
Elsha did a lot of things. Besides running and attending U2 concerts when she could, she was an artist. She drew and painted using Photoshop and a head mouse. She created and sold her “eArt” Christmas cards around the world and used the proceeds to help orphans and disadvantaged children in Africa and South America. Because, of course, she had a giant heart and giving spirit. She sponsored a young boy in Kenya and paid for his schooling. She donated toys to orphanages. She felt that she didn’t really need the money and was passionate about helping others. That’s just who she was.
What does any of this have to do with being self-employed? The way Elsha lived is full of lessons for anyone who wants a better life and to be a better person. These lessons can easily be applied to who you are, how you run your business, and the quality of your interactions with others. She had a way of putting things in perspective, inspiring others, and getting things done. She was an inspiration to so many people, and this episode is my way of sharing her brilliance with you.
Lesson #1: Challenges Don’t Define You.
Even though she had some obvious challenges, Elsha never let them define her. She didn’t feel sorry for herself or like she had any limitations at all. She lived a life full of love and joy and embraced her differences rather than letting them hold her back. When she was met with a new obstacle, she figured out how to get through it. And she didn’t want anyone else feeling sorry for her either. Perhaps that’s why she was so good at making other people feel comfortable around her. She made it clear that while she may be smaller than most, she was no less extraordinary.
Running a business isn’t always easy, and we all face challenges at times. Being successful doesn’t mean being perfect. It’s about how we react in those imperfect situations. Do we let them defeat us or empower us? Do we give up or do we learn from them? Do we let fear stop us or motivate us to keep going? I don’t know if it’s tenacity or stubbornness or just an unwillingness to accept anything less, but Elsha and I had that attitude in common. Every problem has a solution, but sometimes we have to be creative to find it. Fewer things are more rewarding than overcoming what seemed like an impossible challenge at the time, so embrace the opportunities when they’re presented.
Lesson #2: I can do anything you can do. I just need some help doing it.
I mentioned that Elsha’s parents are also lovely people. The love they felt for their daughter was unyielding and always apparent. They carried her everywhere, fed her using syringes, and did whatever they could to contribute to all those goals she set for herself. I don’t know that the word “can’t” was even in her vocabulary when it came to her abilities. She told her mom, “I can do anything you can do. I just need some help doing it.” It might be a simple statement, but it’s a profound sentiment. Think about that. I can do anything. I just need some help.
A lot of us have a hard time asking for help, myself included, and I’m not really sure why. For me, I’ve always had this inherent need to be independent and capable of doing everything on my own. It’s not about anyone else, it’s just the way I’m wired. As I get older, I feel like I’ve already proven to myself what I needed to, and it’s much easier to accept help now. Where I used to resist, I now embrace. Like, if you want to move that heavy thing for me, you go ahead and do that and I will be happy, even if I’m capable of moving it myself. But for some it’s still a struggle, and one that’s kind of silly if you think about it.
Why do we feel the need to do so much on our own? When we’re self-employed, our business is often a reflection of us in many ways. But it doesn’t take anything away from our accomplishments if we have some assistance along the way. Whether it’s financial, physical, mental, or a combination of all of it, support is not a bad thing. We are stronger when we help each other. And I think success is more enjoyable when you can share it with others. Elsha’s life was enriched by all of the people who helped her, and those she helped in return.
Lesson #3: Find a Way to Do What You Love
Now, one thing you should know about Elsha is that she had this way of getting what she wanted. And she did that by being persistent and not accepting anything less. She was small but mighty in her convictions and determination. And people loved her so much they would do anything to make her happy. I think back to 2018, U2 came to to Vegas and that was close enough for Elsha to travel. I mentioned she was a big fan, but they were also fans of her. They would often stop to talk to her or bring her backstage before shows. In her last week, they reached out to her to make sure they knew she was more than the “biggest little U2 fan.” She meant as much to them as they did to her. The band had a way of taking care of her at their shows. That first night in Vegas, they made sure there was a platform in the VIP area that would lift her up high enough to see. After that show, they asked how it worked out, and she told them it could’ve been higher. When she arrived the following night, they had raised the platform so she could see better. She always got her way.
So as she got older and lost the ability to use her limbs, she didn’t give up on her creativity or passion for art. She adapted. She learned how to use that head mouse, which she controlled with her eyes, to keep doing what she loved. She didn’t give up. She adapted. It was too important in her life to let go of it, so she found a way.
Most of us work for ourselves because it’s the easiest way to ensure we’re doing what we love to do. Some people find that working for others, too, which is also fine. Whatever it is that fulfills us is worth chasing. Life is too short to settle for a job or career or relationship or anything that is less than what we truly want. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or doesn’t take a lot of hard work, but there’s no excuse for settling or losing your purpose just because it’s hard. Find a way to do what you love so you can enjoy the life you deserve.
Lesson #4: There Is No Failure Here Sweetheart, Just When You Quit.
One of Elsha’s favorite mottos came from a lyric in the U2 song “Miracle Drug”: “There is no failure here sweetheart, just when you quit.” She had this written above her door so she could read it every day, and it’s an idea she never let go of. There is no failure unless you quit. Elsha never quit. As you can tell from everything else I’ve said, she never gave up. Ever. She faced every challenge with optimism and worked hard for the things she wanted because they were important.
Failure is such a common fear and one that prevents people from even trying sometimes. But if we think about it in these terms, that the only way to fail is to give up, we can move beyond that fear. Every “failure” is just an opportunity to learn something new, and then we can try again from a new perspective or place of understanding and maybe have a different outcome. And if not? Then we try again and learn again and continue the cycle until we figure it out. That’s how life works. That’s how business works. The only way to fail is to stop trying. So the key to success is to just keep going.
Lesson #5: Every Day is a Gift.
Elsha’s passing is a huge loss, but at the same time, her life was such an incredible gift. Her parents were told she’d probably live 5 years, but she was 38 when she passed. How’s that for defying odds? And I think knowing that contributed to her spirit. She didn’t live afraid. She lived gratefully. She appreciated life and was determined to make the most of every bonus day she was given. And I hope that brings some peace to her family and friends. Not to mitigate the understandable sadness, but to remember that while it seems her life was cut too short, she also got 33 extra years on this planet. That’s pretty incredible.
I wonder if that perspective contributed to Elsha’s generosity, because giving back was a huge part of her life as well. I mentioned the charities she supported, but she was also a kind and thoughtful friend. She loved sending gifts to people, not just for special occasions, but just because. As I look around my house, I see all kinds of reminders of that generosity. I would often open the mail and find an unexpected gift from her, and I know plenty of others had that same experience. It’s just who she was.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of daily life and take things for granted. We’re all guilty of it. But it is possible to shift our mindsets to be more positive. Like everything else, it takes some hard work, but the results are worthwhile. If you choose not to focus on what you don’t have, but instead appreciate what you do have, your whole life can change. I don’t say that to be dramatic, but I know it from experience. Life is easier when we’re happy, and we’re happier when we’re grateful, kind, and thoughtful. If that’s how we live our lives, and that’s how we run our businesses, we will be better off.
“We’ll shine like stars in the summer night. We’ll shine like stars over winter skies. One heart, one hope, one love.” – Bono
It’s been incredible to see all the posts on social from Elsha’s friends and family and all those communities who were so honored to have her in their lives. She was loved by and an inspiration to so many. I hope people continue to hear her story and get to know who she was even though she’s no longer physically with us. So thank you for listening. It’s always sad to lose someone, but Elsha wouldn’t want any sorrow. Instead, I choose to focus on how grateful I am to have had her in my life at all. She will be missed, but she’ll always have a place in my heart. And just like the stars in the sky, her light will continue to shine for those of us still on earth.
Elsha’s website: http://eartbyelsha.com/
David Barry, Elsha Stockseth, & Amanda McCune
Elsha Stockseth, Marcy Gannon & Amanda McCune at a U2 concert