He Doesn’t Need Arms To Lift People

When Carole Foppe delivered an armless baby, she said to her husband “We’re not treating him any different than any of the other boys, (The couple already had three sons.) thank God he has legs”.

Today her son John Foppe sits in his dark-paneled office at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis.

The organization’s 41-year-old executive director gesticulates with his foot, pausing to rub his chin thoughtfully with his toes. His father has dubbed him “left-footed,” because that’s the foot he writes with. He doesn’t wear prosthetics and hasn’t since high school. 

At age 22, Foppe was named one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. He’s traveled the world as a motivational speaker and written an autobiography, What’s Your Excuse? Making the Most of What You Have, translated into six languages.

Here are some of his top tips on living a fuller life:

1. Focus on what you can do

He says when you accept what you can’t do and you focus on what you can do, you gain more power and you’re not fighting yourself any more. To the cynical, it might sound like motivational banter—and indeed, Foppe sometimes laces his conversation with motivational phrases like “Everything’s within reach if you reach within.” But it’s not disingenuous or canned. A lot of it stems from his mother, who wrote about raising him in a small book, Born with Wings. She made a decision almost as soon as John was born: “I wouldn’t let myself think of anything that he couldn’t do,” she says, “only what he could do”.

2. Reach within for power

As a boy, John relied on others to help him get dressed and go to the bathroom. That is, until his mother called a family meeting one day when 10-year-old John was asleep, telling her other sons that they were no longer allowed to help their brother. The next morning, when John’s younger brother refused to help him get dressed, John was left with little choice. John tried pulling up his pants by hooking a belt loop on his blue jeans to a dresser knob, then a closet hook. Finally, he collapsed in tears. “I just felt totally abandoned,” he recalls. “But I think the other thing was that…if I could put those pants on, it probably meant there were a whole lot of other things I could do and should be doing.”

3. Create an impact

John could speak so forthrightly and enthusiastically to the heads of the largest companies in the world and inspire them with his story. After graduating, Foppe became the Ziglar Corporation’s first employee to be hired as a professional speaker from day one. He believes that when you help others you also help yourself. It all comes full circle.

4. Interdependence

While Foppe can seemingly do everything with his toes, including paint watercolors of German landscapes he’s not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” type. He believes in interdependence. To him interdependence is ‘I help you and you help me, and together we’re more than the sum of our parts.’ One plus one can equal three. It takes a lot of maturity to be able to admit that you need help. But Foppe has learned that needing help doesn’t preclude him from helping, that being independent isn’t the same as being alone, and that lifting someone up doesn’t require arms.

John Foppe was one of the speakers at our event last year and he created high impact with his story, his inputs and did not leave a single dry eye in the room. Transforming lives through the stories of powerful speakers is what we enjoy doing most at Success Gyan.