How a death escape shaped Ken Sharpe’s future – Pulse Ghana


Ken Sharpe is a serial entrepreneur, real estate guru and a visionary for business in Africa to bring economic emancipation to the poor with investment and job creation.
On the 16th of January in 2007 came a life altering moment for the businessman whilst on a private family vacation to Whistler, Canada.
During the vacation, Ken survived a life threatening ski accident as a result of skiing off-piste without a helmet and hitting his head into a tree. He suffered from the possibility of permanent brain damage and memory loss. According to doctors, his chance of survival was only 2% and almost a 100% assurance ‘that’s IF’ he awoke from the coma, he would be a vegetable with no memory; the outcome looked bleak. After surgery and many prayers from friends and family, Ken miraculously woke up after five days in a coma; ironically on his daughter’s 11th birthday.
We had an opportunity to talk to Ken Sharpe and we asked him a few questions on how this event affected him on a personal and professional level, and also how it can inspire our generation.
Not many people face death are able to escape it but after the accident you faced death, possibility of permanent brain damage and memory loss. According to doctors, your chance of survival was only 2%. You once said ‘the pause button was pressed and played when I woke up, like nothing has happened’, tell us about that immediate moment when you woke up, what were the first things you thought about and felt?
The miracle was the Doctor’s not only saying that my chance of survival was 2%, but actually that i had a 0% chance of waking up and being normal that I would be a vegetable, that basically I’d have no memory, no faculties, will be functioning again. And you know, the moment that I died in the ambulance is that moment of death that comes is like a switch, just a switch. That flick you switch from life to death in a moment. It’s almost not even a second, it’s just a single moment that happens, and in that dying moment before the switch went off.
I felt that if I could just have my eyesight.
To just keep the eyesight, because that was the last thing that I had. My eyesight was dimming, it was going dark. If I could just hold on to my eyesight, that would be the most valuable thing to me and I asked if there’s a God there, let me just keep my eyesight.
That was the last memory I had and then when I woke up feeling really different about myself, the first thought that came in my mind was, where’s my wife? Where’s my daughter? The ones that I really love that are on me?
Because when you die, the only things you take with you are your relationships of those who matter to you and the experiences that you’ve had on Earth nothing else.
You miraculously woke up after five days in a coma on your daughter’s 11th birthday, did you know it was her birthday when you woke up?
You know, my daughter said to the psychologist who’d come to prepare them for death, saying that you know your father’s unlikely to make it. You must accept the fact that he might die. She refused to believe them and said, my father’s never missed a birthday of mine and he’ll wake up.
And I remember her birthdays on the 21st of January and I woke up on the on the end of the 20th of January, so the day before and of course I didn’t immediately think about her birthday. And then later when I heard the story, of course I was, I was quite amused by it. But you know the thing is her faith, her blind faith as a young 10, almost 11 year old girl was believing that her father was not going to die when everyone around her was saying differently.
So tell us Ken, you once described this incident as life altering, how did this change you? What are the distinct changes about you before and after the accident?
You know, I can’t say that this event has changed me completely, because I’m the same person that I was before. I have the same character, I have the same qualities and attributes. The value system maybe has been improved because of my faith in God and becoming a Christian, I think it held me more accountable and made me more responsible to be true to the things that I believe are right.
But I think at the end of the day, the things that change about you is the appreciation of life because we think we’re strong, we think we’re invincible especially I was in a type personality, headstrong and you realize in that moment of death, how vulnerable you are, how fragile your life is. It’s just a moment and that’s the end of the life.
Then the realization that life and death is just a moment difference is significant and that changes the way you look at life, because you no longer just look at it as if you will live forever, and you no longer look at it as you, as if you only have one life. You take it in an eternal perspective that the life we have here on Earth is just a short moment in the time of eternity.
Tell us a bit about your first day at the office after your recovery? Was it a continuation or a restart?
Like always, my first day at the office was the first day I woke up i was like saying to them, give me my phone, give me my laptop, I need to get busy. I need to get working, people are waiting for me; they were like, what are you talking about? You need like six weeks recovery and therapy; and I was like, no, I need to leave the hospital, i need to get working. So, you know, I was on the go immediately after waking up from the coma.
I’m always been a very busy person, kept myself occupied. My Ukrainian partner often laughs and says they should have inserted the telephone into my brain. That way I wouldn’t have to hold it on my head all day.
You went on to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Africa, this takes a lot to reach that level, what are they key things that shaped you from the ski accident to become who you are today as a businessman?
You know, there are many Nuggets of success that i often give, but this one is a new one, and I’d say the link between the ski accident and what’s helped me as a businessman is the ability to be able to surrender. Exodus 14:14 says be still and let me fight for you, that’s God talking to Moses and I think there’s times in your life where you try and force things to happen, but after the accident I found many times where I myself was just waiting for them to happen and not forcing it and if it’s not meant to be delivered, you know if the doors open, then go through it but if the doors are not going to open, you don’t have to break it down.
Be graceful, be gentle, and accept that if it’s meant for you, it will happen, if it’s not, leave it.
Based on your life experience, and the lessons that you learnt after the accident, can you share some words of wisdom that can inspire the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs.
Wow, wow, wow. Words of wisdom. You know, these are things that I don’t take lightly and I have some to give and I’d like to name a few. Firstly, everything in life I believe is a choice. You know, when I was a young man, at 20 i coined the saying every feeling leads to a thought that leads to a choice and then a resultant word or action.
Life is a set of choices and as long as we’re willing to accept the consequences of our choices, then we’re making the right ones. So if you want to change the resultant action; then you got to look behind it, what was the thought or the feeling that led to that word that led to an action? And when you look deeply within yourself, it’s your thoughts, your feelings that actually make you, It was Marcus Aurelius that said that.
Umm, you know, my life story is the same as everyone’s and inside of us, we have to make choices every day and the question is, do we allow the choices to be good or bad? And there’s an old story that I relate to about a Cherokee Indian that his grandson asked him about the two wolves that inside of us fighting and his grandfather, said, my son, you know there is a battle of two wolves inside all of us; One is evil, It is anger, jealousy, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego, depression, anxiety.
These are all the things that come from the evil one. The other one, the other wolf, is a good one. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, sincerity, truth, compassion, and faith.
And the grandson thought about this and then asked his grandfather which wolf wins Granddad? and the old Cherokee replied the one you feed son.
So make sure you feed good things and feed good choices and own your choices. Because at the end of the day, the Eternal Battle of good and evil is not won by mighty armies, but is won by one choice at a time.
Then the next piece of wisdom I’ll give I coined it in Kuala Lumpur about 10/15 years ago, a respected man, he was Jewish, he’s a sage, his name is Humi Schleifer. He lives in the US and he asked me why I was still living in Zimbabwe and I said, well, if not me, then who? And if not now, then when? And he replied, that seems like the Hillel, the Jewish philosopher who had a famous quote to say, if I’m not for myself, who’s for me? And if I’m only for myself, what am I? If not now, then when? Well, you could say that the same thing in Zimbabwe and in Africa, we were all having to face daily challenges and we are still to enjoy the full blessing of having independence and freedom because economically we are tied in shackles and it’s really the difference that needs to be made in the economic realm of empowering people to self-actualise to realise their potential to earn more money to become middle and upper middle income society where we are no longer bound by the shackles of poverty.
The other word of wisdom, I would say it’s the two 2A’s that we have. One is called ATTITUDE, you see if you look at a mug or glass filled halfway, do you see it as half empty or half full? and what makes the difference on how you see it is your perception or rather your attitude towards that thing. It’s exactly the same in life, you know. Do you see the your life as half full your glass and be grateful for what you have joyful, hopeful and positive and meet everyday with energy and zest for life and appreciate? Or do you always see your glasses half empty and complain it’s not enough said you’re full of dark negative about everything and who’s in control of that, of seeing that loss? It’s you at the end of the day it’s only you, it’s your agency and that’s the next ‘A’, its agency, which is God’s greatest gift to us.
You know, his perfect plan was to give us our agency to choose good or bad and it’s up to us, how we see, the glass in life, in which direction we want to go and it can be compared to a downward spiral if you want to see it as a negative or an upward ladder leading to continual progress. It’s our choice.
At the end of the day, we all start off at life at the bottom. We were born naked. We’re born with nothing. We have nothing and we work our way up. And that’s why I’m starting the Phoenix podcast, because it’s a story about people that come from nothing, born from the ashes. You know, the Phoenix itself was born from the ashes out of fire, and many people’s life stories are like that and it’s all about having the right attitude. Being positive and focused is what is what leads to great things to happen.
Lastly, some business wisdom I would say, is really staying focused. You know, often referred to the lioness in Africa. When she hunts, she chooses her target. She doesn’t allow eyes to slip off the target for one second. She’s always focused, absolutely not looking at any temptation of distraction that may come to her closer. There may be other animals that run right in front of her, but she doesn’t get side-tracked. She stays motivated with her eyes on that single target until either she takes it and kills it or loses it.
And that’s the same in in business, in life, you know, if we stay focused, if we stay fixed on our goals, if we have written goals, they will more likely be achieved than if we don’t have any goals or we don’t stay focused on one goal. Being firm, you know, it’s important.
Adding to that last wisdom, I would say in business you need to also develop the skill to which anyone can do of execution, because at the end of the day there are many good ideas but if you can’t execute on your goals, so once you like the lion and you focused on that goal, it’s about executing on that goal and you need the right skill set. I’ve learned recently in the last few years of a book called ‘Measure What Matters’, written by John Duer and developed that guy called Andy Groves at Intel and it’s the system called objectives and key results which Google uses, they call it the Google Bible i recommended to everyone. It helps you to remain focused to set annual and quarterly goals. And I’ve adopted it myself to even come up with monthly, weekly and daily tasks that that lead to the quarterly and annual objective. And these are the things that help me and my team stay focused and executing excellence on our goals because our company culture is one of excellence and high performance.
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