We live in a society today which places the utmost importance on independence. Everyone strives to enhance their independence because it gives them a real sense of control over their lives. It can be observed all around us, from photos by our travelling peers on the internet to the way people commute to work every morning.

However, the majority of people take for granted the smallest actions which give a person the ability to be independent.

So what is independence? Simply put, independence is freedom and the opportunities that freedom provides – the freedom to make choices for yourself and to live without requiring assistance from others.

In January 2012 I had a surfing accident which broke the C3 and C4 vertebrae in my neck, leaving me a quadriplegic with little or no voluntary movement below my shoulders. This incident has caused a dramatic decline in my own independence, and as a result I require the assistance of others to complete tasks most people don’t think twice about.

For instance, I was unable to feed myself during the first eight months after my injury, and needed assistance to simply bring a fork or spoon up to my mouth. However, once I had gained enough strength to feed myself I felt a great sense of satisfaction and motivation to improve my independence.

One very inspiring individual I had the pleasure of meeting a number of weeks ago at a public seminar is Sam Cawthorne. He was involved in a car crash at a young age and as a result lost his right arm. However, 20 years down the track he is now a highly successful international public speaker, and is even known as a celebrity speaking authority globally – a great example of re-establishing and improving one’s independence.

So what can we do to better our own independence?

For myself, it is attending physiotherapy sessions on a regular basis to improve my strength so I can complete physical tasks and going back to university to continue my studies and open up career paths. It also includes becoming more involved in the local Rotary club, which will give me more opportunities to organise projects and fundraisers.

However, for the average person, the most important three ways to gain real independence are employment, owning a car and home ownership. Achieving these three things will give you the largest degree of control over your life, and therefore the highest state of independence.

Independence isn’t given; you must work hard for it. So ask yourself this: are you independent?


At top: Lincolne Innis (centre) with his friends Lauren Killey and Liam Heffernan: “independence is freedom”