Life can change in just an instant—or so that’s what people say. But for Jennifer Lynn Robinson, that saying holds a different sentiment.
In 2008, Robinson—who at the time was a successful practicing litigator in the city—was going about what she assumed would be a normal day. She took off from work in the afternoon for a doctor’s appointment at the University of Pennsylvania and was going to head to her sister’s apartment in University City.
Shortly after, she was hit by a truck not once, but twice.
“I left my doctor’s office and I was walking just a few blocks when I got to the corner of 33rd and Walnut,” recalls Robinson. “When I started to cross the street I got hit by a truck as a pedestrian. I was on the ground and I then saw that there was something coming at me—I tried to lift myself off of the ground, but my right arm was shattered. The truck came at me a second time, and that time was a lot worse, I got pinned underneath of it.”
Robinson survived the accident, but surviving was just the first step on the road to a very difficult recovery. After being in the ICU at Penn for a week, Penn Care at home for 2 months, undergoing rehab for head trauma, brain injuries, balance therapy, cognitive and physical therapy, speech therapy, PTSD and seeing psychiatrists, psychologists and insomnia specialists, there is still a profound resonant impact from that day.
“There are things that I’ll live with forever. Mental and physical things as a result of everything that happened,” says Robinson. “I’m still actively having surgeries—not as many as I was having at the time, but they haven’t ended. But I would say the first few years were really the heart of how long it took to recover.”
It was through this road to recovery that Robinson decided to return to her first love, public speaking. Although she was advised against pursuing this career choice after her accident, the once-attorney decided to make the leap to a new career.
“Part of me when I was told that, my stubbornness kicked in and my thought was, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t do it, I will do it’, and obviously I was able too. Part of me also had self-doubt, and [I do] still to this day. Especially when I first started gradually doing public speaking,” says Robinson. “Those doubts remain, but it’s really just overcoming the fear. Obviously doing it more, that practice makes perfect mentality and the fact that I was told that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it, all fueled me. I wanted to get to a place where I felt like I could do it and also help other people, because what I’ve really learned in the last couple of years, is that I don’t have to be a perfect speaker to be impactful. I can make a difference, and I can show people that they can do things in their own life to overcome things. Maybe it isn’t an accident, but other things people have been through—they can overcome it and they can thrive and it doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect all of the time. It’s okay to feel like you still have the insecurities or that things maybe aren’t as polished as you want. I still feel like I can be really impactful without being perfect.”
Robinson’s business (Purposeful Networking) started out with consulting to help people with marketing and networking strategies, but then it eventually transformed into the speaking and training business that it is now. But that also came with its own set of complications. For Robinson, struggling with word-finding, memory and anger issues in addition to the hours at therapy and the recoveries from surgery, finding her voice took time.
That idea of overcoming struggles to achieve success is just one of the many inspiring points in Robinson’s Tedx Talk coming out this weekend.
“My Tedx Talk really centers on having disruption in your life and why some people are able to come back from it and other people aren’t. I think what fueled me for that particular topic was obviously what I went through and then also my mom,” explains Robinson.
Robinson’s mother passed away unexpectedly in 2011, through what would be called a passive suicide.
“[She] had a lot of physical and mental problems,” adds Robinson. “I feel like she let her life circumstances define her unnecessarily. She had a lot of great qualities, she had a Ph.D., she spoke seven languages, but when my father and her divorced she let it spiral her. I really hit rock bottom, and it’s very interesting to me, that process of why some people are able to move on from things and others aren’t. Obviously, a big part of that for me was not only my mindset, but getting a lot of help right away and being really open about that—I don’t want to paint a rosy picture, it was a tough, tough journey, and not to say that it’s all over or anything. I think that ability to tell yourself, ‘I’m not going to be defined by this, this is not how I want the rest of my life to go’—that was what really fueled the Tedx Talk. I felt like I had a message that I wanted to get out and I could help other people to take steps to make changes, and even if they hit rock bottom, they can thrive.”
Robinson tried for years to get her Tedx Talk started, to her it was her “biggest goal professionally,” and her dreams were about to become a reality. Robinson’s Tedx Talk was scheduled to go live at the University of Arkansas on March 17, but then coronavirus hit and the country shut down.
“It was a tough decision not to get on the flight. I’m in the zone now and I feel like I’ve been through these months of getting it where I want it to be. I want to get the message out—especially right now. I never could have predicted the time that we are going through where people are forced to pivot so many things in their life right now because of what’s going on. To me, it’s the best time to put out a talk like this,” says Robinson.
To get her message out, Robinson decided to still make the occasion special instead of waiting a year to finally go to the University of Arkansas. Along with the Ted team, Robinson recorded the talk in an empty studio and decided to release it this Friday, May 15—which also happens to be the same day as her accident 12 years ago and her now proclaimed ‘Life Day.’
“I didn’t plan for it to come out during a pandemic, but I think there are so many people struggling right now. Having this time has made people re-assess a lot of things in their life and maybe decide that they’re not happy with the state of those things,” says Robinson. “The title of it is ‘Sometimes We Need to Fall Apart.’ I think it’s really important sometimes to hit that rock bottom place and then figure out a way to come out of it better. Of course, I wish what happened never did, it’s not like I wish that on anybody else, but at the same time, I feel like my life is on a different and better path than it was before the accident. I think sometimes you have a wake-up call in your life and I think it’s also really important for people to see that it’s important to be open about the struggles. A lot of people don’t really talk about the mental health aspect, and I’m really open about that—I also became addicted to sleeping pills and pain pills and I had to work through that. I address a lot of things that people don’t often put front and center, and I want people to understand that you can go through all of that and still come out better.”
Robinson’s Tedx Talk will be posted this Friday, May 15, through the Tedx Youtube Page and then will be posted on Tedx’s official website. A link will be updated to this article once posted.
To learn more about Jennifer Lynn Robinson visit purposefulnetworking.com.