“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” – Stephen Hawking
Have you ever felt like you’ve hit a dead end in life? If so, one story that can boost your spirits is that of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.
No success story is without its obstacles and setbacks. But successful individuals are those who still make things go their way, never giving up on their dreams. And most importantly, they never give up on themselves. Today as we mourn the death of Stephen Hawking let’s see what we can learn from this epitome of courage and tenacity about maintaining a positive attitude that can beat even death and disability.
Stephen Hawking is a man who never said never. To date, he is one of the world’s greatest scientists. Confined to a wheelchair by a disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), he also lost his voice box following a bout of pneumonia. He discovered his disease at the tender age of 21 – a revelation that left him shattered for some time, with doctors telling him that his life expectancy was a mere two years. But he ultimately decided to stay resilient and do his best with whatever time he had left to him.
With the worsening of his condition, he was left in the middle of writing a book with no way to communicate except by blinking. Fortunately, he loved his work so much that he kept at it despite the fear of dying. At the end of the 1960s, he required much persuasion to accept the use of a wheelchair, but ultimately became notorious for driving his wheelchair around wildly.
Hawking had been living with ALS for more than 50 years, an obstacle doctors never imagined he could overcome. His body may have been almost completely paralysed, but this theoretical physicist and cosmologist never stopped working. He continued to pursue his work by means of eye moment, his voice text speech synthesiser and a small computer fixed on his wheelchair.
Hawking’s first contributions to science were in the 1960s, in collaboration with a British mathematical physicist named Roger Penrose. The two, working from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, mathematically proved the existence of singularities called black holes.
Later on, Hawking chose to focus his energies on the origins of the universe, proposing mathematical solutions to mind-boggling problems. Working with physicist James Hartle, he determined that the universe did not have a beginning, as human minds would classically interpret such a concept. Rather, since time itself did not exist prior to the formation of the universe, there is no calculable “beginning” to the universe.
In 2007, Hawking experienced the zero-gravity environment of outer space. He flew aboard a private jet that performed free falls, resulting in weightlessness, similar to the training NASA astronauts go through prior to a mission to outer space. Hawking is said to be the first disabled person to experience zero-gravity.
He continued to give his best to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, and especially to the study of black holes and the theory of general relativity. Part of his life story was depicted in the 2014 film, The Theory of Everything. Actor Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking in the movie.
Hawking has authored more than 15 books, including two autobiographies, and has been awarded 12 honorary degrees, even holding the title of Commander of the British Empire. He has won numerous awards, medals, and prizes worldwide for his scientific mastery.
In 1976, he became a fellow of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. In 1979, he won the Albert Einstein Award. That same year, he became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (one of the most sought after academic positions in the world), which had previously been held by Isaac Newton. And in 2009, he won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Despite his condition, Stephen Hawking lived life to the fullest. Some may say he is a unique person with an extraordinary mind. By following his example, many – regardless of mental or physical disability – have the potential to achieve their goals and live their dreams.
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