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Passion and Personal Purpose: Lessons from Danielle Green

Last month, at the Popeyes International Franchise Conference, our theme was Voices of Bravery: The Bold Lead Change. As part of our inspiring speaker line-up, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Ms. Danielle Green. You may remember Danielle’s inspiring speech when she was given the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPY Awards in July, 2015. She received a standing ovation after saying these challenging words to the audience:

“Ask yourself: What’s my purpose? What’s my passion? What do I want my legacy to be? How can I live as a full human being?” Then she added, “Not all of us are Pat Tillman, but we can all find ways to serve our community. We can all find ways to support the people around us. We can all find a purpose on this Earth larger than yourself.”

I remember thinking that night – that is an amazing woman – full of passion and personal purpose. Most of us would have declared defeat and despair at one of the events in her life. But Danielle is victorious time and time again.

Danielle grew up on the Southside of Chicago with a mother who struggled with drug addiction. Danielle decided her ticket out of these circumstances was basketball. She set her sight on Notre Dame, and achieved the grades needed to be accepted in 1995 – academically and as a member of the women’s basketball team.

After college, she began teaching school and coaching basketball. But the events of 9/11 led her to enlist in the U.S. Army to serve her country. In May, 2004, she was a Military Police officer, on a routine patrol, when she suffered a hit from a rocket-propelled grenade in the city of Baghdad, Iraq. Airlifted to Germany for treatment and recovery, she woke up to find that she had lost her left arm in the attack. Her husband, Willie Byrd, supported her through her recovery, and then died of cardiac arrest, leaving Danielle a young widow.

Undeterred by the loss of her basketball shooting arm and the man she loved, Danielle went back to school for a Masters in Counseling, and today she serves as a readjustment counselor at the Veterans Affairs Center in South Bend, Indiana, helping veterans through difficult times.

My observations from the time I spent with Danielle are these:

  • She is absolutely not defined by her circumstances. Bad situations don’t make her life bad.
  • She is driven by faith, hope, and a plan to be victorious. Failure is not an option.
  • She is passionate about life and work – and believes she has a clear personal purpose.

At home, Danielle is now the enthusiastic mother of a two year old boy that she says she wants to raise with the values of “sacrifice, courage, and commitment.[1]  At work, her stated purpose is to advocate for and counsel veterans returning from combat. She says with conviction: “I refuse to accept a role as a victim. I am victorious.”

Meeting Danielle Green is a challenge — a challenge to live your life in service to others – with passion and purpose.

If you find yourself touched by her story, ask yourself these four questions:

  • Do my life circumstances define me? Or can I rise above them?
  • Do I have a plan to be victorious – to overcome obstacles and naysayers?
  • Do I have a personal purpose that I am passionate about?
  • Am I in service to others in my life and my work?

It is entirely possible that you too can inspire others, touch their lives, and leave a legacy.

Serve well.

[1] Five questions: ESPY honoree Danielle Green, www.militarytimes.com, June 19, 2015, Leo Shane III.


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