Having the Right Attitude: Joachim Schoss

Joachim Schoss was a hugely successful entrepreneur in the 1990s. In 2002 he lost an arm and a leg in a serious motorcycle crash. We talked to him about the principle of hope, his MyHandicap foundation and what advice he’d like to give his seven kids.
Text Michael Köckritz
Photo Michael Hauri

• Joachim Schoss' vision: An inclusive society in which people with disabilities are naturally visible, independently active and fully represented.

• His foundation EnableMe Germany combines corporate, public and private engagement to contribute to inclusion and participation. To achieve this goal, EnableMe needs your support.

• Become part of this great vision and make your contribution for an inclusive society with a donation:

EnableMe.org


Mr. Schoss, can I ask you a very personal question right at the start? How do you see your body today?
Joachim Schoss: I’ve got mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I lost my right arm including the shoulder, and only twelve centimeters of my right leg are left. I’ve become used to my reflection in the mirror, but sometimes, when I see photos of myself that show me from a different angle, it still brings tears to my eyes. On the other hand, I’m quite fit and in good shape for a guy who’s fifty-eight years old. Yes, my disability is not a pleasant thing, but I’m rather satisfied with the rest.

Do you remember your accident?
I only know about what happened from a friend’s description of the accident. He was with me on that trip, and he saved my life. And from a policeman who told me about it at the hospital. I don’t remember anything until forty-eight hours after the accident. I remember feeling an incredible pain in my right leg. I hadn’t been aware that there was something like phantom pain before that. It took some time until I got used to the new situation. This was aggravated by the fact that my condition deteriorated over a period of two to three weeks: total kidney failure, collapsed lung and problems with many of my other organs. I had to undergo twelve surgeries under general anesthesia.

"On the other hand, I’m quite fit and in good shape for a guy who’s fifty-eight years old. Yes, my disability is not a pleasant thing, but I’m rather satisfied with the rest."

Joachim Schoss

What helped you deal with the situation when you realized what had happened to you?
Mainly two things. Businessmen are especially successful when they believe they can decide their fate for themselves and are able to achieve the goals they’ve set. Interestingly, these characteristics can also help you to cope with a stroke of fate like mine. They can keep you from tormenting yourself with questions like “Why me?” or “Why didn’t the driver see me?” These self-destructive questions about the past don’t get you anywhere. Life is about dealing with challenges. I was lucky that I could see it like that. I’ve always grown with challenges instead of letting them get me down.

You said there were two things.
That’s right. The second one is that, fortunately, I’ve long been a believer in reincarnation. It was clear to me that this terrible accident would help my soul make an enormous leap. We know that we develop most quickly in a crisis. In my case, the price I have to pay is that I have to spend the rest of my life with only half a body. If you believe in reincarnation, then perhaps the spiritual growth and the personal development is worth more than spending fifty years with only one arm and one leg.

"Interestingly, these characteristics can also help you to cope with a stroke of fate like mine. They can keep you from tormenting yourself with questions like 'Why me?' or 'Why didn’t the driver see me?' These self-destructive questions about the past don’t get you anywhere." - Joachim Schoss

Is hope just a question of having the right attitude?
I’d say that a positive outlook on life is an attitude. I’m absolutely convinced of that. You can train your brain like a muscle. If I always expect the worst to happen, I’ll always see things in a negative light. If I’m an optimist, I stand better chances of seeing the positive side of things. After my accident, the doctors had basically given up on me. They even said I’d have to depend on nursing care for the rest of my life. Luckily, both things turned out wrong. I really do believe that how you cope with situations like this has a lot to do with your outlook on life.

Has the accident significantly changed the way in which you want to lead your life or has it remained essentially the same?
I was really angry when I realized how bad the situation was. There was a good chance I wouldn’t make it. I had spent the previous twenty-five years before the accident working like a dog. So I told myself: You can’t die now. It certainly wasn’t your plan to slave away until you turned thirty-nine and then die in a motorcycle accident. I wanted to be able to reap the fruits of my hard work. And I really succeeded in doing that!

"I really do believe that how you cope with situations like this has a lot to do with your outlook on life."

Joachim Schoss

What are your goals in life today?
My family has become much more important to me. In a way, I owe it to my kids that I survived. They gave me so much strength. I see it like this: I’ve been given some extra time – like in a football match after the ninety minutes of regular play. And this time belongs to my family. When I almost died, I realized that everything which I used to define myself – the value of my company, the number of employees and whatnot –may not be that important after all. In the end, it’s not that important what kind of a boss you were. It’s more important to have been a good husband, father or brother.

In 2004 you launched the website MyHandicap.com. What’s the story behind that?
Until my accident, I had lived on the bright side of life and had had little experience with death, disability or serious illness. And all of a sudden, I had to spend six months of my life in three different hospitals, seeing people around me die. In some cases, medicine saved people’s lives, but they’d lost their will to live. These strokes of fate were often followed by an endless series of problems. Divorce, unemployment, having to move out of your home. I recognized that a lot of people needed help, but there was no adequate support. The internet, still in its early stages at the time, is a fantastic means of communication for people who are no longer as mobile as they used to be.

"I see it like this: I’ve been given some extra time – like in a football match after the ninety minutes of regular play. And this time belongs to my family."

Joachim Schoss

But didn’t people get any help and support before?
Sure, but how? In the hospital in which I spent most of my time and where they prepared me for my life after, there was this room full of ring binders. These binders contained everything people with disabilities would need. Need to have your car converted? Specialists who could move the accelerator to the left, like I needed, could be found in, say, binder 17C. A chair lift for your home? Binder 36F. If you were looking for something, you had to browse through thousands of pages to find it. Updates had to be made by hand – in every binder, at every hospital. Even back in 2003, that was already totally anachronistic.

So you collected the information online?
Among other things, yes. We also offered peer-to-peer counselling. The possibility to speak with people who had already managed to come to terms with a similar situation helped me a lot. These people can show you ways in which you can also cope with the situation. Along the lines of: yeah, tough luck, but you’re still alive, you can love and laugh, and that’s also possible with just one leg and just one arm. I’m one of these ambassadors today. In the German-speaking countries, we’re the leaders on the information market. Over ten million people use our online offer every year.

And EnableMe is the continuation of MyHandicap . . .
That’s right. It’s the result of the internationalization of MyHandicap. We had already translated our site into English, but the response was rather meager. Thanks to a donation we were later able to create a French version. As soon as the French version went live, the site was accessed from France, Canada and francophone Africa. So I came to the conclusion that we should dare to go international. Our aim is to enable every person with a disability all around the world – and I’m talking about a billion people here – to benefit from the information and the communities on EnableMe.org by the end of this decade. We changed the name of the site because the term handicap isn’t politically correct anymore.

Joachim Schoss' vision: an inclusive society in which people with disabilities are visible as a matter of course, independently active and fully represented. Become part of this great vision and make your contribution to this inclusive society with a donation:

EnableMe.org

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