Turning Points

On the weekend, we had the privilege of hearing Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer) speak at the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) open day. Every year, USQ has an open day and it is a great opportunity for prospective students, especially country kids, to check out what courses are on offer and learn a bit about university life. As a regional university, USQ is the ideal place for country kids to study in a safe and supportive environment without having to face the big city. The theme for this year’s open day was “fearless”.

Li is an amazing and inspirational speaker. Most people, I guess, are familiar with his story. Born into utter poverty in Mao’s communist China, the sixth of seven sons, hardship and starvation marked his childhood and left an indelible imprint on his memory. However, his parents love and sacrifice gave Li hope and courage. One day, something happened that would change his life forever.


“One moment in life can transform your entire journey of life.”

Turning points are crucial. It can be the difference between following one path or taking another. There were a number of crucial turning points in Li’s life–the teacher who tapped the official’s shoulder and pointed to Li; the Russian ballet teacher who encouraged Li and inspired a love of ballet; and being selected to go to the United States as part of an exchange program. We can only wonder the path Li’s life might have taken, if any of these turning points had not happened.

We all have those moments in life which become crucial turning points. For me, there are at least two that are significant. The first was when my son, Dan, was diagnosed with autism, shortly before his third birthday. I hardly knew anything about autism, except for Rain Man, however it has taken me on a journey into a world I could never have imagined. It has made me stronger, more confident and resilient. I have learned to challenge assumptions and expectations, and advocate for Dan. I have discovered there are different ways of being, thinking and doing.

The second turning point in my life was when Rob, my first husband and father of my children, died suddenly of a heart attack. This is a story that I will tell you more about some other time, but it’s like they say:

“what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

Despite the hardship of Li’s early life, the brutal training at the Dance Academy in Beijing and the pain of separation from his family after defection, Li maintained that hardship, rather than easy success, can provide the most crucial moments. This is when you have to dig deep. This is when you discover who you really are and what matters most in life.

Li encouraged us to be fearless, to make the most of every little opportunity; to be positive and to make a difference in the lives of others. In the end,



“it is not how long you live your life, but how you live your life.”





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