How Tragedy Led to Insight for Alex Noble

Classical philosophy and its message about resilience still has relevance today.
Jun 5, 2024
The key to happiness lies in finding joy in less.

When Alex Noble ran onto the footy field one ordinary Saturday there was little to suggest that it would lead to a life changing event.

He woke four-days later from a coma, paralysed from his chin down, couldn’t move a single muscle, say a single word, or even breathe at all on his own. Alex lay in the hospital bed simply as a pair of eyes that was completely detached from his body.

On the fifth night in the intensive care unit, he overheard his brother Zac telling his parents that he was going to give up on his year 12 exams and give up on trying to get into university; he was saying that it was all too hard given the circumstances, he was too distracted by everything that was happening, he was saying there is no point.

“So, feeling guilty that Zac was going to give up on his future and career because of me, I interrupted the conversation and whispered to Zac: “if I fight you fight”. In that moment, I chose to not let my injury define me, I chose to buckle up and fight,” Noble says.

Noble’s misfortune was repurposed into a book, a movement and community ‘I Fight You Fight’ and an example of how to resist falling into despair and remain strong in the face of adversity.

The nature of resilience is complex and specific, but Noble’s journey has provided insight and instruction.

“If there is one piece of advice I would share with not only young people, but all people, is that life isn’t fair. Life can be difficult, life can be hard, life can be excruciating at times. And when life’s storms come our way which are out of our control, we must not play the victim card and feel sorry for ourselves - we must simply accept it no matter how much it hurts and carry on.

“One of the other most important things I tell people is that it isn’t our circumstances that determine our lives, it is our responses to our circumstances that determine our lives. Control your response and you will control your life.”

In his interactions with young people, he sees that their level of happiness is often not relative to the quality of their situations.

“I have seen many young people with the most privileged lives where everything is absolutely perfect but however, are completely miserable. And I have seen many young people with extremely difficult, hard and unfair lives that are the happiest people I’ve ever met. So, this emphasises my point that the way we feel and the way we experience life does not depend on what we have, it simply depends on what we think of what we have.

“Our quality of life simply depends on our perceptions. I think the main issue is that people rely their happiness on external things - people are so used to getting what they want and then when they get it, they want something more, then when they get that thing, after a while, they want something more again. They continually look for more in order to feel satisfied and as a result, they never get there; they’re never satisfied or content.

“All we need to do is lower our expectations and appreciate the smaller things in life - this way, what we do in life will meet our expectations and standards so as a result, we will be more content, more peaceful and in a more constant state of happiness. Socrates said it best when he said: ‘The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.’”

Throughout this journey and to better understand and articulate his perspectives, Noble studied philosophy leading him to the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius and the book ‘The Daily Stoic’ which became his go to.

“Stoicism played a major role in helping me formulate and articulate my perspective into a deliverable and effective message.”

Noble believes the main cause for the significantly high prevalence of mental health issues seen in youth is due to the immediate gratification of desires.

“Life is not about doing what makes you comfortable for doing what is easiest, life is about doing the things that are the most beneficial to you, which often requires a bit of hard work, discomfort, grit and sacrifice. Once people realise that hard work is necessary, they will be more willing to not give up during difficulties and will be more resilient when confronting and trying to overcome challenges.

“The second thing is that we need to teach people that the greatest accomplishments are at the end of the most difficult roads. The harder the process, the greater reward. The further you are away from your comfort zone, the more you will grow and achieve. So, we need to teach people that it is okay to feel out of your depths, it is okay to feel uncertain about whether you are capable of achieving something, it is okay to feel nervous, it is okay to take risks, it is okay to feel vulnerable and it is okay to fail. Because this is the way we are going to push ourselves to reach our full potential as a human being.”
Noble’s book ‘I Fight, You Fight’ is available through Simon and Schuster. He speaks at the Stand Tall Event in Sydney on 6 June.