Brett Connellan, a 22-year-old who dreamed of being a professional surfer, was catching a few waves one day in 2016 when his life changed forever.

Suddenly, Brett, the 196th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, was knocked off his board by an almighty crash. He had no idea what had happened – until, seconds later, a shark sank its teeth into his thigh.

Brett tried to punch the shark off, but the water absorbed the force of his blows. So Brett backed away instead; the flesh that was in the shark’s mouth got ripped from his body, but he was able to get clear.

Brett started swimming for the shore. After 20 metres, he turned around to see if the shark was following. It turned out the shark was right behind and about to make another attack. Brett instinctively palmed the shark away just as it tried to bite him again – so the shark’s teeth merely grazed rather than sunk into his arm.

Brett kept swimming. His best friend, Joel, who was surfing nearby, picked up Brett moments later and took him to the shore. A rescue chopper then flew Brett to hospital.

Initially, it seemed Brett would die from blood loss; then, the doctors feared Brett would never walk again. But he was walking again within two months and surfing within five.

However, the accident changed Brett’s outlook. He was no longer singularly focused on becoming a pro surfer; instead, he started thinking deeper thoughts about how he could live a more meaningful life and use his story to help others.

Brett begins each day by filling in a gratitude journal. He sets one-year and five-year goals that he reviews each quarter. He also delivers keynote speeches in which he shares his story and the lessons he’s learnt.

Brett has recently co-founded a video production company, Honest Boys Productions, that will initially release a documentary about Brett and will then tell other people’s stories. The company will also publish a podcast with long-form interviews. Honest Boys’ mission is to use powerful stories to help its audience reflect and grow – which is how Brett has always thought of his shark encounter.

Brett didn’t want vengeance against the shark. And he didn’t want to see himself as a victim. Instead, he framed the near-death experience as a gift that would help him become a better person and discover what he really wanted from life.

So the worst day in Brett’s old life turned out to be the catalyst for creating a richer new life.