Posts Tagged courage

When It’s Courageous Just to Show Up

jimeicher

Jim Eicher (right) on Royals opening day

People with disabilities are some of the most self-aware people you will ever meet. We know that our disability makes many people uncomfortable, and we understand why. You want to be sensitive, but not obtuse, and accommodating, but not patronizing. Again, we understand that, and wish it weren’t that way, but we don’t fault you. We’re uncomfortable too.

This discomfort drives many disabled people underground. It’s easier for us to stay in our comfort zones and avoid that awkwardness. It takes real courage to put our disabilities on display, and one of the most courageous people I’ve seen in a while is Michael J. Fox.

Fox was recently on the Jimmy Kimmel Show talking about Back to the Future, a 1985 movie in which he starred, and its predictions for 2015.  Thirty years ago, the writers of that movie predicted that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series in 2015, and we would have hover boards and self-tying shoes. The recent attention focused on that movie, because of its predictions, brought Michael J. Fox back into the spotlight.

In the mid-1980s and for several years after that, there were few actors as charismatic as Michael J. Fox. He was the star of the television series Family Ties and movies such as The Secret of My Success and Doc Hollywood, in addition to Back to the Future. In almost every role he played, he was cast as a bright, quick-witted life of the party. The interviews and appearances he did back then showed that his personality matched his stage presence. Then, Parkinson’s disease began to take its toll.

Parkinson’s affects Fox’s speech, movements and facial expressions – all of which create charisma. He is as sharp as ever, but it’s now very difficult for him to express himself in the ways he once did. Yet, there he was, in front of not only a live studio audience, but a television audience as well. He knows what Parkinson’s looks like on him, but instead of hiding in shame, he performed on a popular late-night talk show, and the audience loved him.

How often do we let our fears of outside perceptions rob us of rewarding experiences like this? We don’t like to let others see our weaknesses, which are only a small part of who we are, so we hide. When we hide, we not only rob ourselves of rewarding experiences, we rob the world of experiencing us.

My friend Jim Eicher was a courageous person too. Jim died earlier this year of complications from his battle with Hodgkin lymphoma, just short of his 50th birthday and 10th wedding anniversary. Jim was an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful man who eventually married his high school sweetheart and became a caring father to her children. He was also a life-long fan of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. He religiously followed that team, even when they were MLB basement dwellers.

In April of this year, he attended the Royal’s Opening Day game with some friends. By this time, he was struggling tremendously with his health. He had lost part of his lungs to the disease, and the treatment he endured for more than 20 years had taken its toll on the rest of his body. He pulled an oxygen tank with him to his seat in Kauffman Stadium, but he was there to cheer on the team that nearly won the World Series the year before. A month later, he collapsed and died in front of a jewelry store on his way to pick up an anniversary present for his wife. (read that incredible story here) Six months later, the Royals won the World Series.

Jim could have watched that April game on television, and Michael J. Fox could have passed on the opportunity to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, but they didn’t. They didn’t let weakness rob them of life. We should all be as courageous.

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Succeed with an Immigrant Attitude

A recent CNN/Money poll revealed that more than 60% of Americans don’t believe that “The American Dream” is attainable. Although the poll was conducted without a concrete definition of the American Dream, its results are concerning, because it reveals that pessimism is overtaking optimism.

Most consider the prospect of the American Dream as a source of optimism, and for the most part, most generations have been able to improve their economic condition over the course of their lifetimes. Perhaps this improvement deluded us into thinking that the American Dream was to be expected with little sacrifice, almost entitled.

When we feel entitled, we misunderstand challenges. Instead of seeing challenges as learning opportunities, we see them as annoyances. We respond to opportunities, and we whine about annoyances. Opportunities advance us, while annoyances bog us down. Over time, annoyances become pessimism.

Zig Ziglar wrote and spoke about what he called, the Immigrant Attitude. The Immigrant Attitude is a belief that hard work, perseverance, sacrifice and thrift will pay dividends.

The Immigrant Attitude is more than a theory. First-generation legal immigrants are typically more successful than their native-born counterparts. They are three to four times more likely to become millionaires, and though they are only 11% of the United States population, they comprise more than 40 percent of the Ivy League student population.

Why? Because they’re optimistic about the opportunities available to them in the United States. They are optimistic, because they recognize the true high value of opportunity. Their appreciation of opportunity often comes from their experience with adversity. Persevering through adversity is a lifestyle for them.

I had my own optimism and appreciation tested a couple of years ago, while on safari in Africa. After a successful morning of hunting, I was enjoying a cool beverage in the shade. A young Zimbabwean named Pretty was waiting on me.

Pretty opened the conversation by asking me about my trip to camp just two days earlier. It’s really hard to find the positives of a 17.5 hour flight and five-hour bus ride, so I said something to the effect that I was glad it was over, and I wasn’t looking forward to the trip back.

“It’s my dream to fly to the United States,” she said. “There is just so much I could do if I was able to get there.” Pretty then told me how she had fled Zimbabwe for South Africa, leaving twin boys behind, during her native country’s political turmoil.

I began to feel really small. I was in Africa, on vacation from work and enjoying being pampered by my hosts. She was in Africa worried sick that she wouldn’t have enough money to support herself, let alone see her children again. I was leaving in five days to return to my comfortable life and its trivial worries in the world’s most prosperous country. She wasn’t sure what would happen to her in a few weeks, when the hunting season ended.

I think of Pretty when my day in the office doesn’t go so well or I find myself fretting over something petty, like a hail-damaged car. I picture Pretty with a huge smile, taking it all in and making the most of it.

If an immigrant were in your shoes, behind your desk, with the same 24 hours in his day, would he be more successful? If the answer is yes, consider adopting the Immigrant Attitude.

“Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes the solutions, knows about difficulties, but believes they can be overcome, sees the negatives but accentuates the positives, is exposed to the worst but exceeds the best, has reason to complain but chooses to smile.” ― William Author Ward

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Not Wishing I Could

The weight room at my gym is where I do a lot of thinking. For an hour, four or five times per week, it’s just me. my thoughts and my body. I experience the highs and confidence of pushing more than 300 pounds with my arms, and the lows of struggling with even the smallest of weights in my leg workout. When I work my upper body, I think, “What if?” When I work my lower body, I think, “What’s next?”

Toward the end of one of my workouts the other day, as I was gazing out the window between sets, I saw one of the trainers returning from a run on the trail beside the Papio Creek. For a moment, I let my mind stray into the dangerous territory of “I wish I could.”

We all wish WE COULD something. We wish that we could have more money – that we could be taller, not as fat, not as bald – that we could have a better job, more friends, fewer worries. Heck, I wish I could stay awake through a movie with my wife, and she wishes I could get along with her mother. Some things are just not going to happen.

In this way, my physical disability has been a gift. I understand that certain capabilities are beyond my reach, and this awareness has allowed me to see more clearly the blessings that I do have.

Instead of lamenting the fact that I can’t play basketball at the gym, I’m happy that I’m healthy enough to exercise and build muscle. Rather than being bitter about needing to turn down tickets for a Nebraska football game, I’m fulfilled that I’ve found the skills to build a reasonably successful business.

Few of us spend much time thinking about everything that we can do, while we spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about the things beyond our reach. Doing this robs us of the joy of the moment and impedes our progress toward our goals. This is a lesson I constantly review when I go hunting.

Hunting is my passion, and it’s one that challenges my will to focus on my strengths rather than my limitations, because it’s a pursuit best undertaken by not only able-bodied individuals, but individuals in fairly athletic shape. This is because the highest number and best trophy animals are often in the most remote and unforgiving terrain – terrain that is almost always beyond my reach.

Many times, I can see where I want to go, and I can sometimes even see the game I’m pursuing, yet, my legs can’t get me there. November 2010 was a good example of that. I was out in Nebraska’s Sandhills, trying to fill the spot on my wall for a trophy whitetail deer.

The whitetail is one of the most challenging North American trophies, because the mature, large bucks became large and mature by associating humans with danger and avoiding them at all costs. The best way to get close to them is to quietly sneak into their territory, leaving as little scent as possible. Most people park a mile or two from where they are going to be hunting, and then walk in.

I’m not most people. This year, like every year, I had to have someone drive me to the blind where I was to sit for the remainder of the day. My guide Aric then drove back out, and returned on foot a short time later to sit with me, probably scaring every deer within a mile. Because of the commotion we made, it was no surprise that we didn’t see anything all morning, and we decided to take a mid-day break.

Shortly after Aric left to get the truck, he came running back to the blind. He had seen the big deer that we knew was out there. In fact, my trophy stood and stared at him from 50 yards. It would have been an easy shot, extremely rare for a trophy buck, and if I had been with Aric, my trophy would have been in the back of the truck.

Instead, Aric and I sat there until nightfall, and for several more days. We saw the trophy deer a mile or so away a couple of times, but we could never get him to come close enough to us for a shot.

I could have left the Sandhills angry and frustrated, because I felt both of those emotions over the long days in the blind, but being angry and frustrated is counter-productive, especially when you are trying to enjoy your passion. Instead, I felt thankful for the excitement I felt knowing that this deer was close and might appear at any moment. I had also enjoyed watching many more deer and clearing my mind from mental clutter, as I had nothing to entertain me but some of nature’s best beauty.

I think that all of us have those deer blind moments when we can’t seem to get what we want and it seems to come so easily for everyone else. We look enviously through our windshields at the Mercedes, oblivious to the freedom that our own transportation provides. We’re jealous when we learn that our friends earn more money than we do, instead of reassured knowing that we have relationships with achievers. We see a trainer returning from a run on a sunny day, and we feel helpless that we will never feel that exhiliration.

That’s the wrong way to live. It robs us of happiness and closes our minds to hope and possibilities.

Each one of us has capabilities that someone else wishes they had, even if it is as simple and basic as our health.

I was reminded of that one morning, years ago, as I made my way to an early morning class at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. I was having one of those mornings where everything seemed to go wrong. A series of drops and spills had made me a few minutes late, though I awoke at the right time. My tardiness cost me a shot at the close parking spaces near my classroom building, so I had to park a few blocks away and hike in.

By the time I reached my building, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. It was then that I met a young man in a wheelchair.

“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me asking,” he began, and before I could respond, he asked, “Were you ever in a chair?”

Being in a chair is one of my biggest fears, one of my largest motivators for time in the gym and a likely future according to some in the medical field. For those reasons, I resist even thinking about the possibility. I stammered my answer. “Umm . . . no.” Then, quickly, almost defensively, I followed up, “Why?”

“I’ve noticed you and thought that maybe, since your upper body appears so strong, that maybe you spent some time in a chair, but trained your way out,” he said and looked away.

It became quickly obvious to me that he watched me limp around and saw hope. While he was watching me and hoping the same for himself, I fought self-pity. We were unaware of each other’s struggles.

If I could borrow a healthy set of legs for a day, I’d return them sore and tired. I’d find something to hunt, and then pursue it through the thickest, nastiest terrain. I’d walk through the Old Market and over the pedestrian bridge. I’d play a game of basketball with my son in the driveway.

But, none of that is going to happen. And I’m OK with that. Because life is too short and too precious to waste time sulking, I’ll enjoy the life that I can live within the restraints that cannot be changed, and I hope the same for you.

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