Posts Tagged self-assurance

Where’s my name?

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All-state, all-conference, all-district, all-American . . . as sports seasons draw to a close, recognition lists start to appear. The recognition is great for those who receive it, but what about those whose names don’t appear on the lists?

That happened to my son last year. He had a great football season – better than his sophomore season when he received honorable mention, but his name rose no higher during his junior season. Naturally, we looked at the list of honorees, and just as naturally, we felt he belonged. It was frustrating and heart-breaking, but just like all of the other frustrating and heart-breaking experiences of the past couple of years, it taught us a lot.

Most of all, it taught us how to deal positively with disappointment, which is important, because disappointment is part of life. This is especially true if you challenge yourself with risks. The higher you reach, the more you expose yourself to a gut punch like disappointment.

For athletes:

First, you have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. Voters often have limited data when they make their selections, and they rely on what others have said about your performance. That can be your coach, an opposing coach or the media, and they all have biases, even though most try really hard to suppress those biases. Furthermore, inclusion on many of the lists is dependent on your team’s success. The better a team does, the more players are included in post-season honors, but even that has a limit. Voters are reluctant to include too many from a single team or even a single region, so if you are in the shadows of super-stars, it’s hard to shine. This is even more challenging for underclassmen, as seniority seems to figure in the calculations. Sometimes, those factors work in your favor, and sometimes, they work against you.

Second, it probably doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. My son feared that a lack of all-state recognition during his junior season would hurt his college recruiting in the following year. It didn’t. We can’t recall a single instance where it was even mentioned. Recruiters don’t rely on others to do their evaluations, and things turned out just fine for my son when the recruiters had a chance to do their own evaluation of him. Plus, not everyone pays attention to sports news. Everyone who appreciated your performance still appreciates your performance.

You are not alone. Hundreds of athletes felt slighted when they saw the lists, and many were justified in that feeling. Not every deserving athlete will be included. In fact, there are probably better athletes than you who were left off the list.

For the rest of us:

Throughout life, you are going to be evaluated and compared to others. Sometimes, you’re going to get that promotion, and other times, it’s going to go to the guy down the hall. Often, you can’t control that. The one thing you can control is your reaction.

Don’t let rejection get you down. Your peers and key decision-makers are watching your reaction. Be gracious, and then be silent in your resolve to prove that you belong. Now, when the iron is hot, is the time to make your mark.

Do an honest self-evaluation, once the pity and frustration subside. You might not be able to be objective immediately after disappointing news. When you can be objective, look for areas for personal growth. No matter where you are in life, there is always room for growth. Become a master at evaluating yourself. It’s never a good idea to leave evaluation to those who don’t know your potential.

Set goals for yourself. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable and celebrate your successes in reaching them. Goals affirm your progress, and unlike outside evaluations, you have complete control of them.

The mood in our house was markedly better this year when the football post-season awards were announced, but we know that last year’s disappointment won’t be the last. Next time, though, we’ll be better prepared to turn it into a positive. That we can control.

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Looking Down on a Wheelchair

She looked at my wife, then at me and then at the wall before saying, “I don’t envy you.” We were in an elevator at Bellagio in Las Vegas, headed back to our room after an afternoon spent exploring The Strip. I was in my wheelchair, and Lynda was behind me. It was evident that it was Lynda who she didn’t envy.

Lynda did leave the door open for that comment when she said something to the effect of, “That’s a workout!” in regard to pushing the wheelchair. Still, the stranger’s comment was stunning, so much so that neither of us could manage a response. To her credit, the stranger probably wasn’t trying to insult us – she just let a thought escape her lips.

No man wants to be the source of pity for his wife, but I could understand the reason behind the insensitive comment. Pushing a wheelchair is a lot of work, and I would have much rather been walking side-by-side with my wife, but that wasn’t an option. Ironically, the wheelchair was Lynda’s idea, and the genesis for that idea came in Las Vegas. On our first trip to Las Vegas and for most of the second, Lynda mostly explored the city on her own, as the walking that it required was just too much for my legs. It didn’t bother me all that much to wait in the room while Lynda was out. As my friends and family know, I never want to get in the way.

On that second trip to Las Vegas, Lynda checked with the hotel concierge and discovered that they had a wheelchair for people like me to use. Even when she brought the chair up to the room, I resisted. I had never been in a wheelchair in public, and wasn’t eager to start. My wife is persistent though, and I’m glad that she is. Using a wheelchair allowed me to see Las Vegas in ways that never would have been possible otherwise. We were returning from just such an adventure when we encountered the stranger on the elevator.

I’m not a stranger to pity, and it really doesn’t bother me that much, because I know that genuine pity comes out of concern. People don’t want to see me struggle, and they feel sorry for me that I have to struggle. Plus, they don’t want the struggle for themselves, and are secretly afraid that they couldn’t handle it. I’m certain that the stranger in the elevator felt that way for Lynda and probably for me too. She just said what a lot of other people were thinking.

She had no idea that Lynda insisted on buying me a wheelchair and using it even when I don’t want to. Several times on that trip, I told Lynda that she could leave me in the room, but she always refused. (It’s hard to be stubborn around my wife.) She makes sacrifices like that all of the time, and I appreciate her immensely for it.

The stranger also didn’t know that my hands were blistered and bleeding from propelling the chair myself. There is a reason that experienced wheelchair users wear gloves.

Most of all, the stranger didn’t realize that people with ample experience facing adversity don’t pity themselves and certainly don’t want pity from others. In fact, we’re often happier than people without adversity, because we appreciate small things that a lot of other people take for granted. Pity doesn’t usually cross our minds, unless someone else brings it up, like what happened on that elevator.

Coincidentally, I read the book Tough as They Come by Travis Mills during that trip. SSG Mills is a quadruple amputee due to injuries he suffered while defending our country in Afghanistan. Like me, he has an incredible wife who adapted to a marriage that requires more from her than lesser women could handle. Initially, when facing his new reality and its limitations, SSG Mills thought of his wife Kelsey and what his injuries would mean to her. I’m sure that the stranger on the elevator wouldn’t envy her either, because that was SSG Mills’ initial feeling too. However, once he crushed self-pity, he found a new purpose that he could share with his wife, the Travis Mills Foundation.

I write all of this not to make you feel guilty for pitying other people, but to ask you to use pity as a prompt for kindness. When you feel the very natural feeling of pity, say or do something nice. You might surprised by the beauty you find in adversity, just like we are.

Tough as They Come

Next Month: It’s not all bad! Far from it! Hear about the good things in people I get to see from my wheelchair.

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When It’s Courageous Just to Show Up

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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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