Posts Tagged self-worth

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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Where I Park, Not Who I Am

I’ve been qualified for a handicapped parking placard for as long as I’ve been able to drive, but I drove for nearly 20 years before I got one. During that time, I’ve watched people with far less challenging disabilities than mine use them, and I’ve heard people with no disability at all boast about using them to get a better parking place. I’ve limped past both.

Friends who went to NASCAR races with me admonished my stubbornness. “Why the hell do we have to park way out here?” they asked. “Because he’s too stubborn to get a handicapped placard,” my wife would answer for me.

I resisted the handicapped placard, because I didn’t see myself as handicapped. Sure, if I paid attention to such things, I would have noticed the obvious, but no one really treated me any differently, so I wasn’t forced to acknowledge the obvious. Ironically, I convinced myself that parking in one of those reserved stalls would alert the world that I had a handicap, as I limped by. Such is the power of self-image.

Obviously, my self-image was overly optimistic, but far too often, self-image is overly pessimistic. We see ourselves as failing before we even try. We feel inferior to others, though we’ve never really looked for our own worth. We become our own worst enemy, because we let doubt and negativity cloud our thinking.

I believe that we often develop negative self-images when we focus on our weaknesses and past failures instead of our strengths and potential. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. We doom ourselves to negative self-images if we fail to realize that failure and weakness are parts of being normal, and that we need to learn from our past and put it away, while focusing on our strengths and potential.

So, how do we optimize and nurture our self-image?

  1. Develop selective memory. Decide which memories are positive and affirming, and hold onto them. Learn all you can from the negative memories and then throw them away. When I reminisce about college fraternity date parties, I don’t dwell on the five rejections I received for my first date party; instead, I focus on the incredible first date I had a few months later with the lady who would become my wife. (Fortunately, I’m not easily discouraged.)
  2. Feed strengths and starve weaknesses. We often give our weaknesses more attention than they deserve. Sometimes, we even focus on them, to the detriment of our strengths. Discover what you are good at and do more of it.
  3. Blend humility with appreciation. A healthy dose of appreciation puts weaknesses where they belong – out of the spotlight. When you are feeling down, take the time to be thankful for your blessings. This isn’t always easy, but it’s almost always necessary.
  4. Associate with positive people. We all have those people who leave us feeling refreshed. They refuse to let us wallow in self-pity and help us direct our thoughts to positive areas. Spend more time with them and less time with the whiners and those who encourage whining.
  5. Eliminate negative self-talk. Most of us have a silent, but active internal dialogue that we’re often only faintly aware of. Stop and think about it. What are you telling yourself about yourself? If our self-talk repeatedly tells us that we are unworthy of success and happiness, we start to believe it. If there were a little creature sitting on your shoulder constantly criticizing everything you did, you would smash him within minutes. Why let him live inside your head?

I use the heck out of that handicapped parking placard now, not because my self-image surrendered, but rather because it became stronger. Now, I could give a rat’s rear-end about what judgments people might make about the way I walk or where I park. I owe that attitude to a positive self-image that I’m careful to nurture, and I hope the same for you.

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Would You Work with Freddy Krueger?

Looking back at it, I’m fortunate that the receptionist paged her boss and not security or the police when I showed up in the lobby. I saw the fear and uncertainty in her eyes, and I couldn’t really blame her. I looked like I just tumbled out of a slasher movie.

Two hours earlier, in my haste to get on the road, I tripped over a curb and landed on my left shoulder and cheek (the cheek on my face) in my office parking lot. The pavement was wet with melting snow, dirt and the snow-melt compound that the maintenance guy had put down. When I landed, I ground all of that into my face, hands, shirt and pants. For good measure, in stunned unawareness, I wiped my freshly bloodied knuckles on my pants.

Seconds earlier, I had looked fairly good in my new black shirt and freshly pressed khaki pants. I was on my way to win business from people I had never met in person, and I was full of confidence. I didn’t look so good now, I thought to myself, as I looked in the rear-view mirror and wiped blood and dirt from my face with an old rag I found under the seat. I considered postponing, but it would have been weeks before I would be able to get all of these guys in one room again. My competitors would loom during those days.

Because I had just enough time to make the drive, I wasn’t even able to stop by a bathroom to perform triage. I was going to have to go in raw and mangled, hoping to use confidence to overcome the obstacles my appearance presented.

Many of life’s pivotal points come in moments like these, when our confidence is shaken at precisely the moment we need it the most. How we respond often determines our life direction, at least for a while.

Doubt and feelings of inferiority often flash into our conscious when we have an unexpected opportunity to assert ourselves. Maybe a boss asks for our opinion in a meeting. Maybe we have an unexpected opportunity to volunteer for an important task or meet an important person. Rather than living with regrets, we should seize these unexpected opportunities for exactly what they are – opportunities.

On my very first day of student teaching, in my very first hour, I learned that my cooperating teacher had called in sick and the substitute teacher had absolutely no idea how to teach the material. Instead of a day spent observing and getting comfortable with my surroundings, like I expected, I was thrust in front of a classroom of high school students for the first time since I was a high school student myself, three years earlier. I was nervous but it went well, and I developed courage under fire.

I was fortunate that my life had prepared me for situations like this. For about 35 years now, I’ve dragged around a mostly non-functional leg, so I’m accustomed to people struggling to suppress inadvertent stares when I walk into a room of strangers.

When I was younger, this bothered me tremendously, and I did everything I could to avoid walking in front of strangers. Even in college, I showed up early for classes and snuck away after the room cleared, in an attempt to make my first impression from a sitting position. I wanted people to know and like me, before letting them in on my handicap. I didn’t trust others not to judge me, and I hadn’t developed self-worth.

Now, as a motivational speaker, I sometimes walk across an auditorium stage in front of hundreds. I’m able to do this, because I no longer worry about what conclusions people make when they see me for the first time. I know that the people who matter could care less about how I move from one point to another. In fact, I know that if I don’t let it bother me, they won’t let it bother them.

Back in my truck after my client meeting, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and smiled. My cheek was swollen now, and a rivulet of dried blood ran from the corner of my eye, but I killed it. My heightened confidence helped me compensate for my Freddy Kruger appearance. I had not only won the account, it’s been our biggest piece of business year to date.

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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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