Making Resolutions Into Reality – Part One

January 1, 2010

Combing My Hair

My Good Mom Right Where She's Always Been - By My Side

As we look to the new year, and the resolutions that we will no doubt set (hopefully you haven’t become so jaded that you’ve given up completely on the idea) we need to put in place some concepts that will allow us to succeed and achieve those resolutions so they don’t end up casualties of war by the 15th of January.

In our effort to effectively accomplish the goals we set, we must first make sure that we have effectively set goals.

When I think of what it takes to set goals you will accomplish, I remember an experience I had after my spinal cord injury.

Being in the hospital with injuries so severe, being unable to breathe for seven weeks, and learning how to live in a wheelchair, you can understand why my appearance wasn’t exactly at the top of my concerns. My mom would comb my hair each day, and unless friends (well let’s be honest—girls) made the trek from Boise to visit, I cared less about the result.

When I returned home in October, things changed dramatically.  Friends were over all the time, and now, this little piece of hygiene that mattered so little just weeks before, was now of paramount importance. So, unless I wore a ball cap, I counted on my mom to comb my hair.  For, just like every other teenager, I wanted to look good!

The more my condition improved, the more I cared.  It wasn’t long before I was back at school full time and dating.  Mom did great.  She found a way to not only keep me presentable, but fashionable as well.  I always felt confident leaving the house when my mom combed my hair.

As time progressed, so did I. My strength was getting better and better. I got stronger physically and socially.  By my Junior year, I was finished with therapy, had a full load at school, and was elected class president.  I was driving by myself, and with the help of a friend had actually figured out how to dance in a chair (for that whole crazy story, click here).

Finally, in December of 1987, nearly 1½ years after my accident, I reached a social milestone—I was on my way to my first formal dance.

I was really excited.  The girl who asked me was a cutie and a good friend to boot.  I went out weeks before the dance to get my tuxedo—I opted against a tuxedo with tails as the tails looked more like mud flaps than they did tails.

My mom helped me get ready for the dance.  I showered, shaved, and got into my tuxedo all with her help.  (The tuxedo was all white with a lavender tie and cummerbund to match her dress.  It was the ‘80’s, so I get a little latitude…right.)

Everything was finished but my hair.  Looking in the mirror, pleased with my appearance, I asked my mom if she would comb my hair.  Now this was something that I had asked her to do and she had happily done literally hundreds of time before.

I remember there was a long pause.  I looked up at her and she had a little sparkle in her eye. (I later learned to beware the sparkle).  She grabbed the comb and asked me, “How many 16 year old boys do you think are going to have their mothers comb their hair tonight?’

I wasn’t sure why she would ask such a silly question.  The answer was simple.  Sixteen year old boys combed their own hair.  I knew it and I knew she knew it.  My mistake, however, was in my primary assumption (you know what they say happens when you assume).  I was sure we were excluding me.

I replied, “None,” with complete confidence and a little impatience.

She then handed me the comb and said, “That’s right.  None!”

That was it.  That was the last time she combed my hair.  My hair looked terrible that night—it was like Don King with a bad haircut.  It didn’t get much better in the days to follow.  She had picked that night to make sure the message came through loud and clear—it was time for me to learn to comb my own hair, and although I didn’t have the strength I needed that day to complete the task, I’d never gain that strength if she continued on combing my hair.

Handing me the brush was like a gauntlet being thrown, and even though it took a while for the frustration to pass, and when it did, I learned that in throwing the gauntlet she showed me two things.  First, that she believed I could do it, and second that there were some occasions that wouldn’t allow a hat.

Her issued challenge gave me something to chase., something to achieve—trust me, I wanted to be able to comb my own hair.  Now all I had to do was turn that desire or dream into a goal.

As I began this pursuit, experience told me that if I were going to change my hope into goal it would require more than just wanting it.  Wanting is important, but I had learned through prior experience, that building goals from dreams meant meeting three pieces of criteria.  My experience since has only strengthened my resolve in these important steps.

1.)  Be Specific.

Anytime we have something we want to accomplish in our lives, it must be specific.  I couldn’t just say, “I want to look nice.”  What does that mean.  Working on goals that aren’t specific is like chasing specters.  You end up working really hard and end up with a handful of nothing.  When a desire isn’t clear like I want to make more money, lose more weight, or improve my appearance we have no direction.  However, when we get specific like, “I want to make $60,000, lose 20lbs, or comb my hair.” then we take the first step in making our wants become goals.

2.)  Become Accountable.

Nothing changes dreams into goals faster than writing it down and telling someone else about it.  First when we write it down we make a promise to ourselves.  It works like a contact between us and ourselves—and nothing gets things done like a contract.  Telling others puts us squarely on the hook.  It leaves us very few outs.  If we tell the people we work with, or live with that we are going to make $60,000, lose 20 pounds, or comb your hair, it makes us all the more motivated to achieve.  After all, no one wants to look at a broken contract or hear others ask, “What happened.”

That December, I took out two pieces of paper and wrote on them, “Comb your own hair.”  Then I placed one on the mirror in my room and one on the mirror in my bathroom.  That way I saw my contract multiple times a day, as did my siblings.  Now, my brothers and sister also knew that I was working toward combing my hair.  I was accountable to myself and to them, and my dream was nearly a full-fledged goal.

3.)  Be Measurable.

It doesn’t do any good to set any goal if it doesn’t have a due date.  The greatest stories in the world are ruined if we feel they never end. It’s great to dream about increasing our income, decreasing our weight, and improving our appearance, but if we don’t answer questions like, “by when,” or, “for how long” our dream just stays in the ether.  It becomes unachieved, and we become disappointed.  When we make our hopes measurable so we can know when the race ids finished, we end up with a real live goal.

Any thing of any worth that I have achieved in my life has, in one form or another, met each one of these requirements.  Whether it was becoming student body president at the nations largest private university, becoming one of the youngest to be a part of the top 6% of the insurance industry worldwide, living through two life threatening accidents, starting my own company, or combing my hair, it was because of goals—Goals that were specific, had accountability, and made measurable.

The hair thing worked out.  But the great thing was my mom was smart enough to understand that achieving one thing would lead to achieving others.  The strength that allowed me to comb my hair led me to do other things as well.

All because I was challenged to reach farther than I believed I could.

This New Year the first thing we must do is take those Resolutions—those challenges we’ve made for ourselves and make them specific, make ourselves accountable, and ensure that we can measure our progress.

Then we will be on our way to making our dreams into goals and eventually realities.

Jh-

Check out part 2 of 3 in my next post.


I Can Do Anything For 80 Years

October 22, 2009

Hospital Traction 1st Acc._2

I have been taught the importance of being positive from the youngest days of my life.  I don’t remember a time when having a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) wasn’t a regular part my parents instruction on the proper way to live a life.

Therefore, growing up, I tried to make a positive outlook a part of my life.  I tried to look at the glass half full, tried to see the best in those around me and tried to concentrate on the good and forget the bad.

Then at fifteen and a half, on the 13th of July 1986 my life changed in a second.

I went from a completely healthy young man in the best shape of my life to paralyzed from the chest down with only partial use of my arms and no use of my hands.

As difficult as that transition was, it was the first nights that were the most harrowing.  My lungs filled with mucus to the point where you could barely see any clear part of my lung on the x-ray.  My pulmonologist told me it was the worst case of pneumonia he had ever seen.

You didn’t have to have a medical degree to understand that my life was in the balance.  In those days, I had one wish.  It wasn’t to walk, it wasn’t to be accepted back at home, and it wasn’t to have a normal life-It was to live.

All I wanted was to wake up the next morning.

After a few days when I began to feel, not quite out of the woods, but on my way there, my dad came to the side of my bed and asked me if I felt like I could deal with life as a quadriplegic, I replied, “I can do anything for 80 years.” I was so grateful that I’d kept my life—everything seemed better.  Even paralysis seemed doable.

In the days since then, I’ve almost lost my life at least one other time.  And in those days, good or bad, I’ve tried to recall  that same feeling.  Whenever life gets difficult (as it often does) I try to remember that no matter how bad it gets, I still have my life.

Knowing that I am still breathing makes everything else challenging small in comparison.  It makes a real difference in my effort to live a happy life.  It is difficult to complain about the stumbling blocks when you find a way to remember that you are still around to stumble.

When things get hard, remember to love life.  Be grateful that you are still here.  Be glad that you have a chance to struggle and the negativity will be replaced with that Positive Mental Attitude I was taught so much about in my youth

Jh-


Get Into The Groove

March 28, 2009
Harvest Hop

Karen Dahlstrom and I at Borah High School's Harvest Hop Dance (1987)

Before my diving accident caused me to be a quadriplegic, I loved to dance. From my 14th birthday to the day I broke my neck the social event of my life was the Saturday Night Dance, more commonly known as the SND.

The SND was a regional dance that was held every Saturday. There were few things I looked forward to during that time of my life like I looked forward to the SND. In fact, the greatest punishment my parents could excise in those years was to “ground” me from the dance.

I seem to remember many Saturdays when, late in the afternoon, my dad would ask me if I had completed my chores (in particular, if I had mowed the lawn) where my answer in the negative brought out the threat of missing the dance. Too many times, without enough hours to do the job right, I would run behind the lawnmower as it bounced up and down in front of me. Big, huge pieces of lawn were missed completely. But, by the time I asked my dad to check if the lawn had been completed, it was dark and I was free to go. I remember just as vividly the Sunday mornings that followed when my dad realized my work was shoddy and I was sternly invited to mow the entire lawn again on Monday. Although the repercussions were never fun, the payoff of the SND was always worth it.

One might imagine then the concern I had when I returned home from the hospital paralyzed from the chest down. I didn’t know if you could dance in a wheelchair. I had never seen it done. I didn’t even know if I could date in a wheelchair. So, fearful to try, I did my best to stay away from dating and dancing completely.

I returned to school from the hospital in October. In the beginning, I only had the strength and ability to attend a few classes. It wasn’t until well into that sophomore year that I was able to take anything even close to a full load. My absence from school made easier to stay absent from dancing and dating. I benefited from a kind of, “out of sight, out of mind” situation.

My junior year was different. First, I was attending school full-time. My health allowed me not only to be more present during the school day but that extra curricular activities as well. I started to become more involved in student government and was elected junior class president. I was a regular fixture at the athletic events.

This all made for a social calendar more full than I had ever hoped. But, it also made it difficult to stay away from the dating and dancing that scared me so.

I had been to a dance before and before I could even catch my breath and get comfortable as a wallflower, one of the chaperones took me out on the floor and began moving my manual wheelchair back and forth “dancing” for me. This might have been a good idea for some people who were in chairs and although I knew his heart was in the right place, I was mortified and felt more disabled; not less. Within literal minutes I found my ride and convince them to take me home. I wasn’t there long enough for it to count as attending a dance. I was barely there long enough for it to count as listening to a song.

If this experience did anything it made me more nervous and frightened about attending a full dance not to mention a “date dance” and taught me that unless I wanted someone to dance for me (embarrassing me to no end) I was going to have to figure out how to dance for myself. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out a way to resolve the problem with an answer that resulted in me dancing in a way that looked or felt comfortable at all.

My first real hurdle was Homecoming.

As a junior class officer I had some responsibility with reference to the activities that went on during the week, including the dance. This, coupled with my other involvement prompted a lot of questions about my plans for the Homecoming dance.

Somewhere around the middle of September my friends started asking, “Who are you taking to the dance?”

I had to be very careful about how I answered that question. My friends had decided that they were not going to treat me any different because I was in a wheelchair. They refused to accept excuses that had to do with my disability. In fact, if I was ever trying to get them to buy into an excuse bringing up my disability would only ever hurt my chances, not help them.

I knew that if I were I to tell them that I wasn’t going to the dance because I was unsure of how to date or dance in a wheelchair, not only would they never accept that excuse but, it would most likely prompt them to respond by showing up at my home the night of the dance, coming down to my room, lifting me out of bed in my pajamas, throwing me into the car and introducing me to my date; who would surely be the easiest girl they could find on short notice–Probably some lady standing just off the on-ramp near my house holding a sign saying, “Will work for food.”

As nervous and scared as I was to attempt any real dancing in a wheelchair, their potential response scared me even more. It was for this very reason that when they asked me who I was taking to dance I told them that unfortunately I was going to be out of town. This answer seemed to appease them, and the subject was dropped.

On the night of the Homecoming dance I took my power wheelchair and drove to Meridian from Boise. For those people who know the area this is not a long trip. In fact, the journey took about two and a half minutes… round trip… on my elbows. I could essentially spit to Meridian from my house. But, this way my excuse held up without necessitating a lie, for I was “technically” out of town.

The dance was on a Saturday night. At school, on the Monday that followed, everyone was talking about the dance. They were laughing and joking already nostalgic about the fun and good times they had. A few days later the photographer that took the pictures at the dance came to school to deliver the portraits. I remember sitting in the hall watching everyone carry around the black cardboard frames that carried the photos from the dance.

I wanted to be carrying one of those frames so bad I could hardly see straight. I didn’t even care if I was in the picture. I just wanted to be included. I didn’t want to be the only one without photographs and memories from the dance. Worse still my heart wanted to be dating and dancing, but my fear kept me both in check and at home.

The next “date” dance at my school was called the “Harvest Hop”–a kind of a Sadie Hawkins dance. Like most dances of its kind, it was a “girl ask guy” evening where tradition held that in addition to the traditional responsibilities of the dance the girl would also buy matching shirts. This way the couple would be what they called in the vernacular of the day “twinners.”

I was quite sure that I was safe. I hadn’t really done any dating since my accident or dancing in a wheelchair and figured that the girls at my school would see me simply not an option.

A few days later, as I pulled into my driveway on my way home from school, I noticed a big basket on my doorstep. I don’t remember exactly what was in the basket, but knowing the way teenage girls went about asking teenage boys to dances at my high school, I am sure that it was filled with balloons you had to pop, to find puzzle pieces that you put together, to make a map, that took you on a scavenger hunt, that required two days and a pup tent, which eventually led to a box of Cheerios, that had to be emptied out, in order to find the one specific Cheerio, that had been dyed green, and had the invitation to the dance inscribed around its side.

I went through the steps required to figure out what I was being asked to and who was doing the asking. When I figured out I was being asked to the “Harvest Hop” by a cute girl, my brain went into overdrive and I immediately told Karen that I would go to the dance.

Minutes after giving Karen my answer I heard a little voice in my head that screamed, “YOU DON”T KNOW HOW TO DANCE!” In an instant all of the fear that my excitement had skipped over came back in a flood that made Noah’s look like a puddle. I knew I had to do anything and everything I could to get out of this dance.

A few days later I found out that Karen had purchased short sleeve “twinner” shirts for us to wear to the dance. I went up to her and explained that since the dance was in November, short sleeve shirts would be too cold, and we should therefore not go to the dance.

I went into our discussion with what I felt like was a good, well thought out argument. However, like most arguments I have had with women in my life, we talked for a little while and as I left the conversation I realized that for reasons I can hardly explain, we were still going to the dance.

Every week we went through the same exercise. I came up with a good argument that seemed airtight and indestructible, we would talk for a while and at the end of the conversation were still going to the dance. Finally, the dance was only a few days away and I needed to find an out.

I found Karen in the hallway, stopped her and with all the power, and strength I could muster said, “Let’s just not go.” She returned my gaze with one that told me I had much to learn about power and strength and said, “Jason, shut up and go.” Not wanting any part of anything she was about to reign down upon me I replied, “Yes ma’am.”

The night of the dance I was a nervous wreck. I was unsure of so many things. My handicap accessible van had not yet been converted and so I was unable to drive. This meant Karen was going to not only transport us to and from the activities she had planned for the evening, but it also meant she was going to have to lift me in and out of the car to attend those activities. I had heard that we are going the dinner like a picnic in a barn. I was just learning how to eat without the aid of my special utensils and I was unsure how I was going to do that in front of a group and without table. Not to mention having no idea how I was going to actually dance in my wheelchair.

Karen pulled into my driveway in her cute little Toyota Tercel. Unfortunately, the trunk wasn’t large enough to fit my wheelchair, so she had to go home and get her mom’s Country Squire Station Wagon. It wasn’t a car, it was an event. It felt like it took four blocks just a parallel park this thing.

They loaded up my chair, and my dad taught Karen how to get me in and out of the passenger seat of the station wagon and we were off. The first half of the night went relatively well and after dinner we ended up at the dance. We went into the dance and there is a huge long line waiting to get their pictures taken. Karen suggested that we go into the dance and wait until the line for pictures became a little shorter. I said no, hoping that the line for pictures would be long enough that by the time the pictures were actually taken the dance would be over.

We finally reached the photographer, had our pictures taken, and there was plenty of dance left.

As we came on the dance floor the first song was a fast song. I had no idea what to do and so I started to mock what we called the seventh-grade shuffle (because it’s the way all the seventh graders who have no idea how to dance; dance.) Everyone’s familiar with it, for everyone’s not only seen it they’ve actually done it. In essence the “shuffle” is clumsily moving back and forth trying to find the rhythm while you clap your hands.

Although “the shuffle” got me through the first song, by the time the second song was playing my confidence was increasing as was my ability to move with the beat. I started to get a little more aggressive on the dance floor.

I was “feelin’ the groove” and “gettin’ down” by the time the third song had begun. In the middle of the fourth song the spotlights were shining on me, and in my best John Travolta imitation I took off my jacket threw it into the crowd and began pointing my arm up and down thinking, “Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!” All of the people at the dance and circle around me and clapping in unison were chanting, “Go Jason! Go Jason!” (O.K. that maybe a little of an exaggeration. Let’s just say I was having a good time.)

Then, it happened. The DJ put on a slow song. If I was unsure about how to dance to a fast song I had no idea what to do with a slow one. I remember thinking, “Punch bowl, get to the punch bowl.” I turned that little wheelchair of mine around and started doing what felt like warp eight for the refreshment table.

Just then, Karen grabbed the back of my wheelchair, spun me around, jumped on my lap, put her arm around me, and said, “let’s dance.”

It was the first time since my accident that I saw my friends wishing day to were quadriplegics. Instantly, they were trying to figure out how they could get their dates to sit on their laps as well. The slow song was over and I felt like seat belting Karen into my chair and asking her if we could dance all the dances like this. Later, talking to my friends at the refreshment table I could see that they were dying to ask if they can borrow my chair for a dance.

The dance finally ended and Karen took me home. I had a wonderful time. It was better than I ever could have hoped for. Somehow, someway she helped me get into the groove.

The real lesson in this story comes when we ask ourselves, “Why?” Why was Karen willing to go through so much grief to take me to the dance.

I was far from the easiest date. It has to take some of the enjoyment away from the experience when leading up to the dance your date is, for the most part, scheming to find a way out of going.

In a time like high school when status is everything and everything defined status, she didn’t get to drive the coolest car to the dance. Instead of her little Tercel she was forced to take the family station wagon. Although my wheelchair fit in the back of the car, there was also enough room for the band, the band’s equipment, the refreshments, the refreshment table, and everyone at the dance. It felt like there was more room in the car than there was in the gym.

In addition, not many ladies like the whole process of asking fellas on dates in the first place, let alone having to lift them in and out of the car along the way. Karen had to lift me in the car at the house, out of the car at the place we ate dinner, back into the car after dinner, out of the car when we arrived at the school for the dance, and back into the car after the dance. Not only was is a lot of work, it was probably a little uncomfortable as well.

I wasn’t the most popular or best looking kid at my school. I’m quite sure there weren’t any students camped out at the school’s entrance wondering, “Who gets to take Jason Hall to the dance.”

But Karen cared. She cared more about me and my experience and she did about all the rest of that stuff. The fact that I went to the dance was more important than status or popularity, and because it was my life became different.

With absolutely no hyperbole I can say that she changed my life. She showed me that I  could find a way to dance without a chaperone’s help. To Karen’s credit I never missed another dance during high school or college.

To some that may seem a small thing. But to me, trying to find my way, it meant the whole world and helped me continue to have the courage to be involved the same way I was before my injury.

Like Karen, everyday we have the opportunity to make sweeping differences in the lives of others. But we can’t just see those opportunities and not act. We have to do something to make a change. We have to do something to make a difference. Most often, it doesn’t take much. Most of the time, it simply takes the willingness to care more about others than we do about ourselves. For the most part, it takes thinking as much about others’ feelings then we do about our own status, popularity or other trivial, meaningless, earthly treasures.

Doing this, like Karen, we can encourage others to live differently. We can teach people to do things they previously thought undoable. It might take a little discomfort or a little sacrifice. It will definitely take a lot of cheering and support. But when we’re finished we’ll leave them with a sense of belonging.

Often, the greatest gift we can ever give is to help others feel comfortable, be accepted and allow them to get into the groove.

Jh-


Number 12

February 28, 2009

football_2

It seemed that every elementary school year I ever had was one I couldn’t wait to arrive. Each one from kindergarten through the sixth grade brought with it little more responsibility and new opportunity. The fourth grade was one I remember had a unique excitement about it–a special anticipation.

Being old enough to attend a fourth grade meant I was also old enough to play Little League football. Growing up in my home this was something I was really excited for. My dad played high school football and always felt like he may have been good enough to play college ball. This meant a lot of talk and instruction about football from the time I was very young. He was never out of control and didn’t ever exert an inordinate amount of pressure but his excitement seem to breed a little more excitement in me.

So my mom signed me up, I got my gear, my helmet, my jersey and I was off to my first practice. It was great! I loved every minute of it, and couldn’t wait to go back.

Every day after school I had football practice. Now, some kids go hoping for the coach to tell them what positions they’ll be playing and others go with their dream position set in their mind. I was most assuredly the latter.

My favorite team in the whole world was the Dallas Cowboys, and my favorite player on the Dallas Cowboys was Roger Staubach. So on the first day I showed up for practice I knew I wanted to be number 12 and I knew I wanted to be quarterback.

This worked out great. I had always been able to memorize things well which made it easy for me to memorize the plays. In the first year of Little League football pretty much all the plays are running plays. In the fourth grade you rarely have anyone well developed enough to accurately throw or accurately catch the football. This meant that my job as quarterback was to remember who to give the football off to and which “hole” they were going through.

It was perfect. We had some good running backs and I always remembered exactly where to put the ball. This led to a season filled with wins and high expectations for the season to come.

It seemed like forever but eventually it was football time again. I don’t know if it was ingrained in me genetically but every time you taste the crispness in the air and smell the leaves beginning to change my body craves football. So it was with great anticipation that my teammates and I showed up to that first practice of our sophomore Little League season in the fifth grade.

There were a lot of great things that happened on that first day. First, you could tell that everyone had grown. That meant we were going to be stronger, faster and just all around better. Also, the coach pulled out the playbook and there were pass plays all over the place.
This was wonderful. Now our strong ground attack would be complemented with an air assault as well. I went home after practice and began to memorize the plays for the upcoming season. The following day at practice we learned that there was going to be one problem with the new approach. I couldn’t throw the ball.

Try as I might I could not get the ball into the receiver’s hands. Over and over I worked on getting the ball from my hand to the receiver. Over and over balls kept ending up too far ahead, too far behind, too high above or too far below their targets.

I went to the coach and worked to convince him that I could change this. I told him that I would practice as hard as I could and learn how to throw a good ball. The coach gave me my chance and determined to succeed I went to my dad.

In the backyard, he set up a litany of drills for me to work through to improve my ability to throw the ball. There was a tire swing, a target drawn on the fence, and even time set aside to throw the ball to my brother.

After nearly two weeks it became painfully evident that no matter what I did I was not going to be able to throw a straight ball. The coach pulled me aside to let me know that being a quarterback just wasn’t in the cards for me. With all his powers of persuasion he worked to convince me that quarterback wasn’t the only position of importance, and that there were many other places I could contribute to my team. But it fell on deaf ears. All my life I had dreamed of proudly wearing number 12 and now it looked like those dreams were dashed.

A few days later my dad asked me why I like to play football. I of course told him that about all the accolades and glory that the quarterback received, but I also told him how much I loved the drills that allowed me to hit somebody. My dad told me that maybe I should concentrate on that part and move on from the glory.

My coach, seeing the similar thing in practice the following week had me work out at nose guard. This required a whole new set of skills. I wasn’t the biggest guy on the team and not the natural choice to play this position. But, my coach felt that I could combine my love of hitting and my brains to be an effective defensive lineman.

He was right. I used everything I had learned to be an effective quarterback against the quarterbacks I lined up against. I would watch their feet, and knowing what it meant when I put my feet in that position, would be able to detect which direction the quarterback was going to go. I had a season filled with sacks, lining up on the defensive line in my number 12 jersey.

I thought I could only be happy wearing number 12 lining up behind the center. But circumstances didn’t allow that and I had to find a way to maximize my abilities. No matter how bothered, frustrated or annoyed I was at the fact that I couldn’t throw the ball didn’t change that fact.

 One week after my diving accident.

One week after my diving accident.

The importance of this lesson was only reinforced when I broke my neck. As a quadriplegic, circumstances didn’t allow me to do many of the things I loved to do prior to my injury. There  were countless physical activities that although previously a regular part of my life could now no longer be accomplished. Not only things I enjoyed recreationally, like skiing, football, and running, but normal every day things as well, like dressing, showering and getting up out of bed.

Just like my inability to throw the ball, no amount of frustration or anger was going to change my plight. I had to decide to maximize my abilities; to play the game of life with the same vigor as a quadriplegic as I did an able-bodied person. I couldn’t just quit because I didn’t have the “skills” to play the “position” I was used to–the cost of that decision would have been unthinkable. I had to learn to find how I could contribute to the “game” with my different skill set.

We have to approach our lives in the same way. They are many goals we want to accomplish and things we want to do. Most of them can be accomplished with hard work, discipline and dedication. However, there are some that, regardless of how hard we work, cannot be achieved . When we encounter these situations we have to be willing to make adjustments; we have to be willing to change.

In today’s economy we see this everywhere. Hopes, dreams, and aspirations that just six months ago were well on their way to being realized now have been dashed. Much like the change between my first and second season of Little League football things are different and no matter how much we wish they weren’t doesn’t change how much they are.

But we can still find a way to success, we just have to be willing to look at new ways we can contribute; at different “positions” on the team. We have to look at how we can maximize our talents to net the greatest results–even if that maximization means changing our goals and dreams to ones that can be greater served by our abilities and situation.

From that first day in my fifth-grade year that I made the change to the day in July of 1986 that I was no longer able to play football, I played on the line and loved every minute of it. Had I not been willing to look at things differently my football career would have been even shorter than it was and memories that I hold onto with such fondness never would have happened. We have to be flexible. Sometimes we have to be willing to make changes in our dreams to suit our strength and circumstance.

Doing so will lead to winning seasons and ultimately, happy days.

Jh-


Just A Way To Travel Down The Road

December 16, 2008

freeway1

You pick anyone on any street anywhere in the world and you’ll find there are things that they want that they cannot yet acquire. Each of us has wants. Everyone of us has things we wish that we had that we don’t have now. It may be a bigger house, or a nicer car. It might be new clothes or the latest gadget. No matter how old we get each of us could put together a list for Santa. We usually don’t, but it’s not because there aren’t things that we don’t wish for. It’s because we know the total in Santa’s bank account.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting things that we don’t have as long as we don’t allow those wants to get in the way of our happiness today. So often I hear people talk about the things that they want and how they are connected to their ability to be happy. They’ll say things like, “If I just had a bigger house, then I could be happy,” or, “If I just had a nicer car, then I could be happy.” Whether it’s a house or car, a higher income or vacation people seem to qualify their wants with the fact that receiving them would make them happy.

It’s always amazing to me. “Then… I could be happy,” they say. As if the only thing standing in the way between them and a happy life is the acquisition of a want.

Unfortunately, almost without exception when people do finally acquire the bigger house, nicer car, higher income, or vacation the only thing that follows is not happiness but additional wants. If the bigger house becomes theirs then they began to talk about how something else on their list will “then make them happy.”

The reality is that happiness doesn’t come with things. It’s not something you achieve at all. There are people in the world who spend their whole lives chasing those things that they believe will make them happy and end their lives never acquiring the joy they pursued all their days.

I remember when I learned this lesson myself. I was 16 years old and barely home from the hospital after my diving accident. I was working hard to find a way to live my life in a wheelchair. There were so many days when all I thought about was walking. I was sure that if I could walk again, then I could be happy.

As each new morning would come I found myself still paralyzed and in a wheelchair. It was more difficult to be happy always concentrating on this want. One day I made the decision that with all my heart I would hope to walk tomorrow. But as for today I would be happy in a wheelchair.

Twenty-three years later I still hope to walk tomorrow but today, I am happy. Had I not adopted this frame of mind I would have spent the past two decades wishing every day that I could walk–waiting for that day to come to finally be happy.

So too it is with everyone. There’s nothing wrong with wishing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting. The problem comes when those wishes and wants dictate our daily happiness.

Happiness is not so much a place we will ever reach as much as it is a way that we travel through our lives–a highway of experiences and moments. If we think about joy as an interstate for life’s journey we have to watch for the on ramps. Just like trying to get on our local freeway on ramps are the key.

The on ramps in our lives are those things that bring us happiness in the moment. A child’s smile may be an on-ramp. Remembering the kind deed from a friend may be an on-ramp. A little service may be an on-ramp. Each of us has different things that allow us to merge into the traffic of contentment and joy.

But, if we don’t watch for our “on ramps” will never find our way. Each of us must look around our lives and find those things that bring simple happiness and remind us to travel meaningfully through each day.

Joy comes in the journey and happiness is not a destination, it’s just a way to travel down the road.

Jh-

Remember that the DVD contest closes Tuesday, December 16 at 9 PM PST. If you’re interested in winning one of my autograph DVDs follow this link and go to my previous post and leave a comment.

Also, if you’re a blogger check out alphainventions.com to increase your traffic.


Stand Him Up and Let Him Go

November 20, 2008

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Nathan

Nathan

When I was a young man my parents were dedicated to having our family have one evening every week that we would spend together. We could play games, go to movies, enjoy the park, learn dinner etiquette, or do anything else as long as we were together. For us, that night was Monday night. You can imagine then the struggle my parents had trying to come up with some new activity every week that would entertain five different children from the ages of six to sixteen.

One of the ways they put together activities that they knew we would like was to ask us for our suggestions. Often my dad would put the question to us just after dinner on Sunday. He set it up perfectly. He would ask us for an idea for the following night’s family activity and if we didn’t provide one, we didn’t get dessert. Now I don’t care if you’re six or sixteen everyone wants dessert.

I will never forget one such night during the year following my diving accident. My dad informed us that he was going to go around the table and ask us what we wanted to do the following evening. That night he decided to go from oldest to youngest. Being the oldest, he turned to me and asked for my input. I gave it to him and when I did my mom placed my dessert in front of me. I was excited about this.

My father then turned to my sister is just younger than I, asked her the same question, and with her response she too received her dessert. The pattern continued until my dad reached my youngest brother Nathan. Nate was just six and so probably didn’t get listened to as much as he should have been in the first place. Add to that the fact that we were all seriously dedicated to our desserts, the only people really paying attention to Nathan’s response were my parents.

My dad asked Nate, “What should we do for tomorrow night’s family activity?” Nathan looked at him with a surety that only a six-year-old can possess and replied, “I want to teach Jason how to walk.”

You’d think that a statement like that would get my attention. But I was focused on y food so my mom’s dessert kept my full attention. My mom and dad however, were listening to Nathan’s every word. “How are we going to do that?” my dad questioned. Completely and totally sure of himself Nathan replied, “We’ll stand him up, and let him go.”

This got my attention. My dessert couldn’t hold my interest any longer. I began to imagine my head getting the kitchen linoleum floor. Concerned I said, “Well Nathan, what if I fall?” To which he replied, “We’ll stand you up and do it again.”

By this point, the entire family was listening to Nathan’s idea for Monday night’s family activity. We all chuckled at the thought eventually decided on one of the other ideas and went to bed.

That night as I laid in bed I began to think about what Nathan had said.  I had been in a wheelchair for less than a year. You might only imagine the pleas, wishes, and prayers that were offered up by my family in hopes that my condition would be reversed. There was nothing that any member of my family wanted more than for me to walk.

Nathan however was tired of hoping and ready to act. He didn’t want to just wish anymore. He wanted to do. He wanted to actively pursue this grand desire.

We must follow Nathan’s example and act. Nathan believed that I could walk again. But he also knew (the way only a six-year-old could) that believing wouldn’t be enough. He had to act on his beliefs

When there are things that we want in our lives we have to do more than just wish them to be, for no matter how hard we try to wish things into our lives, wishing alone won’t make them so. We have to marry action to our hope. When we put hope and action together we get real power. This power enables us to make broad sweeping changes in our lives for the better.

Besides, who’s to say that, if that night I had had the courage and willingness to act that Nathan did, he wouldn’t have been right.

Jh-


One Hour

October 14, 2008

Hard times and bad days are a part of everyone’s life. No matter how dedicated we become to having a positive attitude, no matter how much effort we put in to looking at the good in our lives, life is filled with adversity and difficulty. The most positive, optimistic, cup half-full person in the world will have times when the experiences in their life becomes so overwhelming that they can barely put their heads in their hands.

As I travel around the world and have the opportunity to meet thousands of people in thousands of circumstances,  no matter where I go and no matter who I meet, invariably someone asks how I have dealt with the tremendous adversities that have been a part of my life.  the question is usually followed by a story of a substantial struggle or difficulty that has recently been either a part of their life, or the life of someone close to them.

When this question comes, and it does more than any other, I do my best to share some insight that might help them deal with the hardship that is become a part of their life experience. Depending on the adversity and the situation, I will try and find different pieces and parts of my experience to help. But, no matter the adversity or the situation, there is one piece of advice that I always share.

In the days and weeks after I broke my neck my life literally hung in the balance. Even on the good days the doctors were unsure if I was going to make it. One doctor remarked that in his over 20 years as a pulmonologist, I had the worst case of pneumonia he had ever seen. At 15 years of age this was a wake-up call to the fragility and uncertainty of life. At a young age I got the opportunity to gain just a little understanding about the incredible gift that living is.

This realization, as powerful as it was, could not stay the sadness, frustration, and anger that my adversities brought to my everyday.  But, what this understanding did do was help me realize that life was too short to be spent mired in depression. So, I made a decision.

I decided that when the difficulties were too much to bear, I could take one hour. I gave myself one hour to be down, depressed, frustrated and mad. During this hour I could kick, bite, cry, scratch, scream, throw things, sob, or sulk. I could sit in silence. I could talk of giving up, and I could think about how life was unfair.

But, when an hour was over, I had to make sure that the depression, the frustration, the anger, the sorrow, the weeping, the wailing, and the gnashing of teeth had to be over as well.

This little bit of inspiration saved me. It gave me the chance to get out all those feelings of sorrow and ineptitude all the while keeping me from getting caught in that never-ending spiral of depression and gloom. It took discipline to keep it to an hour especially on those really bad days. But, every time I remained dedicated to the ideal I found my life to be better and my prospects brighter.

Life is hard. Everyone knows that personally and intimately. We, all of humanity, deal with difficult, arduous adversities that push us to the very brink, and we need time to express the frustrations that come from our hardships. However, although it is true that life is hard, it is also true that life is short — too short to be spent concentrating on the repugnant and forgetting about the elegant.

At the end of the day. all the anger and frustration in the world won’t change our situation. All the depression and sorrow you can muster won’t chase the adversity from your life. Whether we are happy or sad, we will still have to find our way through the difficulties that are part of everyone’s life.

I know that happy or sad I will still be a quadriplegic. Happy or sad, I will still be unable to move my hands. Happy or sad. I will still be unable to walk, and happy or sad, I will still be in a wheelchair — so I might as well take an hour and enjoy the ride.

Jh-


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