Why I became a speaker and why I continue to speak …
I usually reserve my blogs for my rant-zone and if people didn’t know, 95% of the time, I try to focus on positive thinking both in my work and in my life so my rants are my release valve…one can only take so much. The sad part is how many people are negative 95% of time and believe they not only have a right to be cranky, but they actually call it their nature. I think that’s a cop out because our nature reflects our attitude and attitude is a simple choice.
The first week of March represents thirty-five years since my first appearance on a telethon. I was extremely fortunate to be the Easter Seals “Timmy” (they call them “ambassadors” now) for Saskatchewan in 1977 and represented the province’s handicapped children. After speaking on air a few times, I was brought on to play the drums with a band called Prairie Fire and in five minutes, became an instant celebrity as over 600,000 people were believed to be watching the show at the time. That event is what I attribute driving me to the field of public awareness and ultimately, inspirational speaking. What people couldn’t believe was how someone without arms could not only play the drums with his feet (I am pretty good at it too) but possess such a positive outlook on life. At 16 years old, my nature was shifting from typical moody & angry adolescent to a more cheery outlook…the celebrity thing helped a lot but you may not know exactly why.
When I say celebrity, I am obviously not world famous around the globe but in 1977, Saskatchewan, with a population of under a million then, was my world. Everybody recognized me and I even got asked for autographs! It was pretty cool. One of my favorite changes involved those who I would label, my school “bullies”. Let’s be clear, there weren’t many “bullies”, but I definitely felt disconnected from the bigger high school population. That changed when I got on TV. Honestly, people said they were “proud” knowing me and upon reflecting themselves realized they not only didn’t really “know” me but could have been kinder to me. They just didn’t know how. Whatever I said on TV, I guess I never said at school but more important, my attitude outside of band and choir activities was not negative so much as the disconnected way I felt. Somehow, I figured out that I can alter a person’s treatment of me by how I treated them and more important, how I conducted myself. The theoretical “celebrity” I had acquired made me very aware of how I responded to people wanting to meet me. I soon found that the sometimes forced positive response to people was becoming a part of my nature and eventually, became my default position. Not only did it work with strangers, but it worked at school. People I thought hated me didn’t hate me at all, they just chose to keep away from me for a various personal reasons but comfort zone was a big one. In fact, and more on this another day, I believe the core issue for the majority of young people is lack of confidence so they create a shell, some thicker than others, to protect their fragile egos. My shell was being taken off piece by piece so when I opened up my life, something new took place…empathy. But empathy doesn’t just occur, it must be encouraged and sometimes, the most effective ambassadors are the victims themselves.
If it’s 35 years since my first telethon, it’s 25 years since Rick Hansen did his “Man in Motion” world tour. I always thought it was funny that the media called Rick “handicapped”. He raced a wheelchair around the entire globe!!! What Rick did was give awareness of people with special needs an extremely positive face. Its interesting how many persons with a disability dislike(d) Rick Hansen calling him one of the “Chosen Ones” in reference to high achieving handicapped folks who don’t represent the majority of the disabled community. By the way, i have that title too. It used to bug me but I realized I should be very proud of what I have accomplished and if people can be inspired by it, bonus!
I can’t believe how far I have come. Born without arms in small-town Canada, given away at birth after a prognosis of zero quality of life and labelled severely crippled. Then my path takes a turn as I am taken in and raised by elderly foster-parents who provide a no-nonsense approach to life, reminding me that there is no such word as can’t and holding me accountable for my own success. They not only made me independent but made me understand I could make it in life as far as I could imagine and that dreams coupled with action can make the impossible, possible. Just words?
Someone once asked me why I became a speaker. My response may have sounded (still does) pretty arrogant; “I want to change the world”. Well, I certainly haven’t done it by myself and it still has a way to go, but the world is a better place today than when I came into it in 1960. Indeed, I am very proud of my contributions to a better world but my reason for bringing it up is again, not to brag, but to issue a challenge.
So many people feel powerless. They think of themselves as one of the “little” people lacking influence, often grieving the loss of their dreams and ambitions. That may be perfectly accurate from one point of view but I want to ask one favour; how about changing the view?