Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It’s Downhill from Here

Growing up in a desert community near Las Vegas, Nevada, Amy daydreamed about traveling the world and living in a place where it snowed.  She tried snowboarding for the first time at the age of 14, and immediately fell in love with the sport.  Every weekend and day off from school, she was on the slopes, and it became not just something she did, but a huge part of who she was.  Whether for recreation or competition, she loved the winter wind in her face and the spray of frozen powder around her.  She wanted snowboarding in her life forever.

The day after graduating from high school, Amy moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.  She began a career as a massage therapist there, a pursuit she’d chosen specifically because she could travel and do it from anywhere.  Amy was 19, and now had the freedom, independence, and control over her life to follow her passion for snowboarding.  Unfortunately, her new circumstances didn’t last long.

On a particular day that started like any other, Amy awoke feeling great and full of energy.  On a normal work day, she could handle five to seven back-to-back massages without getting tired and still go to the gym afterwards.  But on this day, she was exhausted after her third massage.  That night, after going home early, Amy had a temperature of 101 degrees and flu-like symptoms.  The next morning, her fever broke, but instead of feeling better, she continued to feel worse.

Within 24 hours of the first symptoms, Amy was in the hospital on life support.  She was suffering from severe kidney failure when she entered the hospital, and her white blood cell count was shockingly high.  The doctors knew it was a blood infection, but they didn’t know what kind, so she was placed into a medically-induced coma.  She was given less than a 2 percent chance of surviving.

It took five days to figure out that it was bacterial meningitis.  It was a treatable infection, but it did its damage.  Over the course of three months, Amy lost her spleen, both of her kidneys, the hearing in her left ear, and both of her legs below the knees due to septic shock, as her body pulled blood from her extremities to try to save her vital organs.

When she woke from her coma a few weeks later, Amy’s first thought was that she had to get back on her snowboard, even without her legs.  She had never missed a season of snowboarding, and although she didn’t know how, she was determined not to miss that year either.

When Amy began her recovery, there was no prosthetic designed to work for snowboarding.  She got back up on the board about seven months after being hospitalized, but her ankles wouldn’t move and her knees wouldn’t bend.  Feeling like a stick man riding down the mountain, she found it frustrating, but also motivating, because it forced her to get creative.  She got to work fashioning a pair of “Frankenstein” feet made from different ankle and foot pieces taken from several prosthetics and assembled with bits of wood and plenty of duct tape.

Amy managed to attain goals that many people with two legs might struggle to achieve. Just three months after a kidney transplant, she entered a national snowboarding competition and won medals in three events. She went on to become the first double leg amputee competitive snowboarder, winning back-to-back snowboarding world cup competitions. 

Amy Purdy is a spokesperson for multiple charitable organizations including the Challenged Athletes Foundation.  In 2005, she co-created her own non-profit organization, Adaptive Action Sports (AAS), which helps young adults and wounded veterans with physical disabilities who want to get involved in action sports like snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing.  In 2013, AAS successfully petitioned to get snowboarding into the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games, being held this March in Sochi, Russia.  Amy, currently one of the world's top-ranked adaptive snowboarders, will be competing.

One of the most important things in life is to recognize all you have to be grateful for, no matter how much difficulty and adversity you may experience.  Even with all she endured, Amy declares, "I’m really grateful that I had snowboarding, and always say that it saved my life.”  Follow the Attitude of Gratitude mindset, and you’ll find that the tough times are just icy patches in your life’s long downhill run!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Skinny as a Toothpick

Sofia was born in Colombia. Her father, Julio, was a successful cattle rancher, enabling Sofia and her five siblings to attend the town’s private Catholic school.  However, her parents argued, split up, and reunited frequently in an effort to stay married for their children, creating a difficult home life of ups and downs.

As a young girl, Sofia was self-conscious of her thin frame, often wearing two pairs of jeans to fill out her figure.  For a time, she was even called Toothpick by her schoolmates.  Genetically, she inherited a mixed blessing: on one hand, she and all her siblings had type 1 diabetes.  On the other, Sofia’s eye-catching looks as she grew into herself became impossible to ignore.

At the age of 17, Sofia was walking on the beach with her family when a photographer asked if he could take her picture.  He was scouting new faces for a Pepsi commercial, but due to her strict upbringing, she was nervous about even allowing him to take the photo, let alone considering a television ad.  Upon being offered the role, Sofia received permission from her teachers to participate, and the commercial was a hit throughout Latin America.

Sofia never thought of a career onscreen.  At the age of 18, she married her high school sweetheart, and soon gave birth to a son.  She was interested in medical school, but in order to balance life as a wife and mother with a flexible career, she chose dental school instead. 

Sofia and her husband split up after three years of marriage.  Unsure of her path, Sofia couldn’t ignore that the commercial she’d made was still resulting in modeling and TV offers.  She decided to give them a try, putting dental school on hold and moving with her son to Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá.

Sofia patiently and consistently accepted work to grow her career, finding herself a natural on camera even without acting lessons.  At the time, though, Colombia’s drug cartel-related violence was escalating.  When a US-based Spanish-language channel offered her a job in Miami, Florida, Sofia jumped at the chance.  But even though she and her son were able to relocate to a safer environment, not all of her family was so fortunate.  Sofia’s older brother was shot and killed in Colombia during an attempted kidnapping.  Grief-stricken, Sofia wasted no time moving her mother, sister, and younger brother to join her in Miami.

Sofia became a fixture on Spanish travel programs and game shows.  Her younger brother, unable to cope with the death of their older sibling, turned to drugs, increasing the emotional pressure on Sofia to care for her family.  But she had a “tough skin,” as she put it, and pushed ahead not only for herself, but for everyone she loved.  Her resolve was tested again when, a few years later, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Not even thirty years old, she had never smoked, done any drugs, and didn’t even eat red meat.  She felt completely healthy, so the appearance of cancer blindsided her.  Undergoing treatment, Sofia had surgery and began her rehabilitation.  She had come too far to give up.
Undaunted and driven, the actress made a full recovery from the cancer and went right back to work.  Her Hollywood breakthrough came when a pair of small film roles caught the attention of the ABC network, who offered her a contract.  Moving to Los Angeles, Sofia found that parking valets were consistently attentive to her, because although she was virtually unknown to English-speaking audiences, the valets knew her because they were Latin.  Even so, she wouldn’t remain unknown much longer.

After her first two sitcom opportunities fell to cancellation, Sofia’s third was the charm.  Playing a character with whom she shares a birthplace and a hilariously strong accent, Sofia Vergara became one of the breakout stars of ABC’s hit show Modern Family, for which she’s been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards.  Sofia was also named the highest-paid actress on television by Forbes Magazine in 2012 and 2013.

Every journey in life is filled with ups and downs, and that’s ok, because if the ride is too smooth you may just fall asleep.  Try not to get locked in on the idea that there’s only one way to live your dreams.  Be prepared to adjust your course along the way.  When you pursue what you love, you’ll have the extra fortitude to push through the tough times.  The idea is to make happiness part of your journey, and not just the destination.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In the Cards

One day when I was in middle school, the teacher announced an activity in which we would choose our careers.  She brought out a little box filled with cards, and on each was written a description of a different career.  She told us to take our time, read through them, and select which profession interested us. 

At twelve years old, I had no real desire to choose a career.  I looked through the alphabetized cards and lingered in the “A” section, narrowing my choices to accountant or archeologist.  From there, I proceeded to the school library and found a book on dinosaur bones.  Once I learned how much of archeology amounted to digging in the dirt, the internal debate was settled:  I would become an accountant.

As fast as I made that decision, I forgot about it just as quickly, until it was time for me to declare my college major many years later.  No more certain than when I was twelve, I nevertheless made my selection and chose… accountant.

I never became an accountant.  Instead, I chose to be an entrepreneur.  I recently visited my old middle school, and sure enough, the box of career cards was still there.  Out of nostalgia, I looked through the box again… and found no card for entrepreneur.  This reminded me of the story of Steve Mazan. 

From the time he was twelve, Steve’s dream was to become a comedian.  Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, he loved to make people laugh, and had great admiration for others with the talent to do so.  In particular, David Letterman was one of his heroes, and Steve was determined to appear someday on Letterman’s late-night TV show.

Steve went to college for broadcasting, but afterwards, he began pursuing his passion for comedy.  He worked on his material, creating a blend of jokes and stories that were both clever and family-oriented.  His efforts led to an ongoing opportunity to perform for US troops stationed in Iran and Afghanistan as part of the Comics on Duty project.

Returning to the states, Steve continued happily chasing his dream.  He performed stand-up comedy at Los Angeles nightclubs, and warmed up audiences for local TV shows.  All was going well until Steve began having severe stomach pains.  He went to a hospital, where the doctors told him that he needed his appendix removed.  However, when Steve awoke after his surgery, he was told that it wasn’t his appendix… it was liver cancer.  There was no cure, and he was given approximately five years to live.

Steve decided that, instead of feeling sorry for himself, he would spend the time he had left chasing his boyhood dream of performing on David Letterman’s show.  At first, he was told that he wasn’t good enough, but he didn’t give up.  He kept at it, and soon found that his heightened sense of urgency was infusing his material with as much heart as humor.

At long last, Steve got the call.  Five years after being diagnosed with incurable liver cancer, Steve Mazan appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman.  So moving was his story that a pair of filmmakers tracked his journey in the documentary Dying to Do Letterman.  The award-winning movie even caught the attention of the publishers of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, who asked Steve to write a book version of his journey.

Steve is still alive, and well past his worst-case date.  He likes to think that he’s been too busy chasing his dreams for the cancer to catch up with him.  When he’s not on the road performing at comedy clubs, he speaks to cancer and business groups, combining his comedic sensibility and inspiring story.  

One of my favorite quotes from Steve is, “It’s not how long you have to live, but what you do with it.”  Sometimes, what we want most in our lives may not seem to be in the cards.  It’s at precisely those times that we must look deep inside and focus on our true passions, and let what we want most guide us.  I did it, when my life’s work wasn’t even offered as a career option.  Steve Mazan did it, even in the face of his own impending death.  Find a way to engage with your passions in your daily life, and nothing will be able to stop you from living the life of your dreams!

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Take a Stand

Jaime was born in La Paz, Bolivia.  Both of his parents were teachers, so it was no surprise that their son came to love learning.  He attended college and earned his teaching degree in mathematics.  Becoming a teacher himself, Jaime soon got married and had a son.  By the time he was in his early thirties, he had developed a reputation for excellence throughout his twelve years teaching math and physics in Bolivia.  However, he wanted to provide a better life for his family, and decided that they should move to the United States.

Arriving in California, they moved into a single room that Jaime’s brother-in-law owned.  Jaime needed a job urgently, but although he possessed the knowledge and experience to teach math, there was a clear barrier preventing him from doing so:  he didn’t speak English.  He would have to learn the language if he would ever be able to teach in America, but he also needed to support his wife and son in the meantime.  

At the age of 33, Jaime interviewed with the gruff, sour-tempered manager of a local restaurant, who was hiring someone to clean and bus tables.  Jaime got the job, and soon was sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing the restaurant’s dirty linoleum floor.  The once-renowned Bolivian math teacher was the only non-English speaking employee at the establishment, and it represented a new challenge in his life.  But he knew the situation wouldn’t be permanent, and tried to take what he could from it.  He was anxious to communicate and interact with new people, wanted to learn, and was determined to make things happen. 

Jaime decided to attend Pasadena City College, which happened to be right across the street from his job.  He went to classes in the evenings after he finished work, taking English, math, and electronics, all while learning the language of his new country at the same time.  He had always been a good student, but with a full-time job, a full load of classes in a new language, and a family, it was the most difficult time of his life.  Every night after classes were over, he was in the library studying until the security guards asked him to leave.

Even though he was actually making more money in the restaurant than he had as a teacher in Bolivia, the family struggled.  But Jaime was determined to reach his goal of being able to teach in the USA, and knew that the education he was getting would enable him to do so.  For four years, he continued with the evening classes, until finally he graduated with a degree in Electronics.

After finishing school, a plant located in the northeast part of Pasadena offered him a job as an assembly line supervisor.  He continued with his schooling, finishing a second degree in Mathematics, and worked his way up in the company.  Eventually, due to his skills at solving production and electrical problems, he was offered a supervisor's job in a new plant in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Jaime declined the offer.  Moving to Mexico was not his goal.

Finishing his education at Cal State, Jaime immediately received teaching offers from several Los Angeles school district officials.  He had his pick from three senior high schools in different areas of the city that all had large Latino student populations.  Finally, after all his hard work, he was going to be a teacher again.

Jaime went on to become one of the most famous educators in the United States.  He began teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, where drugs, gangs and violence were everyday facts of life.  Despite these conditions, Jaime was able to motivate a group of students to take and pass the AP calculus exam.  At first, The Educational Testing Service invalidated the scores, believing the students had cheated, but the pupils retook the test and passed, making Jaime Escalante a national hero almost overnight.  The story was dramatized in the movie Stand and Deliver, which depicted Escalante’s efforts to help the underachieving Latino students beat the odds and realize their own capabilities for success.

As you pursue your goals in life, remember the Passion First mindset, which teaches that, if you want to do something extraordinary, your dreams must leverage your strengths and interests, align with who you are, and matter greatly to you.  When all of this is in place, you will feel your best and perform at your best.  As Jaime Escalante put it, “What a person truly needs to succeed is el deseo de triunfar… the desire to triumph!”  This sort of desire only comes when you take a stand and pursue your most authentic passions. 

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!