nike

By Mark E. Smith

Imagine spending years running alone. Per your pace, you’ve gone from a 30-minute walk of a mile to running a 15-minute mile. That’s quite an accomplishment.

But, then, you get a running partner, and that running partner runs a 6-minute mile. What would you realize in this process?

For me, I’ve realized that this is my life and I’m really good at being really bad at much of what I do. I suck, and I’m proud of that fact. You can’t suck at as much as me without a lot of hard work and determination.

See, for years now, it’s been just my daughter and me in our home, where I live as independently as possible with cerebral palsy – and I’m pretty good at it, moving along at my own pace. A lot of it takes time and tenacity, but so be it. I’ve always looked at my independent living skills as the result, not the effort. I don’t care what I have to do as long as I can accomplish the task.

However, now I have a running superstar by my side – my beautiful fiancee – and it’s made me realize that I’m really good at being really bad. A task that takes me, say, 10 minutes on my own, takes one minute with her helping. And, for the most part, I’m secure and appreciative of her helping because I equally contribute to her needs in other ways.

Nevertheless, we’ve had an ongoing dialogue about how beyond my neanderthal stubbornness, she’s raised good points that just because I can accomplish a task doesn’t mean I do it the easiest way, that I often make things harder than needed, that just because I’ve used a haphazard technique for 20 years doesn’t make it necessarily the best approach.

Beyond me, her point is one that’s strikingly universal: Questioning how we do what we do can help us find better solutions, from our careers to parenting to everyday life. But, I have my point, too: It’s taken me a lot of years to get this good at doing independent living tasks really badly – that’s hard to give up when you’re so talented at sucking as I am!

GEORGEMASON

By Mark E. Smith

I’ve just returned from my daughter’s first college visit. It was actually a bit more than a typical college visit that high school seniors do because she’s being recruited by the school based on her achievements. As a dad, I see aspects like a waived application fee, streamlined early application, early acceptance and a scholarship as all the reasons to go there – plus, it’s a great school in a great part of the country for internships and a subsequent career. However, there’s a more profound reason why my daughter is leaning heavily toward this particular school: she’s wanted.

So many people want; yet, in most circumstances, wanting isn’t emblematic of success. However, being wanted has everything to do with success. As I’ve told my daughter, anyone can want to go to any college and apply, hoping to get in. However, the ultimate success is in being sought out based on merit, where a college wants you.

The realized value of being wanted instead of simply wanting, applies to so much of life. Top executives never apply for jobs – they’re recruited. When we’re in the most fulfilling relationships, we’re desired by our partners. Among the greatest successes in life involve being wanted, not just wanting.

However, there’s a caveat to being wanted, one that I continue seeking to instill in my daughter. Being wanted has nothing to do with entitlement, but everything to do with unyielding dedication and responsibility. You earn being wanted by being extraordinarily dedicated, and then you honor being wanted by striving even more. In my daughter’s case, she’s being wanted by a college because she’s worked hard in high school, but now she must work even harder to honor the college’s recognition. The recruited executive can’t rest once he’s landed among the country’s top jobs, but must honor it by working even harder. And, in our relationships, we must always honor our spouses with love and attention, where desire is unwavering.

I’ve been fortunate to experience the privilege of being wanted via the writing portion of my career. I used to have to hustle and try to secure paid writing jobs. However, I’m fortunate that now editors come to me with writing assignments. However, tight deadlines and working late nights are par for the course — again, the privilege of being wanted must be honored with dedication or it won’t last. Being wanted means being unyielding in what you do.

Wanting is great, especially when there’s effort behind it to achieve a goal. However, being wanted is emblematic of ultimate success because it’s where dedication intrinsically leads our lives to new levels of potential and opportunity.

authentic

By Mark E. Smith

I had the privilege of being at a public venue with a five-year-old and his mother. The little boy uses a power chair due to a severe form of muscular dystrophy – and, man, he’s a go-getter! He’s happy, adorable, and a people magnet. And, everyone at the event saw what I saw: An adorable little boy with the world at his finger tips.

Yet, as he was literally surrounded by crowds who thought he was the cutest kid ever, there was a side that many didn’t know, nor wanted to know. Everyone wants to be inspired and delighted but a cute kid buzzing around in a power chair being… well… a kid. After all, it’s painful to think of any other possibilities, that maybe his life isn’t what it seems, that it might be disturbingly complex, something no child should experience.

And, so, as he charmed the crowds, I was with his mom, knowing the whole story. The seemingly care-free little boy averages one hospital stay per month, sleeps hooked up to a breathing machine, and he must be turned every few hours to keep his lungs clear at night. For his mom – single, with three children – this means around-the-clock care. And, get this, she works from 12:00am to 3:00am as a reservations clerk from home to help make ends meat. The carefree child and family that all assumed, in fact, has unfathomable challenges every day. I discussed the challenges with the mom and gave her a hug, and she got a bit teary-eyed.

How many of us can relate to this story? How many of us gloss over the challenges of others because they’re too painful to learn the realities? How many of us hide our own struggles because we don’t want others to see us as different, to know how difficult our lives really are?

But, we all have struggles. And, when we don’t recognize them in others or disclose our own at appropriate times, a facade goes up and we don’t make connections to the depths that our humanity allows. No, we shouldn’t then treat each other “differently,” but more authentically.

My point is, let us strive to recognize and embrace the entirety of others, and allow others to know the entirety of us, struggles and all, where adversity isn’t ignored but unites.

love

By Mark E. Smith

Currently, with tremendous strain, I can bench press 210 lbs. one rep. But, I don’t. Instead, three days per week, I bench press 120 lbs. 20 reps, then I drop to 100 lbs. and bench press another 20 reps. Guys all boast how much they can bench press one rep because it sounds impressive. However, it’s truly a specious exercise – they’re not building endurance or true fitness because they’re only doing it once, lifting beyond their real capacity. Me, I choose to lift less weight at higher reps because I want to build meaningful fitness to my genuine capacity.

It’s a lesson from the gym that’s even more important in our relationships. We should only represent ourselves to our truest capacities, as well as recognize the true capacities in our partners. Otherwise, relationships fail and people get hurt.

All of us mean well going into relationships. We put our best self forward and we see only the best in our love interest. Yet, it’s so easy to get caught up in that which we’re not. We want to be what the other person seeks, and we want him or her to be what we seek. And, it all works perfectly – that is, till we realize one or both of us are beyond our capacities. It’s like my bench pressing 210 lbs. I can do it once to impress, but I can’t sustain that level. If you want the real me, I bench press 120 lbs. really well.

In relationships it’s vital that we know our true capacities from the start, adhere to them, and truly recognize our love interest’s capacities. It’s just being honest, and when we do this, it dramatically reduces the odds of someone getting hurt.

Yet, it’s tough to do. It’s so hard because ideals don’t always align with reality. What we want in a relationship can be the antithesis of what we’re capable of. There are classic examples we all can relate with. Someone wants a relationship, but makes no time for it. Someone wants a relationship, but is emotionally still buried in a past one. Someone wants a relationship, but doesn’t have the emotional health to cultivate it. We’ve all done this, experienced this or witnessed this – and it only results in pain.

Bishop T.D. Jakes talks about the importance of realizing our capacities for love and how they vary based on who we are and what we’ve been through. He uses the metaphor that if we’re 10-gallon people looking to be filled with love, we’re never going to be filled by someone who only has an ounce to offer. By the same token, if we only have an ounce to offer, that’s fine, but let’s know that we can’t promise to give more than we have. There’s no right answer, just an honest one.

In this way, we must approach a relationship with accountability on our part, and clarity toward our partner’s capacities. We may want a certain type of relationship, but are we capable of it, and are we being honest and fair to our partner? And, are we able to view our partner with clarity, ensuring he or she is capable of the relationship?

The key to this is utter honesty and following our instincts. If we overextend our capacities in any way, it never feels right, and we have an obligation to stop it or, ideally, be authentic enough not to do it in the first place. Similarly, if our partner’s words are contradicted by actions or circumstances, don’t overlook that. Recognize each other’s true capacities and respect them because if you don’t, someone will get hurt.

Now, this isn’t psycho babble or new-age psychology, but common-sense life experience. I’ve been on both sides, as many of us have. I’ve tried to be someone who I wasn’t, and it didn’t work. And, I’ve overlooked signs in others that I shouldn’t have. There was no ill will in any of it, just intentions wishful beyond our capacities. What I learned in the process, though, is that there’s ultimate joy in being authentic in acknowledging both our own true capacities. Maybe the relationship will reveal itself as soul mates or prove unrealistic. It’s the variables of love. But, the beauty in being authentic in our capacities is that we have the honesty, authenticity and courage to just be us.

report-card

By Mark E. Smith

I thrive on possessing power. But, not in the way you might think. In my business and family, I, in fact, practice the opposite, seeing my roles as humbly serving others. And, yet, when it comes to me, power is synonymous with personal accountability. I learned at an early age that in order to have power, you must be personally accountable; and, if you’re not personally accountable, you have no power. You can control life or life can control you. It’s initially circumstance, but ultimately choice.

It all started with my failing Biology in high school, namely because I wasn’t doing my homework. I wanted to do my homework, but my home life was a mess. My mother and stepfather made our home Hell. I came home from school each day to my mother in the most horrendous conditions – always drunk, but sometimes high, overdosed, manic, or suicidal – and then my stepfather came home drunk, where they fought and smashed up the house. My mother loved to break things and my stepfather loved to scream, and it made for long nights. On top of that, I was struggling to develop my independent living skills due to my cerebral palsy. How was I to somehow do homework with so much volatility in my life?

I lay in bed looking at my report card one night feeling ashamed because it was dotted with Fs and Ds. I’d worked really hard to be mainstreamed in an era when it wasn’t common practice, and I was watching it all slip away. I tossed the report card on the floor and decided my parents and cerebral palsy weren’t going to dictate my grades. I had the power, not them.

I went from a failing student to the honor roll the next report card period by literally locking my bedroom door in the evenings and letting my parents trash the house and there lives as I focused on my homework. I remember typing my homework while trembling and crying as my mom pounded on my door, screaming. Still, I wasn’t giving her power over my life. My grades were my responsibility – and I had the power to succeed over all.

Those years of finishing high school with A’s didn’t make me smarter, but they did make me wiser. I learned that our lives, in the long term, aren’t dictated by anyone or anything, but us. Circumstances may set us up as victims, but we can choose to be victors.

David A. Fahrenthold

David A. Fahrenthold

By Mark E. Smith

When David A. Fahrenthold, reporter for the Washington Post, asked me on July 21, 2014, “How do you explain the Russian mafia, then?” he finally had me stumped. Up until that point of the interview, I held my own when it came to explaining the challenges that many with disabilities face in obtaining life-sustaining power wheelchairs through Medicare. But, the Russian mafia? Well, he had me on that one.

“I don’t know anything about the Russian mafia,” I replied. “Again, David, those of us with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis have to fight bureaucracy and cutbacks to such a degree that it takes some a year to get a vital power chair – and even then it’s often not funded to the fullest extent of technology needed. Medicare’s policies continue harming those most in need….”

See, all this started when Fahrenthold sought to interview me for a story he was striving to flesh out for the Washington Post. As he put it, “I’m looking to do a story on people with disabilities defrauding Medicare to get motorized wheelchairs.”

I took the absurdity of his premise seriously, seeing the interview as an opportunity to educate him. Of course those of us with disabilities aren’t looking to defraud anyone. We use our power chairs out of medical necessity, wishing to live socially-inclusive lives, where obtaining funding for a power chair is a lengthy, difficult process that, by its inequitable nature, harms many in need, depriving vital mobility. I explained that no one chooses disability or wishes to fight lengthy insurance battles to obtain the mobility needed to pursue education, family, career or community – it’s among the unjust challenges that often come with disability. I even explained the medical documentation trail, required supplier certifications and standards of practice, and why pending legislation to sustain access for complex rehab technology is vital to my peers.

“I’ve had cerebral palsy my entire life, and worked in the mobility industry for 17 years,” I told Fahrenthold. “Never have I met anyone using a power chair who hasn’t needed it out of medical necessity. It’s simply illogical to think that those of us with disabilities are defrauding anyone. To the contrary, we continue struggling to obtain the technology that allows full social inclusion.”

Fahrenthold became more insistent that those of us with disabilities had to be defrauding the government to get power chairs, and when I asked what incentive there was for me or my peers to perpetrate such a supposed crime, he had no answer.

“If I offered you a free power chair, would you take it?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I don’t need one,” he said.

“Exactly,” I replied.

He paused, then stated, “But, I’m not a crook.”

No, Fahrenthold wasn’t a crook, but he wasn’t being an ethical journalist, either. He continued pressing me to somehow say something that would substantiate that those of us with disabilities are defrauding the government to get power wheelchairs. It was at that point that he asked me to explain the Russian mafia.

Now, my back story is intriguing, but the whole story gets more disturbing for those of us with disabilities. On August 16, 2014, the Washington Post ran Fahrenthold’s story, the headline reading, “A medicare scam that just kept rolling: The government has paid billions to buy power wheelchairs. It has no idea how many of the claims are bogus.”

And, neither does Fahrenthold. He interviewed me and several other advocate-experts who told him the truth and reality of power chair funding, and he blatantly omitted us and the truth entirely. Fahrenthold got his story – but wrote it ignoring all facts.

So, what was in Fahrenthold’s story? Conjecture, the Russian mob and, indirectly, a sitcom as his source.

In his article, he pieces together a crazy cast of characters from the 1990s and early 2000s who round up immigrants, steal dead doctors’ identities, and then the Russian mob and others somehow convert it all into a scheme to prescribe those who are able-bodied wheelchairs, whom then use them to, in one case illustrated, hold giant, stuffed teddy bears. After interviewing me and other advocate-experts, this is the literal story Fahrenthold came up with.

Yet, Fahrenthold didn’t stop there. Because there’s no evidence of power chair fraud in the real world of present, he speculates on what criminals will target in the realm of Medicare fraud: “In Puerto Rico, the next big thing seems to be arms and legs.”

After going through this experience, and wondering why Fahrenthold would go through such lengths to try to create a public stigma that paints those of us with disabilities as crooks because we need wheelchairs, I did some research on him. On his professional Twitter page, in promoting his “story” on power wheelchair fraud, guess what he retweeted to support his case…. A YouTube clip of the Seinfeld character, George Costanza, using a mobility scooter. By his own tweeting admission, Fehrenthold’s inspiration and indirect source was a sitcom.

Yet, unlike David A. Fahrenthold’s farfetched account published in the Washington Post, life for those of us who rely on life-sustaining power wheelchairs isn’t “bogus” or a sitcom. It’s very real.

By Mark E. Smith

You know Zach Anner – the man of all media. Well, whatever you do, don’t let him in your office….