By Mark E. Smith

Why do you eat at your favorite restaurant? Is it the food?

And, what’s been your favorite job? Was it because of the salary?

As different as these two questions seem, the answers are one in the same: the people.

The theme to the television classic, Cheers, where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came, tells a life truth – that is, the quality of the people in our lives directly correlates with the ultimate quality of our lives.

From family to friends to colleagues to acquaintances, people in our lives aren’t hard to come by. However, how well do we really vet them? I don’t mean that in a snobbish way, but in a healthy, heartfelt way. Are the people we surround ourselves with bringing positive aspects into our lives or negativity? In fact, even neutrality leans toward negativity because such individuals aren’t enhancing our lives, just existing in it.

My wife and I are working on an ambitious personal project, and it’s required us to assemble a team of varied professionals. Competency is a given, but we’ve also understood that in order for the project to succeed, we needed to assemble the kindest, most empathetic souls. And, it’s worked. Slowly, we’ve seen this diverse cast of characters come together who are truly loving, supportive people. Every get together just elevates everyone’s spirits. The project is the project, but it’s the quality of the people that are elevating not just its success, but all of our lives in the process.

Yet, there’s a process to having quality people in our lives, an awareness that has to occur, especially with those we spend a lot of time with. Not everyone is a right fit. How do we know? We feel it. There are those in our lives who bring an incredible spirit that leaves us feeling great, and others who emotionally pull us down. For me, I go by my “hug factor” – that is, if I feel the natural draw to hug someone after spending time together, that’s someone who’s a great force to have in my life. However, if someone makes me feel some sort of negativity, I know it’s someone to keep at arms length or eliminate altogether from my life. I want to hold on to helium balloons that uplift, not rocks that sink. I likewise, though, strive to equally be a helium balloon to others – and, man, if you get two helium balloons together, a sky of unlimited possibilities is literally yours.

Sometimes this process is innate when we’re lucky; sometimes it takes awareness, which is most common; and, sometimes it requires difficult decisions, setting boundaries. My wife and I have had someone on our project team who by profession had to be involved, but has become a very negative force. No matter the kindness all have extended, this individual has ticked everyone off with rude comments and an overall negative disposition. Needless to say, this individual won’t be invited to the wrap-up party. Yes, we should always extend empathy, but we likewise shouldn’t allow negative individuals to pull us down. And, in leadership roles of groups, it’s vital for morale not to allow one individual to diminish the camaraderie of the group.

Ultimately, we can’t always control who’s in our lives. Yet, we can control how we recognize and interact with them. Observe how those around you effect you and others, and realize that the quality of those in your life directly correlates with the quality of your life. So, let the rocks go, and grab on to those helium balloons. They will elevate your life, as you do theirs.


By Mark E. Smith

I’ve known and heard the most inspirational speakers in the world – from Nick Vujicic to W. Mitchell. However, when I heard one of my colleagues recently speak to a group of teens, it stopped me in my tracks and gave me goosebumps. How was it that I’d never heard such profound words come from the world’s best speakers?

“Some call what I have a disability,” he said to the students, noting his going totally blind in his 20s, but now in his 50s. ”However, I just call it a ‘problem,’ because problems have solutions.”

If we expand his philosophy beyond visual impairment or disability, think how liberating that is. So many of us see any form of adversity as a roadblock, end-of-the-line, full stop. I can’t do that because of… fill in the blank. We allow adversity to stop us because we don’t allow ourselves any alternatives.

Yet, what if we follow my colleague’s astounding wisdom, where adversity isn’t a full stop, but simply a problem that needs solving? OK, here I am – how do I solve this?

That single question changes everything, doesn’t it? It takes a situation that’s seemingly out of our control and puts us completely in control. It allows us to turn pessimism into perseverance. Most importantly, it allows us to turn adversity into opportunity.

As I learned in hearing my colleague speak to the teens that day, adversity is a great problem to have – because problems always have solutions.

Steve Aoki

Steve Aoki

By Mark E. Smith

Steve Aoki is among the most hated people in the world of social media. Every day there are tens of thousands of comments by his haters. Who’s Steve Aoki and why is he the object of such widespread vicious attacks?

He’s a music DJ and producer. In fact, he’s among the top musicians in the world, performing over 300 shows per year, headlining music festivals around the globe, where Guinness declared him the most traveled entertainer in the world. By all accounts, his work ethic is relentless. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He has a charitable foundation. He produces the top musical acts of our time. And, he brings joy to millions of his fans, a true superstar on stage at global venues. And, this remarkable success is why so many hate Steve Aoki.

Researchers have discovered that there’s a direct correlation between success and haters. The more successful one is, the more haters he or she will have. There’s some basic logic to it. In order to be hated, you must have merit, and the more merit you have, the more haters. On a Sunday at noon, millions are hating NFL quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger – and, it makes sense based on his success.

So, if success breeds haters, what is it about witnessing success that makes them hate? Firstly, psychologists have found that healthy, happy, successful people simply aren’t haters. If you’re satisfied with your life, you’re simply not preoccupied with others’. Rather, what they’ve found is that those who are dissatisfied with their own lives are exponentially more likely to hate those who are successful. As has been clinically put, hating the success of others is one’s own self-defined inadequacies manifesting themselves. Steve Aoki makes $23 million per year, jet-setting around the globe, filling arenas with adoring fans. That seems awesome if we’re content within ourselves. However, if we don’t feel we have the talent or drive to live a life of success, Steve Aoki proves a harsh mirror, where psychologists say that such expressed outer hatred is, in fact, self-hatred.

What’s more, many haters exhibit a defense mechanism – like an “armchair quarterback” – where they convince themselves that they know better than those who are successful, but never accomplish anything. Lots of passengers criticize a pilot, but none have invested what it takes to fly a plane. As Entrepreneur magazine put it, “…Hate is often a sign of weakness, envy and fear. Haters hate on you because you’re doing what they cannot, will not or are too afraid to attempt.”

In these ways, we know we’re rockin’ the world like Steve Aoki when we have two facets to our lives. Firstly, we feel content, passionate, and successful in our own lives. And, secondly, we observe the amount of haters growing in direct correlation with our success!


By Mark E. Smith

Sitting on the porch with among my best friends, George, I drifted the conversation to what I’ve been dwelling on: the tiny weeds in-between the hundred-year-old stones of the walkway.

Now, all anyone has noted is the beauty of the house and its serene surroundings. And, isn’t there charm to a real field-stone walkway, weeds in-between, leading to a house?

However, to me, they were just weeds, detracting from all – and I wanted them gone. I was admittedly oblivious to much – except for the tiny weeds in the walkway.

As I thought about getting rid of the weeds for several days – a distraction I couldn’t shake – I finally had to ask myself an introspective question. With all of the beauty of the house, property, family and friends not just surrounding me, but truly blessing me, why was I so focused on something entirely insignificant like the weeds between the stones of the walkway?

No, it wasn’t because I was ungrateful or unaware of all else. Rather, I was simply doing what so many of us do at times in our lives. Instead of seeing the 9,999 aspects of beauty around me, I was focused on the one annoyance.

How many times do we do this in our lives? A friend of mine, in a much more profound point in his life, shared with me once that three years after his paralysis from a diving accident, he realized that instead of focusing on the 9,999 things he could do, his life was stalled as he dwelt on the one thing he couldn’t do – walk. He went on to share that once he shifted his focus from that one aspect of his life, to the other 9,999 aspects, the world around him changed from dark to light, where joy and love and laughter and a success re-entered.

I go back to my question. How many of us choose to dwell on the one seeming negative in our lives – at least by our own definitions – instead of focusing on the 9,999 positives? We do it in our relationships, our careers, our self-images, and on and on. Why?

It’s innately human, that’s why – and it can counter-intuitively prove a profoundly life-affirming experience. See, we are all more blessed than we’ll truly ever know, even during times of extreme adversity, and our flawed capacity to not see the 9,999 positives in our lives at times, but to find a single negative, is life’s reality check. Yes, if we forever dwell on the one negative, it will defeat a beautiful relationship or great career, diminishing all the miraculous fortune that we have in our lives. Yet, if we are self-aware, those single negatives serve as an amazing compass that points us back to where our heads and hearts belong: cherishing the 9,999 positives in our lives.


By Mark E. Smith

What is the difference between speech and voice? Speech is the articulation of sound, and when those sounds are put together in a normative way, the ability to communicate audibly with others occurs.

However, speech in our lives is very different than voice. Speech is descriptive, whereas voice is emotive. Speech says what’s obvious, voice expresses what’s not. Speech says, My parents passed away when I was in my 30s. Voice says, Although my relationship with both my parents was never healthy, and I long ago came to terms with that, it remains a surreal thought over a decade later that they’re not on this Earth any more – the phone will never ring with a long-overdue call from either of them. Indeed, it’s voice that gives us the ability to express ourselves far beyond the basics of speech.

Interestingly, in knowing peers with progressive conditions – ALS, MS, and such – who “lose their speech,” they’ve often shared after moving to a communication device that it wasn’t the literal loss of speech that was so devastating, but the loss of voice – that is, the loss of communicating emotion to others. It’s one level to lose the ability to ask for a glass of water; however, it’s a profoundly deeper level to lose the ability to spontaneously say I love you to a spouse, or tell a daughter how proud of her you are. That’s voice.

Regardless of our situations, using our voice can likewise be a struggle. The foremost reason we squelch our voice – albeit in the intimacy of a relationship or the public venue of a stage – is out of fear of rejection. Why don’t we tell our partners how we’re really feeling? Why don’t we speak up in that class, meeting or crowd? Why do we prevent ourselves from expressing our voice – what we really want to say – in any circumstance?

The answer is, we fear the rejection that may come with using our voice. However, here’s what’s amazing: we’re never rejected in the end when it comes to using our voice. It may take initial courage to use our voice – sometimes stomach-wrenching courage – but the result is empowerment.

Now, using our voice can seem dangerous. Do I really want to tell my spouse I’m unhappy in our relationship? However, nothing can change unless we change it, and our voice is the ultimate tool for that. Situations may be difficult, but squelching our voice hurts us more. There’s nothing more empowering and liberating in the end than expressing our voice.

The other miraculous effect of voice is that it unites. Shame, guilt, embarrassment, sadness can all squelch our voice. Yet, using our voice to openly share the origins of such emotions can not only, again, liberate us, but can help others. We all have a common humanity, and we’re not alone in our experiences – but we can feel alone. Voice can be the bridge that not only connects us through shared adversity, but leads us through it. Voice allows us to hear someone else’s story and realize that it’s our story, too – we’re not alone.

Voice is among the most powerful tools that we have. Like all powerful tools, voice can seem scary to use. Yet, when we have the courage to use our voice in sincere, constructive ways, it’s life-changing – both for us and others. After all, when we share our voice, we share our common humanity.


By Mark E. Smith

I don’t believe in self-confidence or ego. Those can waiver, be swayed or mislead us. What I believe in is self-comfort.

See, self-comfort is when we truly accept who we are, as we are, to the core – mind, body and soul. We’re comfortable with ourselves beyond all else. It doesn’t mean we’re full of ourselves or delusional. It simply means we know who we are, from the inside, out – and live as such.

And, it makes life so much easier and successful. Rather than wasting energy on trying to be what we’re not or invest in the opinions of others, we can simply thrive by being who we are. With self-comfort, we know our value, we know our favors and our faults, and we work with it all. Life need not be a struggle; it can be as easy and graceful as a leaf drifting in a breeze.

Being a teenager with cerebral palsy taught me this lesson young. I remember being a freshman starting high school, wanting to squelch every spasm, correct every slur in my speech – an overall fantasy of being someone I could never be. I had unbelievable anxiety on the first morning of school that year. The last person I wanted to be was “the kid with cerebral palsy” at my high school. I did an awesome job at covering up all my insecurities, though, by creating the most ridiculous smoke screen – literally. …I took up smoking.

At my high school, in those days, there was a smoking section, and as long as you could score cigarettes, you could smoke. So, as the initial weeks passed, I slowly merged in with the “tough crowd” in the smoking area After all, when it comes to insecurities, there’s strength in numbers. I bought a black leather jacket and biker boots out of the Sears catalog, stuffed my chest pocket with a Zippo lighter and a Marlboro Hard Pack, and my insecurities flipped into rock-solid confidence. Again, self-confidence and ego can fool even ourselves. In my insecure, skewed mind, however, I was a bad-boy in a power chair – right down to smoking Marlboros, no less.

However, as the school year went on, I realized that I didn’t need to be a so-called tough guy. As my classmates of all sorts embraced me, cerebral palsy and all, I didn’t need to hide behind a smoke screen or facade. I could just be me. I was a teenager with cerebral palsy, and if my peers accepted it, why shouldn’t I?

Ultimately, I gave up cigarettes, and fell in with the general crowd, focusing on my grades, girlfriends, and just being me, spasms, slurred speech and all. And, life was so much easier when I was comfortable truly being me. …But, I wore the leather jacket and motorcycle boots all the way through graduation because …well …they were awesome.