Full-Court Throw

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By Mark E. Smith

Imagine your basketball team is tied at the ending of a game, seconds from the final buzzer. You’re standing at the opposite end of the court, and the ball comes to you. What do you do with it?

Most players dribble, hold or pass the ball as the buzzer times out. After all, what can be accomplished at the buzzer, an entire court away from the basket?

My answer every time in life is to take a leap of faith in our talent, luck and what’s meant to be, and throw the ball as high and hard as we can across the entire court, toward the basket – because there’s a chance it will go in. When we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, go for the longshot every time.

I was writing an article a few years ago on pediatric wheelchair use, and I called the mother of a little girl in Southern California for an interview. We’d met a year or so earlier at an event I attended in L.A. on business, and we were linked through Facebook.

When I called her for the interview, I only had one thing on my mind – the interview. However, she was so engaging and wonderful to talk with. We ended up speaking the next eve, then the next, then the next. I quickly realized this woman was amazing, having it all: outer beauty, humor, intellect, compassion, you name it.

But, by all accounts, she was out of my league, though. If anyone objectively looked at the reality of the situation, I was at the wrong end of the basketball court to have any chance of making a basket. I was a single dad with cerebral palsy living in rural Pennsylvania. Why would a gorgeous high-end optician and artist living in San Diego even entertain me as a potential love interest?

However, as I fell for her, I turned to the one trait that’s always got me to new heights in my life: I went for the seemingly impossible longshot. I put my heart out there with nothing to lose and everything to gain. You might say I threw the longest basket in history – from Pennsylvania to California – and it miraculously swooshed the net. Yet, while making a full-court basket only lasts for one game, my now wife and our marriage is for a lifetime.

Life is going to put us at the end of the court from time to time. When we’re blessed, a ball comes our way. And, when the ball comes to us, we can pass or we can trust in ourselves and fate, throwing the ball as high and hard as we can toward the basket. No, it won’t go in every time – it hasn’t for me. But, when it does, it changes our lives forever.

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Now That’s Sexy

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By Mark E. Smith

Let’s talk about sexy! This conversation started for me about a year ago when I asked my lifelong best friend – both of us wheelchair users – about whether he was observing what I was: there seemed a sudden shift where many of our peers with disabilities were now in amazing relationships. “When did disability become the new sexy?” I asked.

There have always been cultural stigmas around disability and sexuality – the most historic and inaccurate being that those with disabilities are asexual, that sexuality doesn’t exist within the disability realm. Further adding to this is the totally inaccurate message in society at large that physical perfection directly correlates with sex appeal – that is, the better looking you are, the more sexually desirable you are.  Now, we know in our progressive culture that neither of these are true. However, here’s the question: if we know that imperfect physicality doesn’t deter sex appeal, what then actually drives sex appeal?

The science is in, and the results are encouraging for the 99% of us who aren’t supermodels. While most might say a big bosom or bulging biceps are what people find sexy, the true factors are far more complex and equalizing according to researchers.

Firstly, people find integrity sexually appealing – which makes sense because healthy people aren’t attracted to those who aren’t forthright. The deeper the trust, the purer the attraction.

Secondly, people find a smile and eye contact totally sexually appealing. Admit it, when you’re checking out at the grocery store and the checker glances up at you with eye contact and a smile as he or she runs your V8 juice across the scanner, you’re like, “Was that a flirt?” and it feels awesome. So, imagine when someone at a cocktail party smiles and makes eye contact from across the room – that’s hot! And, if you’re the one doing it, you’re hot! And, if two of you are doing it with each other, it might be time to find a closet – the coat closet, that is, where you can exit the party and go have great conversation over coffee (what did you think I was implying?)

Thirdly, wit and humor are huge turn-ons. Wit and humor make us fun, engaging, grounded, disarming, comfortable and charming. Seriousness is like rain: it’s great as needed, but you don’t want to live with it every day. Wit and humor is the warmth and sunshine that draws others to us.

Fourthly, intelligence is seen as very sexually appealing. Intelligent people both make us feel more secure and stimulate us mentally and emotionally – and that’s sexy. People who demonstrate poor judgement aren’t those who attract others. Act with intelligence; be sexy!

Fifthly, compassion is exceptionally sexually appealing – it ties into deep biological reproductive drivers, where we’re compelled toward people who nurture. It’s a huge turn-on when your partner recognizes and addresses your needs, and you, his or hers.

Last, but not least, people find confidence ultra sexy – bring in the alpha! Now, arrogance shouldn’t be confused with confidence. There’s nothing sexy about a narcissist. However, confident people are cool, calm, collected, in control, comfortable in their skin – and who isn’t attracted to someone with such composure? Just be you; that’s confident and that’s sexy.

Now, the fact is, I haven’t shared anything that you don’t know – and researchers on this subject aren’t rocket scientists. Yet, it proves a powerful point for all of us: sex appeal ultimately doesn’t stem from the body, but the brain. And, if your brain demonstrates integrity, knows how to flash a smile, can make someone laugh, demonstrates intelligence and compassion, and is absolutely comfortable in who you are, well then you are exuding sex appeal wherever you go, a love magnet!

Did I just catch you smiling at me?

Sunsets and Rooftops

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By Mark E. Smith

Sometimes our pasts, presents and futures collide all at once – and for a moment we see how it all makes sense.

I’m at Perch, an insanely hidden but outrageously hip rooftop patio bar and restaurant atop a skyscraper, with a 360-degree view of Los Angeles. It’s like walking onto a terrace party on Manhattan’s upper east side, only I don’t know anyone. But, they all are fashionable and laid back, sitting in upscale patio chairs around fire pits – 65 degrees in L.A. is cold, even for me, an east-coaster.

I’m with my fiancee, my soon-to-be step daughter, and my fiancee’s high-school friend, Deb. Deb is so down to earth and grounded that you’d never know she’s an exec with AE Sports, the video game giant, and her husband is some sort of brand manager for Aston Martin in Beverly Hills. I ask Deb if she knows of Magnus Walker, but she doesn’t, so I just tell her he’s a crazy Porsche guy in L.A.

The L.A. skyline at sunset is stunning. As spectacular as the ridges of the Grand Canyon, the surrounding skyscrapers create reflections and shadows that make it all appear beyond man-made. I just take it all in, and wonder amidst the beauty of it all – the rooftop, the sunset, the view, L.A., my fiancee – how’d a guy like me ends up here, at this place, this moment, this point in life where I feel blessed in so many ways?

Earlier today, I worked a big consumer trade show. While returning from lunch, I ran into my ex-girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in 24 years. We were so young when we dated, and when we broke up, I was crushed. There’s fragility to a young heart, and I just couldn’t make sense of the breakup. But, then I met who would become my wife, then we had my daughter, grew my career, moved cross country, built a very prosperous life, got divorced, raised my daughter on my own and just strove to live right by all. That first breakup turned into just good memories from my youth.

As I chatted with my ex-girlfriend, it was a very touching moment, no weirdness or awkwardness. Through the wonders of Facebook, we’d both known where each had traveled in life, and we both were genuinely happy for each other. It was sort of like just smiling at how far we’d both come. And, after a hug and a picture, we parted ways, she going to catch a flight home to her husband and daughter, and me, back to my company’s booth.

And, so as I sit on this L.A. rooftop, I look out at the sunset over the Pacific and flash back over those 24 years – my beloved daughter having turned 18 just a few days ago – and the question of how I ended up in this breathtaking spot, at this exact time, answers itself: despite the twists and turns, life always leads us to where we’re supposed to be.

The Ten-Percenters

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By Mark E. Smith

Whenever I meet couples who’ve been married for several decades, I always ask them what’s their secret to a successful marriage?

“You need to weather the storms, the peaks and valleys,” they all essentially note. “You need to compromise and be willing to stick out the tough times. Love will pull you through.”

Interestingly, people always elude to how difficult marriage is, that to make it work, you have to be “too stubborn to quit,” as a gentleman told my fiancee and me on Valentine’s day.

However, while toughing out the bad times and being too stubborn to quit will keep any couple together, is that what anyone really wants in a marriage?

Out of every couple I’ve spoken with over the years, not one has ever told me that the success of their marriage has been due to mutual respect, unwavering trust, and sustained passion. No one’s ever said, “We constantly inspire each other….”

Respect, trust, passion, inspiration — why aren’t these the tenants of decades of a successful marriage? Why are couples accepting “toughing it out” as the key to marriage?

We live in a society with a fifty-one-percent divorce rate, and those who remain married are deemed successful. But, if your marriage is lacking respect, trust, passion, and inspiration, that’s not a success by any stretch.

Interestingly, if you look at the top reasons for divorce – communication breakdowns, infidelity, substance abuse, financial woes, lack of physical intimacy – they all go back to couples violating the four core values I note: respect, trust, passion and inspiration.

All of this leads me to a provocative question: where is accountability in relationships and marriages? There’s no magic to what makes a marriage a dream, a nightmare or a form of merely co-existing in-between: the two individuals’ behavior. Disrespect, infidelity or substance abuse don’t just randomly appear – pathology or not, someone makes the decision at some point to go down such paths. Again, marriages don’t mysteriously self-destruct – one or both partners pulls the pin, so to speak.

However, If you maintain respect, earn trust, fuel passion and foster inspiration, you’re guaranteed to live the most fulfilling life together. On the other hand, if you’re disrespectful, violate trust, defeat passion and uninspire each other, you’re doomed – either to a dissatisfying marriage or divorce. Go ahead and justify being in an unsatisfying marriage all one wishes – kids, money, being too stubborn to quit – but the goal should be living as a truly happy and passionate couple, not simply avoiding divorce. Again, there’s accountability where, as a couple from day one, over decades, you don’t justify or settle for poor behavior, but are dedicated to a lifetime of unwavering respect, trust, passion and inspiration.

Now, I may sound like an idealist, one who doesn’t know the challenges of marriage. To the contrary. I’ve known not only the challenges of marriage, but more so the opportunity within marriage to live to a higher standard. No, I haven’t been willing to accept disrespect, distrust, a lack of passion or inspiration. I’d rather be healthy and happy than in a dysfunctional, relationship. Yet, even more so, I’d rather share a life of respect, trust, passion and inspiration with my soul mate.

I know that some may see my relationship aspirations as unrealistic. I see them as accountable – and unquestionably possible. Of course, if everyone took my hard line toward love, that we shouldn’t compromise core healthy behavior and stay in dysfunctional relationships, the divorce rate might push 90%. But, the 10% of sustained marriages would be blissfully happy, living and loving with unwavering passion and ultimate security. I say, don’t settle, don’t compromise your marital happiness – and find yourself in the right relationship as a ten-percenter.

Me Being Me

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By Mark E. Smith

At 43, I’ve had my challenges in life, but with a mix of hard work, the support of others and luck, I’ve been privileged to have accomplished a bit, from fatherhood to a pretty cool career. Nevertheless, someone asked me what my ultimate dream is from here? My answer could have been related to a next career challenge or maybe a materialistic goal like a lake house. However, none of that’s the case – its all too easy, too meaningless in ways. My answer from the depths of my heart was, “I just want to be me.”

Assuming that we’re healthy, productive, loving individuals, isn’t that our ultimate dream: to not only be free within to be ourselves, but to be truly embraced for who we are by others? How many of us have felt at times that for any number of reasons – a work environment, a relationship, family expectations – we couldn’t just be ourselves? Maybe it’s a seemingly huge issue like if your family knew you were gay, they’d disown you. Or maybe it’s a seemingly small issue like someone correcting your grammar. Or, somewhere in the middle, where your love interest wants to change something about you. All of these and countless other examples prevent you from being you, and it’s painful and it’s isolating – and I’ve been there.

I had a cute conversation with a buddy of mine. He shared with me that if he could find a woman who loved comic books as much as he does, she would be his soul mate. See, he’s had girlfriends in the past who’ve ridiculed him for collecting comics, so finding a woman who loves comics would be a dream come true. Yet, that’s not truly what he needs, is it? He doesn’t need a woman who loves comics; rather, he simply needs a woman who loves him for him, comics and all. It’s what we all want and deserve: to be loved as-is.

And, that is an epic battle of the heart for many of us, where we just want to be rightfully loved as-is, where we’re perfectly imperfect and nothing about us needs to change to fit in or be loved. We just need to be us and be loved on that merit alone.

Unfortunately, others may not get that concept and so it’s up to us to set the standard and set the boundaries. I genuinely love people, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a great conversation. I don’t care who you are, what you look like, or how you live. Assuming you’re doing right by others, I don’t want to change anything about you. I just want to know the real you.

It’s this way of embracing others that I more and more expect in my own life. Regardless of the situation, I’m just going to be me as authentically as possible. I don’t need to prove anything or be anything – I just need to be me. And, when I’m not good enough for someone or criticized for just being me, I’ve developed the strength to put the onus back where it belongs – on the person doing the pointing.

I am me, you are you, and for anyone who wants to see flaws in us or seek to change us, well, we need to hand him or her a mirror and go about being just who we are: perfectly imperfect, as-is.

Not Different But Authentic

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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.

Learning to Love to Capacity

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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.