More Than Enough

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By Mark E. Smith

I’ve spent my whole life not being enough. Truly, from my birth, onward, I’ve never been enough. The doctors declared me a vegetable who should be institutionalized. My father was so ashamed of my disability that he refused to push me in my wheelchair in public. Mrs. Robinson, my third-grade public school teacher, fought to keep me of her classroom because I wasn’t physically on par with the other students. My prom date wouldn’t dance with me because I used a wheelchair. Waitresses have refused to serve me, and even in 2014, I still occasionally face discrimination because in the eyes of some strangers, I am not enough.

And, it remains the case, that in so many situations and perceptions, I am not enough. However, I want to share with you a very fitting story about what it’s like to face such a struggle, what it means to be labeled, to go through life as never being enough. See, when I was around 13, I desperately pursued my physical independence, knowing that in a world that didn’t view me as enough, I was in a race for survival, avoiding the potential of ending up in a long-term care facility because I couldn’t care for myself. And, so as part of enhancing my physical strength toward independent living skills, I began going out every day after school and pushed my manual wheelchair along the street in front of my house. I was severely spastic, with terrible coordination, and used a power chair, so pushing a manual wheelchair was a tremendous struggle. I fought to get both hands on the push rims, and gave a single thrust of the wheelchair, throwing my body into spasms – then, as the wheelchair coasted to a stop, I started the process all over again. It took me over an hour to go down the block and back.

However, it wasn’t physically pushing the manual wheelchair that was the biggest challenge. Rather, it was the literal voices along the block. A few neighborhood boys of my age taunted me every day, calling me retard, mocking me with spastic gestures, telling me I was not enough, that I couldn’t even push a wheelchair correctly.

Nevertheless, every day for that school year, I put myself in the line of ridicule and humiliation and pushed that wheelchair up and down the block, literally being told I wasn’t enough with each challenging push of the wheels. It was a set schedule: at 3:30 every day, I pushed my manual wheelchair, and the other kids followed along humiliating me. It was painful and scary and enraging and embarrassing, but I had to endure it for my greater good.

That one year taught me a lot about not being enough. In pushing that manual wheelchair, all the while being mocked, I didn’t merely improve my physical abilities, I developed perseverance, determination and autonomy. I wasn’t pushing to be enough to the other kids or the rest of those who discounted me. Rather, I was pushing my own race to become more than enough.

The fact is, I’ll never be enough. Heck, my own father went to his grave unquestionably ashamed of me, I had a ex-girlfriend give me a written list of why I wasn’t worthy of her love, and I still face public discrimination and humiliation from time to time. I will never meet certain standards or be enough as a person in the eyes of some.

So, then, how are many aspects of my life explained? If I was not enough to my parents, how did I go on to successful careers in the mobility industry, writing and speaking? If I was not enough to my third-grade teacher, how was I able to go on to college and grad school? If I have not been enough of a man in the view of some strangers, how have I succeeded in raising a beautiful daughter as a full-time single father? The list goes on and on, but the point is, despite my never being enough in the eyes of so many, how have I, to the contrary, had so many successes?

The answer is universal. We should never strive to be enough in the eyes of others – it’s a low bar to measure ourselves. Instead, we should ignore the false ceilings that others place upon us and instead push to our own best abilities. And, in that process an amazing transformation occurs: we eclipse never being enough by actually becoming more than enough.

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Learning to Hold Hands

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By Mark E. Smith

We’ve all known the phrase, It’s better to give than to receive. And, I can tell you that there’s a lot of merit to it. I know that for me, realizing that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life is exceptionally rewarding. I do right because it’s right, and I certainly don’t expect anything in return. But, it feels really good to know that I’ve supported someone’s efforts in a situation that I can relate to, assisting out of respect and appreciation for him or her.

Yet, there’s tremendous merit to receiving, too – and, as a culture and individuals, we do a horrible job at it. Nod your head if you’ve ever felt awkward, undeserving or guilty upon receiving. I’m nodding my head with you! Maybe it’s been something as simple as allowing a friend to treat us to lunch, or as profound as receiving love from our partner. No matter, we can struggle far more with receiving than giving – and we need to resolve that in each of our lives before it takes its toll. The fact is, a sure way to self-sabotage ourselves in ways ranging from subtle guilt to destroying important relationships is to not feel comfortable or worthy of receiving from those who care about us.

As a child of alcoholics, I wasn’t raised to receive. If you’ve ever been around any sort of addict, you know that the nature of addiction is that it’s fed, including by family members, where you’re on the hook, so to speak, to give, give and give, to a disturbingly unhealthy degree. And, in that process, you either never learn to receive or you lose your ability to feel comfortable receiving – and that happened to me. I never truly learned to receive graciousness, care and concern from others. And, it led me to feel unsettled later in life when others, with absolutely pure intentions, strove to give to me, where my emotions ranged from uncomfortable to guilt and shame. One area of contention in my life that I take ownership of is that in the past, I struggled to allow others in my life to physically assist me in my daily needs due to my disability. And, it frustrated and hurt some around me. At times, those close to me wanted to assist me with certain aspects of my everyday routines out of love and appreciation, and I didn’t know how to receive that. I knew how to give, give and give, but I didn’t know how to let others support me, I didn’t know how to receive. And, so rather than receive, I chose to struggle physically and emotionally, sometimes self-defeatingly pushing people away.

However, it was my daughter and my ultimately being a father that taught me to receive. I mean, when your 4-year-old makes you an “I Love You, Daddy” card, how can you not soak that in to the depths of your heart and receive such an unconditional act of love? As a result, I’ve had the blessing over the last 17 years – and, it’s been a learning process! – of knowing the joy of receiving in so many amazing ways, including unconditional love.

Of course, in the process of raising my daughter, I’ve done a tremendous amount of giving. After all, that’s what we do as parents – that is, we give to our children in the purest ways possible, putting them before ourselves, period. Yet, that form of giving has also been a life-changing experience for me because it’s stemmed from the healthiest of places – the heart – a complete contrast to where I gave to addicts as an adolescent out of a skewed sense of obligation, guilt and inappropriate placements of responsibility upon me.

All of this has led me to among the most profound life lessons that any of us can carry. Relating with those close to us isn’t about giving or receiving, after all. Rather, relating with others around us is truly about reciprocation. See, if we’re going to have the healthiest relationships, we must give and receive. What’s wonderful is that this doesn’t mean we give and receive in the same ways, but that when we do for others, we’re comfortable with them doing for us in different but no less meaningful ways. See, reciprocation is about the sincerity of the emotion itself, not its product. I’m 43 and my daughter is 17, so obviously we have very different needs and different abilities to offer. Yet, while I make every attempt to meet her needs, she equally strives to support mine. I may surprise her with a gift that she’s really wanted, as I have the ability to buy it; whereas, she may surprise me with a home-cooked meal. We have a constant volley, where we both intuitively support each other, reciprocating in different but sincere ways. This principle applies not just to parent-child relationships, but all relationships. If, with our romantic partners, we let down our guard and truly know that we’re worthy of not just giving, but receiving, as well, our relationships – and our hearts! – will flourish because nothing is holding us back from loving and being loving.

Giving to others in the most unconditional spirit truly is rewarding. However, it’s heartwarming and soothing to the soul to likewise receive from others. Let us give, and let us receive. Most of all, let us reciprocate, where, together with those we care about, hands hold hands.

Enough As-Is

Eckersberg (1841)
Eckersberg (1841)

The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to be somebody else.
~E. E. Cummings

By Mark E. Smith

I joke with my friends that when I look in the mirror, others look back, complimenting me on my hair, but also warning me that squirrels are out to get me. As a result, I like my hair, but I’m paranoid of squirrels!

When you look in the mirror, do you like what you see? When you’re in public, are you comfortable in your own skin? Do you not get nervous speaking in front of groups? Or, even bolder, when you’re around your significant other, are you comfortable being nude, feeling beautiful or handsome or sexy?

I hope for you, the answers are all, yes. However, so many struggle with self-image. In pop-culture, the buzz word is body image, where we know how so many feel physically inadequate compared to airbrushed models in magazines or ripped movie stars. Yet, the issue is far more profound, as we know that the body, itself, is totally superficial, easily manipulated with clothes, cosmetics, plastic surgery or photo editing. Of course, the real issue comes from what others cant see: one’s self-image from deep within.

Poor self-image is the root of all self-doubt, from the physical to the mental to the emotional. And, it’s usually an inaccurate self degradation of who we truly are. In fact, it’s often the polar opposite of how the world sees us. I remember being in graduate school feeling like the least intelligent student on campus, an imposter. I worked hard, knew the material, spoke up in classes, got all A’s, won awards, and coeds flirted with me. Yet, I still felt like everyone was smarter and more talented than me – lord knows better looking than me as one with a disability. My self-image didn’t reflect what the world around me proved: I had every skill and talent to have earned my place at the top of my class, but I wasn’t convinced. My self-image didn’t match reality.

I subsequently spent many following years getting to know myself. I couldn’t change who I was from a physical perspective – there’s no cosmetics, plastic surgery or photo editing for cerebral palsy – so why not accept and ultimately embrace myself? It’s not about ego or narcissism; rather, it’s about realizing that among my flaws and foibles are talents and gifts. I am enough as-is.

And, realizing that I am enough as-is empowered my life and relationships. Confidence can be powerful but short sighted, giving you the courage to present yourself in a certain way to others in a given situation. However, knowing you are enough as-is takes every aspect of your life to a new level because any self-consciousness is removed and you live with ultimate comfort and freedom in simply who you are – from appearance to personality to intellect, you are enough as-is. You don’t need to compete or conform; rather, you can just be you.

What’s more, when you realize that you’re enough as-is, it opens you up to embracing others on the deepest levels because you know they’re enough as-is, too. And, when you realize that reciprocation – we’re all enough as-is – the world becomes an inspired, warm place. If we purely live with authenticity and vulnerability – both the truest of strengths – nothing intimidates or scares us. Life simply inspires us. When you say to the world, Here I am, take me as I am because I’m enough as-is, it frees you of all self-doubt and insecurities. There’s no room for anything but a positive, authentic self-image.

Now, the fact is, there are a lot of self-doubting, insecure people out there, and they’re not going to accept you, me or anyone as enough as-is because they refuse to accept themselves. But, that’s their tragedy, not ours. As I like to say, If you embrace me as-is, we’re going to have a great time. If you don’t embrace me as-is, as I extend equally to you, then get off of the Mark Bus because it goes to some pretty awesome places you’re not healthy enough to handle!

What’s most rewarding is that when living as enough as-is, and you meet people who on the surface seem totally superficial, you’ll be amazed at how quickly some can almost instantly drop the facade and become enough as-is, where you connect on the most genuine level. And, it’s touching to see them take a sigh of relief and let down their guard, realizing that they, too, can be enough as-is.

None of us, however, should use this as an excuse not to consistently pursue personal growth. To the contrary, recognizing ourselves enough as-is fuels personal growth. In a society where most exercise for superficial vanity reasons, I, too, workout. But, I do it to simply be the best I can be, regardless of anyone else’s ideal. Lots of guys are more muscular and stronger than me – and kudos to them. I just work out for my own enjoyment, and my body is what it is, enough as-is.

Most importantly, when you truly recognize yourself as enough as-is, it gets you out of validation mode. Think about all of the terrible situations we get ourselves in by pursuing the validation of others, from teens smoking due to peer pressure to employees compromising integrity to please a boss to those engaging in promiscuity to feel desired, and on and on. The minute that we truly recognize ourselves enough as-is, it removes the need for validation from others, creating much healthier decisions and life paths.

May the mirrors in your life reflect the amazing spirit in you, enough as-is, a person of tremendous contribution to the world around you. …As for the squirrels, you need not worry when looking in the mirror – they’re only out to get me.

Rings we Wear

By Mark E. Smith

There’s so much to be said for self-acceptance and just presenting ourselves to the world as who we are. No masks. No Facades. Just be thankful for who we are, and whether others accept us as… well …just us, doesn’t really matter. And, in that spirit, here’s my spoken word piece, Rings we Wear.

Upward Mobility

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By Mark E. Smith

Anyone who tells you that “all men are created equal” is simply stating rhetorical idealism. The fact is, we know we’re not all born equal – some are born into lives of privilege, while others are born into far more grave circumstances.

If you weren’t born into a life of privilege – albeit, wealth, a stable home, good health, and so on – you’ve probably seen your hopes and dreams thwarted at some point. When an upper-class kid, with good-looks, athleticism, and not a stress in the world goes to college on his or parent’s dime, a lot is a given, success is almost a birth right. However, if you’re like some of us who weren’t so fortunate, you don’t stare at silver platters, but you encounter a lot of roadblocks and mountains to climb. And, that’s OK – be happy for the privileged ones, but also see the extraordinary potential in yourself and others like you, those who have to work harder, those who face greater adversity, those for whom it takes more time, but get there, no less.

See, you can’t worry about what those of privilege have, or that you got the proverbial short end of the straw. So what if she has Daddy’s money, or he got a promotion by being at the right place at the right time. Life isn’t just about luck of the draw; it’s a marathon about tenacity. You have what you have, no matter how little, and it’s your job to make the most of it, building upon it over the long term – with laser-like focus, unwavering drive, and, yes, do-or-die tenacity. You have no safety net, and that in itself will make you a better tight rope walker in the end – you won’t fall because you can’t risk falling.

And, none of it is easy – climbing mountains never is. But, it’s totally possible. At times, you may have to make extreme sacrifices – maybe you live in a hole-in-the-wall place, with no television, subsisting on Top Ramen because the little money you have covers the books for your community college courses. Or, maybe you go to work despite health issues because you wish to excel in your career regardless of any adversities. The fact is, as long as you have unyielding tenacity and focus – where you have the guts to make sacrifices that others run from – you will succeed, period. Life isn’t for the privileged; life is for the strong.

Interestingly, political beliefs aside, our most recent three presidents are a great study in privilege versus tenacity – and where the playing field is leveled. President George W. Bush certainly worked hard in his life, but was born into privilege and a family legacy that led him to President, his grandfather a U.S. Senator, and his father, of course, a President. By contrast, President Clinton’s father died three months before his birth, and his later stepfather was a gambler and alcoholic who abused his mother, with President Clinton earning his way through college on scholarships. Similarly, President Obama came from a broken home, mostly raised by his grandparents, putting himself through school. So, we have three presidents of practically speaking the same era, and one was born into privilege, while two came from very humble beginnings. The point is, tenacity can catch up with privilege in the end – but it takes work and vision and guts.

If we truly look at the backgrounds of our 42nd and 44th presidents, there’s tremendous inspiration in that. You don’t need to be of the birth right of the 43rd president – lineage of privilege and power – to be among the most successful people on Earth. Rather, you can come from the so-called bottom, never feel lower than anyone else, and chart a course of personal empowerment. No, you statistically won’t ever be the president, like Clinton or Obama, but think of what you can accomplish in the way of education, career, community, and family – there’s nothing holding you back.

And, you mustn’t let success stop with you. You must have a moral and ethical compass to help others. You don’t want to be smug and selfish, but kind and giving – a leader in action. You see ignorance on the Internet, in line at the grocery store, on cable news shows. You don’t want to be that guy. You want to have the backbone to lead others from despair, not create it. See, the ultimate form of success isn’t in just bettering your life, but bettering others, bettering the world around you as you rise.

Life is simple geography: regardless of where you start, you can go anywhere – just plot an extraordinary course and follow it unrelentingly.

It Gets Better

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Morgan Duffy & Crew, Stanford Class of 2013

By Mark E. Smith

Author’s Note: There’s a disturbing undercurrent that, in this modern day, some teens with physical disabilities still feel isolated, depressed, even suicidal. So, let us talk about being a teen with a disability, and how life gets better….

As a teenager struggling with having a disability, you need to know only one truth: Life gets better – remarkably better.

I remember being a teenager with cerebral palsy and, like you, I remember struggling with it all – feeling different, but wanting to fit in; being treated different, but wanting to fit in, or, at times, feeling completely “normal,” but not being accepted as such. No, high school for me wasn’t all terrible – there were some good friends and good times, as I hope there are for you. We should all see good where there’s good. But, it wasn’t easy for me being different. But, it did get better. And, I know it may not be easy for you right now, but it will get better – remarkably better.

See, high school is tough for everyone, typically a confusing time, and everyone just wants to fit in. I have a 16-year-old daughter who “fits the mold,” and it’s even tough for her and her friends at times. Like you and my daughter and her friends, I just wanted to fit in, too – to have the right friends, have the right persona, and get invited to the right parties. And, for me, maybe like you, sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Well, a lot of times it didn’t work. And, when it didn’t work – the occasional bully calling me “retard,” or not getting invited to different events and such – it really, really hurt. At points, I, too, just wanted to give up and die. And, before it gets better, sometimes it gets worse.

I remember at among the lowest points in my teen years, I had a girlfriend who I thought truly accepted me, but when it came time to dance at the prom, she wouldn’t dance with me because I used a wheelchair. I remember thinking that my disability was the blame, that if I wasn’t plagued by cerebral palsy, I’d have all of the friends, girlfriends, and coolness in the world. However, I would never be accepted or successful because of my disability.

But, I was wrong. High school and my peers had no impact on my ultimately living a happy, successful life. The day that I graduated, virtually everything got better for me. I went from bullies calling me “retard,” to being a writer, speaker, and academic. I was soon invited to real parties, with amazing people, even getting to meet the President of the United States. And, while no relationship is perfect, I had my ultimate dances with amazing women since – loving, accepting, sincere. It all got better – remarkably better.

My daughter and I were planting Marigolds this spring in a flower bed in front of our home. It was a 70-degree sunny day, where our English bulldog lay on the ultra-green grass. And, although my life, again, isn’t perfect, I was reminded of all I’ve been blessed with – my daughter, a career that helps others, a nice home, the respect of those in my community – and I thought back to my days in high school, wondering where those who treated me poorly are today? Oddly, when I was on Capitol Hill recently, none were there. I don’t see any of them in magazines that I write for, or any with Internet followings. And, I have to wonder with a smile, is their grass as green as mine?

The fact is, while those who hurt you today in school may seem so powerful, they’ll soon enough get lost in the world. But, you. You were born into the extraordinary, with capacities toward life success that they’ll likely never realize. Let’s wish them well, but they don’t have what you have – that is, potential waiting to explode. And, it will, where your life is going to get better – remarkably better. You’re a survivor and a thriver, and that which seems to work against you now, will work for you soon. You’ve been given the gifts of tenacity, perseverance, and empathy – traits that are rocket fuel for life, just waiting to ignite your life in the most rewarding of ways.

My young friend, Morgan Duffy, graduates from Stanford University in a few weeks at this writing. She’s a Dalai Lama Fellow; she’s done an internship on Capitol Hill; and, she’s studied abroad. And, get this, she’s accepted a job with Genentech – without even applying (the recruiters found her based on her accomplishments). But, I’ll let Morgan’s own words explain the rest of her story:

So I’d like to tell you that I am your average 21 year old, living life and learning through mistakes and experiences. Most of my experiences, however, are less than average. Three years ago, I packed up my life and moved from the small city of Scranton, PA to begin my college education at Stanford University. I am a Cross Cultural Health and Intervention major with interests in disability, health policy, social justice, women’s health and choice. Like most, my interests are based in experience. I am a woman with a physical disability, who navigates the world in a wheelchair. And I like to feel the world beneath me in that way, taking each bump and knock consistently and steadily. My mother is a nurse, and through my years listening to her complain of the inefficiencies and inequities of modern US health, I have been motivated to learn how to change this. Social justice was the foundation of my high school career at Scranton Prep, and I have vowed to never forget.

Morgan isn’t an exception, she’s the rule – just as you are. You, too, will leave your town and “feel the world beneath you,” as Morgan puts it, going on to successes that won’t just change you, but will change the world.

It may all seem tough today, but the strength to hold on was born into you – there’s a purpose for who we each are, and yours is extraordinary. Tough out the tough times, as it all gets better, remarkably better. And, yes, the grass will be greener on the other side. I’ll see you there.

The Real American Dream

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By Mark E. Smith

We often hear of the American Dream, but what does that really mean? In my home, it means a lot – because we’re living it.

This past week, I was in Atlanta, working with the Georgia Association of Medical Equipment Services, advocating at the Capitol and its Legislature for sustained mobility funding and disability-related services.

Before I left, my daughter and I sat at our kitchen table, and laid out our 2013 schedules, finances, and priorities. As a family – even though it’s just the two of us – we must be on the same page, as a team, pursuing my goals, her goals, and most importantly, our goals as a family building a legacy.

At just turning 16, my daughter is on her high school’s honor role, and on an Ivy-League track toward college, leaning heavily toward an ultimate doctorate in psychology. She plays and holds a seat not just in the school band, but regional orchestra, too, and is next auditioning for the state level in March. She’s a member of the National Thespian Society, where she acts, as well as serves as Secretary for her troop, and she’s a gallery-shown photographer. This summer, she’s attending George Mason University, where she was nominated as among the top 250 youth leaders in the country, and she’s also volunteering as a counselor at a muscular dystrophy summer camp. Yes, the kid is freakin’ awesome, nailing life at 16!

My career continues in full swing, where I have more corporate, advocacy, writing, and speaking projects lined up than in the history of my career, and what I’ve accomplished in just the first month of the year makes my head spin. Again, I was in Atlanta last week – recently back from Detroit! – now I have a radio interview, magazine columns (both in print and in process), a MDA Muscle Walk fundraiser, which I’m helping coordinate, an on-going book project, engagements in Nashville, and Los Angeles, and a full-time corporate job, message board, and weekly blog. And, that only gets me to mid March! (Then it’s Capitol Hill time, Abilities Expos… you get the idea….)

Yet, as a family, my daughter and I not only have to annually budget time, but also finances. We take money management very seriously in our home, where it’s not just about wealth-building and security, but “stewardship.” We believe that what we’re blesses with isn’t truly ours, but that we manage it for a greater good. We live totally debt free, put necessity before want, share with others, and give as much as we can to charity. We don’t live with a scarcity mindset, where we hoard for ourselves; rather, we live an abundant mindset, where there’s enough for us to really enjoy life and not worry, but we have the ability to give generously, as we believe giving to others is the absolute most fun that one can have with money (and, it’s the reason why we’re “stewards” of income – that is, to ultimately do good with it for others, as opposed to seeing it as ours to keep).

But, here’s what struck me about our 2013 family schedules, finances, and priorities meeting: We’re living the American Dream. In two generations – mine, now my daughter’s – we’ve changed our family tree beyond what many would deem possible. The number of firsts for us is astounding. Although a non-traditional family of just the two of us – there’s no mother figure in our family photos – we personify the American Dream.

See, it’s easy to look at me in a suit and tie traveling the country, speaking to audiences, or read my magazine columns, or know of my corporate career, or see me sunning on my boat or jetting off to Vegas, and say, Sure, Mark, life is easy for you when you and your daughter have money and opportunity….

However, the fact is, I was born into less than nothing, with the four generations before me living in abject poverty, all addicts, most serving prison time, none with an education, most just to steal and harm whoever they could. As I open some of my speaking engagements, On the day I was born, my grandfather was in prison, a lifelong criminal; my grandmother was a heroin-addicted prostitute; my father was an alcoholic, drinking in a bar at noon; and, as I was born on that day, I wasn’t breathing….

And, my family tree got worse from there. My grandmother called my mother on the phone and shot herself in the head, committing suicide. My grandfather died of a heroin overdose after endless years of prison time. Both my parents were Skid Row alcoholics, dead by the time I was 40. And, it all made sense, going back for generations on both sides of my family.

So, how did my daughter and I end up here today? Well, there’s been a lot of hurt, pain, struggle, and success in-between; but for me, it all started with getting myself in and out of a bathtub at age 11, where I simply learned that with unyielding tenacity and vision, my potentials could extend as far as I wished. I couldn’t just change the direction of my family tree, I could grow my own. …And, I did.

I was the first one ever to graduate high school in four generations. I was the first to go through college. I was the first to never serve jail time. I was the first to have a career. I was the first to own and invest. I was the first to not be an addict of any sort. I was the first to not do what those before me and around me had done, but to live by a radically different moral and ethical compass. I was the first to live the American Dream.

Yet, the climb has never been linear. Many of the ghosts of my heritage have chased me at times. At 17, I awoke in intensive care after my own failed suicide attempt. I got myself horribly in debt in my 20s. And, I have yet to sustain a life-long romantic relationship. Yet, every time I’ve fallen down, I’ve used second chances, which we all have, to make things right. I immediately got into counseling at 17; I worked my way out of debt in my early 30s; and, at this writing, I’m currently in counseling, striving to take accountability for a string of ended relationships, and get this whole love life thing right. Indeed, the beauty of the American Dream is it gives each of us the chance to change the directions of our lives at any time and redefine who we are. Again, we can get knocked down and fall down, but we have the chance and the choice to get up stronger every time. And, I’ve never passed on that opportunity.

And, while my daughter’s life hasn’t been a piece of cake, either – her mother ultimately unable to break free of her past and demons, to the point where she hasn’t been in my daughter’s life – my daughter has taken the torch of the American Dream, and ran with it. What we’ve both learned is that life isn’t what you’ve been born into; rather, it’s what you make of it, and despite hardships and hurt, you can move through it all, day by day, hurdle by hurdle, to success that you’ve earned by simply striving to do right – that’s living the American Dream.