The Power of Wakes

By Mark E. Smith

People are very kind in noting how they’re inspired by my spirit, sometimes asking how I stay so passionate, inspired, and fired-up about life? Sometimes they’re blunt enough to note that living with a disability surely isn’t easy, that my career in itself, dealing with rightfully frustrated consumers, can’t be a pleasant job at all times, either. And, when they know a little bit about my childhood, coming from the wrong side of the tracks, they’re even more intrigued, wondering how do I stay so eternally positive and inspired?

My answer to the question is a simple one: I’m constantly on the lookout for inspiring people, circumstances, and teachings in the world around me – and I follow their leads. I’m humbled and inspired by others around me on a daily basis, and it’s their efforts that encourage me to live my best.

Years ago, when I was routinely boating in the rough waters of the Pacific Ocean, I had one of the smallest boats in the recreational fleet during salmon season each year. And, when I headed out from the San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge as a lone boat, it was a brutally-rough ride, getting pounded by the very tumultuous waters where the ocean meets the bay – an area called the “Potato Patch.” However, I learned that if I tucked my small boat in the wake behind larger boats, the ride was a lot smoother – the larger boats broke the waves for me, clearing the path. By simply following boats bigger than mine, I made greater headway.

My everyday life today is just like my time spent boating on the Pacific – I’m always on the lookout for those greater than me to lead the way, true inspirations to help me grow as a man, father, friend, colleague, and businessman. And, there are no shortages of inspirations everywhere that I look. I’m forever impressed by witnessing everyone from strangers in public demonstrating pure kindness, to colleagues making honorable decisions – and countless examples in-between – all of whom inspire me to strive toward excellence.

Indeed, when we’re on the lookout for inspiration, it’s impossible not to find it in the everyday greatness of others, and that makes us remarkably optimistic about what each of us can accomplish. However, what’s interesting is that so often our culture tells us to look at the rich and famous or so-called accomplished as inspirations, but that’s rarely where our true, lasting inspiration is found. Rather, our true, lasting inspiration is usually found in those around us every day, those who are doing the extraordinary with no fanfare, those who do right simply because it’s their nature.

I’ve had the chance to get to know a gentleman who works at a Subway sandwich shop near my home. And, in talking with him, I learned that he lives with his girlfriend, and has assumed the role of father figure to her two children. Wanting to build a life for his girlfriend and her children, he takes three community college courses per week at night, bringing his books to work at the Subway shop each day to study when there are no customers. Having been an English major, myself, it’s been my privilege to meet him at the Subway shop one evening per week, and help him with his formal papers. And, I look at this gentleman and think, Man, everyone should learn from this guy’s initiative and dedication! After all, how can one meet a guy who works at Subway by day, probably making $8 per hour before taxes, to support his girlfriend and her kids, while attending college at night to better himself, and not be inspired by his efforts of doing whatever it takes to move his life forward? He’s been very gracious in noting my inspiration to his life, but I truly don’t hold a candle to his inspiration – his unyielding dedication shows me week after week how much more we can all achieve if we simply apply ourselves, building success from the ground up.

At this writing, I’m in the middle of working 14 days straight – that is, working last week, having worked the Abilities Expo all weekend, getting home late Sunday night, then getting in my office Monday morning by 7:30am, working the present week as usual. And, when I got home from work Monday evening, 8 days into it, I was as tired as I’ve ever been, just wanting to go to bed. Yet, I knew that due to being on the road, I hadn’t worked out in my gym in 4 days. Sure, dead-tired, I could have gone to bed, easily justifying not working out, reckoning that both my body and mind just needed rest. But, then I thought of my childhood friend, Stephen Wampler, who has severe cerebral palsy like me, and is currently preparing to climb El Capitan, the granite cliff in Yosemite, planning to pull himself up 6-inches at a time with a special harness, where he’ll spend an estimated week doing it, specifically to raise money for a camp for kids with physical disabilities. And, he’s training like a maniac for the climb, where we all know that he will make it to the top, no matter what.

As I rolled by the closed door to my home gym, on my way to my bedroom – again, where I just wanted to go to bed! – I reminded myself that Steve won’t give up no matter how tired he gets, so why should I take the easy way out, and go to bed when I had every ability to push myself further? Of course, following Steve’s lead, I changed into my workout clothes and hit the gym. See, when you know of inspirations like Steve, it’s all but impossible not to live your best, so I’m always drawing upon others as inspiration, especially when I feel like I’m on the verge of taking the easy road instead of digging down and pursuing excellence.

While I’m constantly on the lookout for inspiration and use it to enhance my life, many around us are oddly blind to inspiration, choosing to dwell on the negatives in their lives, ignoring the empowerment to be gained by acknowledging the inspiration in others. Middle management in corporate America is a great example of such self-defeating, oblivious cynicism because you run into so many disgruntled, jaded employees – a striking phenomena not lost in in popular culture, where media ranging from comic strips to sitcoms illustrate life in a cubical that’s somewhere between boredom and insanity. However, where the real issue resides is in a lack of inspiration and admiration of others. After all, in many company cultures, when someone is promoted or gets a better job, the coworkers are often more inclined to whisper back-stabbing sentiments about the person rather than celebrate his or her accomplishments. Yet, when someone moves forward in life, what we really should do is be inspired by his or her accomplishments, admiring the effort, and learn from his or her success – that is, we should be thrilled to witness excellence because it’s a model that helps us grow. If she did it, so can I! is the spirit with which we should live.

Disability culture can be a lot like working among middle management, where some with disabilities can be quicker to criticize others than to be inspired by their accomplishments. For many years, I’ve known a strikingly beautiful woman who uses a wheelchair and is married to a wonderful man who doesn’t have a disability, and they have several terrific kids – they’ve worked hard, made responsible decisions, and live with uncompromising integrity. Still, to my dismay, others have flung criticisms at them since the day that they were married: She only married him because he’s able-bodied; he only married her because he could never get such an attractive woman who was able-bodied; and, on and on – horribly jealous, spiteful words coming from the disability peanut gallery of individuals arguably miserable in their own lives.

However, rather than criticizing the couple, the cynics ought to find inspiration in them, learning how to achieve such a loving, supportive relationship in their own lives. I look at the couple and I’m truly touched, not only in awe of their accomplishments, but I’ve sought to better understand the traits that allow them to retain such a healthy, fulfilling relationship, so that I can apply them to my own life. Again, when we acknowledge others’ greatness, it presents us with our own opportunities to learn and grow – that is, it allows us to be inspired.

This concept of recognizing the countless forms of inspiration in the everyday people around us, and using them as guiding stars, is by far among the most effective ways to motivate and improve our own lives. The fact is, if someone else has accomplished any given goal, it typically proves that we, too, can accomplish it – and that’s the true spirit of inspiration. The world is a mirror, where when we see the best in others, we’re also witnessing the potential in ourselves. Look for inspiration in those around you, and strive to learn from the best – for, when you do so, you’ll soon enough propel yourself from following their wake, to creating your own.

Facing the Flames Within

By Mark E. Smith

Tiger Woods. What’s up with that whole dysfunctional drama-rama? I mean, the guy attended Stanford University, but isn’t smart enough to know that vices don’t void your problems? Even I know that – trust me, I’ve tried. No, I haven’t slept with 14 adult film starts – not even one, thank goodness – but I do know that escapism never, ever works. In fact, escapism just makes any problems in our lives worse – really, really worse in most cases. Just look at how it’s played out for Tiger.

Now, make no mistake, I’ve tried escapism to avoid my own problems at times. I remember at least one night where I didn’t feel like all was going the ways I wished, and I went out and got rip-roaring drunk. And, when I awoke the next morning, not only were all of my problems still there, but I felt like my head was a banging drum and my stomach a churning sea, not to mention the other I can’t believe I did that thoughts racing through my mind. Escapism didn’t resolve my issues; rather, it added to them – as it always does for all of us.

See, our issues in life are like fires, and when we seek escapism – alcohol, drugs, sex, overeating, overspending, you name it – we’re not dealing with the issues that need addressing, merely avoiding them with vices. And, then the fires – the not addressed issues in our lives – just rage, until we lose complete control, and it all comes crashing down in flames. That’s the deceptive nature of escapism: It distracts us while our lives fracture.

Surely, some with disabilities are professionals at practicing escapism – they avoid facing the fires within when coming to terms with disability. After all, if you’re a woman who questions her “value” as a future wife and mother due to disability – wondering if you can ever be that so-called “ideal” woman – what’s an easier escape from those scary emotions than to engage in promiscuity, where you prove to yourself that you’re worthy by sleeping with man after man, feeling validated in the moment, right?

Or, if you’re a guy who’s struggling to come to terms with disability, who’s entirely insecure with his identity, why not just stay high on every prescribed and elicit drug that you can get your hands on? After all, when you’re high, you don’t need to feel anything, or deal with anything, and your doped-up friends require nothing of you, right?

Indeed, escapism is oh so tempting, and I’ve seen many around me engage in it – including myself – in one form or another….

…But, again, it never, ever works. Escapism is little more than degrading and destructive at best, and dangerous at worst. What does work is facing life’s challenges head-on, with courage and clarity of mind, where we don’t avoid our problems; rather, we confront them. When we hit speed bumps in our relationships, careers, or disabilities, that’s not the time to veer and run off course. We shouldn’t seek escapism in the vices that so tempt us – from as seemingly mundane as pulling the covers over our heads instead of going to work, to as blatantly dangerous as drugs and promiscuity. Rather, when we experience rough spells in our lives, that’s the time to get more focused on only pursuing positive directions, and, most importantly, addressing the emotions at hand. Put simply, when there’s a fire, many people want to run from it, but our game plan has to be to run toward it, where we immediately focus and strive to extinguish the flames with an unyielding intensity.

I recall going through one particular tough spell in my marriage, and my friends wanted me to go out carousing with them, insisting that it would be good for me. Again, after all, what feels better to most guys – that is, what’s more validating – than getting boozed-up and hitting on other chicks when your relationship is on the rocks? But, again, it’s a deceptive, harmful path of escapism that just builds a snowball of dysfunction, adding fuel to the fire. What does resolve issues is when we face the emotions in our lives rather than running off in an effort to escape them. As I told my buddies at the time, Look, you Neanderthal knuckleheads, the last thing I should do is drink and chase chicks during tough times in my marriage – I need to focus on my career, my daughter, and all other positive pursuits while working through the emotions surrounding my marriage, not run in the wrong directions.

And, such a mindful approach always works, where it doesn’t prevent or immediately resolve the issues in our lives, but it allows us to address them in healthy ways, where, when we come out on the other side, all aspects are brighter. As I like to say, Run from your problems, and you’ll fail; run toward your problems, and you’ll succeed – it’s just how life works.

No, I have no idea what specifically drove Tiger Woods to jeopardize every aspect of his life to pursue unquestionably destructive sexual escapades. However, common sense tells me that he was using it as an escape from something troubled within. And, some of us with disabilities can find ourselves pursuing the similar paths of escapism, avoiding issues in our own lives by chasing destructive vices – alcohol, drugs, sex, or whatever self-medication one chooses. However, like Tiger Wood’s life proves to the world – and, as some of us have experienced in one way or another in our own lives – escapism not only catches up with us, but it ultimately crashes down upon us.

Face your problems head-on with accountability and self-awareness, and not only will your issues get resolved within, but you’ll be a better person for it, where you’ll be respected, not humiliated, and where you’ll display dignity over degradation. Unfortunately for his family, colleagues, sponsors, and fans, you only need to look at Tiger Woods to prove my point.

Night Clubbing with Maslow

By Mark E. Smith

What a man can be, he must be. That’s the basis of Abraham Maslow’s theory of “self-actualization” – that is, an individual’s desire and potential to be more than what one already is. See, Maslow, an early 20th-century psychologist, studied people of great accomplishments, from Frederick Douglas to Albert Einstein, and defined the common traits that allowed them to propel themselves beyond the ordinary, into the extraordinary, and one of the key components that Maslow defined was self-actualization – or, the self-awareness to push oneself further and further, especially during circumstances that others might avoid.

Interestingly, in my college psychology and philosophy classes, I, too, studied many great thinkers, from the Greek philosophers to existentialists. However, the one that truly made me sit up in class was, in fact, Maslow – namely because he defined what I practiced in my life every day. Even as a child, I was totally aware of what made me feel intimidated or insecure or vulnerable, and rather than avoiding or denying emotionally disconcerting situations, I moved toward them, much like Maslow defined through self-actualization. I remember being terrified to read aloud in class when I was first mainstreamed into public school; yet, whenever the teacher asked for volunteers to read, I raised my hand and read aloud. Somehow I recognized my vulnerability and fear, and rather than denying my emotions, I had the innate self-awareness to know that I had to push myself beyond them in order to reach new potentials.

As an adult, my once childhood instinct to acknowledge my trepidations and challenge them – not avoid them – has become truly conscious. If I’m intimidated by a situation, I refuse to deny or avoid it; rather, I throw myself fully into it, knowing that I will grow in the process, that I can overcome any unsettling emotions and circumstances that I face.

A recent experience at among Los Angeles’ hottest night clubs was no different for me, where Maslow was on my side – my “wing man” of sorts – guiding me past my insecurities, onward toward my potentials. The scene was a rarity for me as a guy who’s more akin to working late into the night, instead of partying late into the night. Nevertheless, there I was at among the hippest of night club scenes: A table in the VIP section, with our own security guard, a dedicated hostess, and among my closest friends. And, all I wanted to do was to go onto the dance floor and dance – ideally with one of the ladies in our group. Yet, no one else in our group wanted to dance. I charmed, nagged, and eventually begged, but no one wanted to dance – nothing personal, they all just wanted to kick it VIP, as the hip kids say. But, for me, wanting to dance, while surrounded by my happy-to-just-relax friends who didn’t feel like dancing… well… that was like taking a kid to a playground and making him just sit and watch.

I soon realized that if I was going to go out on the dance floor and dance, I was on my own. Think for a moment of that proposition, and how intimidating it was: Theoretically, I had to roll out onto the dance floor, amongst the hippest of the hip in L.A., and just start dancing by myself, a guy in a power wheelchair – and somehow pull it off without looking ridiculous at best, creepy at worst. Now, maybe you have bigger apples in your basket than I do, but that’s an overall intimidating proposition, where most – namely, me – would feel vulnerable going to dance alone among the crowd.

Yet, I had Maslow as my wing man, where the voice in my head said, “Your insecurities and vulnerabilities now require you to just get out there and dance!”

I slipped out of our VIP section, and went and sat across the club for a bit by myself to muster my courage – then I just rolled myself out, into the middle of the dance floor, bopping to the music. I danced a few songs by myself, and then, as Maslow’s theory proves, a small group of women worked their way toward me, and one young lady, in particular, started dancing with me – a little eye contact going on – and I was high-fiving Maslow for once again getting me beyond my insecurities and into the chicks!

Within no time, members of my group were out dancing with me, random hotties (and not-so-hotties), were grinding on me, and I never left the dance floor, where everyone was getting down with the “fully self-actualized” me, being the best I could be, not avoiding an intimidating circumstance, but tackling it head-on – to a club beat, no less.

What I’ve learned is that the hardest aspects of life aren’t literally doing what we’re capable of doing, but convincing ourselves that we’re capable of doing them. When we think about propositions like speaking in front of a group, going on a job interview, asking someone on a date, or chasing any wild dream where our insecurities and vulnerabilities arise at the mere thought of taking such a “risk,” there’s always that overprotective voice that tries to steer us away from any pursuits that may create disconcerting feelings. And, most people use those intimidating thoughts and vulnerable emotions to avoid ever pushing their lives to the fullest. However, the moment that we turn the table on our insecurities and vulnerabilities, where we refuse to use that negative voice as a justification to avoid intimidating situations, but to instead use it as a catalyst to move us to pursue intimidating circumstances with all of our might, we grow exponentially and our lives dramatically improve. Our job, then, isn’t to avoid intimidating and vulnerable circumstances, but to actively pursue them, where our vulnerabilities aren’t weaknesses but strengths, where we are willing to risk feeling scared or embarrassed in the noble attempt to better ourselves. And, what’s amazing is that this self-actualized process always works. No, we may not get the job, win over the date, or immediately find success at the pursuit; however, by working through our intimidation and vulnerabilities at any given moment, we’re empowered to tackle more and more in life, where we eventually find amazing levels of personal growth, reward, and success.

Alas, Maslow’s theory of self-actualization never lets us down – not in life or L.A. night clubs! – where when we acknowledge our insecurities and vulnerabilities, and then consciously push ourselves beyond them, we don’t merely live as who we are, but we move closer to who we must be.

Learning the High Road

By Mark E. Smith

Most are lucky to have one influential figure in their life, and I’ve been fortunate to have several. Arguably my closest mentor today is Poppop, who everyone in New York City and West Palm Beach knows as my grandfather.

Poppop isn’t my biological grandfather. See, I married into a traditional, patriarchal, New York Jewish family – a stretch for me coming from the wrong side of the tracks, of divorced parents, where I was raised borderline catholic at best. Yet, almost 20 years ago, Poppop welcomed me into his family, not just as his grandson-in-law, but over the years, closer to his literal grandson or son.

Poppop is the real deal, a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-make-something-of-yourself Jewish immigrant. He came to the U.S. as a child, and began selling leather wallets on New York City street corners during the 1920s. By the 1930s, he lugged a bag full of leather goods, selling door-to-door, experiencing tremendous discrimination as a Jew. By the 1940s, he was the top salesman of a leading leather goods company. And, by the 1950s, he was president of the company where he was once a salesman. Then, his business accomplishments really skyrocketed. In the 1960s and 1970s, Poppop owned the largest percentage of the U.S. leather market, where if you bought any leather goods, from purses at Macy’s to the leather interiors of Cadillacs, it was from Poppop’s company. As he reached retirement age in the late 1980s, Poppop sold off the various components of his company, heading off to follow his passions of golf, travel, and charity, till this day dashing between West Palm Beach and New York City.

As I went from academics into the mobility industry years ago, Poppop became my foremost mentor – my business school of sorts, teaching me much of what he’d learned about customer service, quality products, and, above all else, extraordinary ethics. What’s more, in recent years, Poppop has brought me into his circle of friends, where I’ll spend Saturday afternoons outside the kosher deli near his home during the summer, listening to stories by some of the greatest businessmen of all time, who founded mega companies that we all know today, who have over-the-top accomplishments like winning the America’s Cup in sailing. I admit that I don’t contribute much to the conversations – as I can’t hold a candle next to these guys – but I use every opportunity to ask questions and listen, learning all that I can from these amazing men in their sunset years.

You’re only as good as your product, and your product is only as good as you.

If your product or service isn’t self-evident, then you don’t have one.

The only way to make money in the longterm is to put people before profit.

Never, ever speak ill of a competitor or product, as it does nothing more than reflect poorly upon you.

The only opinion that counts is the customer’s.

These are just a few of the creeds that I’ve learned from Poppop and his peers, and they are tenets that I’ve striven to apply without compromise within my roles in the mobility industry, where my goal isn’t to be a titan of business, but to merely do what’s right by my peers with disabilities. In this way, you’ll always see me practice what I’ve learned and believe, and noting my now trademark consumer-centric phrases like, The question isn’t what’s the best wheelchair; rather, the question is, what’s the best wheelchair for you? and, If you think it’s the best wheelchair on the market, then you’re right – your opinion is truly the only one that matters. And, as I trust you’ve witnessed, I live by those mottoes. Sure, I work for a specific manufacturer, but like a doctor who’s taken the oath, my moral, ethical obligation is to put a consumer’s mobility above all else – after all, that’s what the mobility business requires.

I’ve been inspired that many others in the mobility industry share my ethics, where many recognize that no single product is right for everyone, that we must have equal respect for all products that liberate consumers. Yes, there’s business competition, but there’s also an unspoken, ethical agreement that you don’t engage in any practices intended to deceive or harm consumers’ interests to simply sell your product over another. And, all have followed that business ethic in our industry to a remarkable degree – that is, till now.

I’ve been disheartened in recent weeks as I’ve witnessed the mobility industry become fractured by a sole manufacturer who has violated our code of conduct by distributing a video that ultimately bashes many of us competitors in the industry. Even worse is that the video intentionally strives to mislead consumers, a ploy to put money before mobility, profit before people. For the sake of integrity and standards, I’m not going to mention the manufacturer or link to the video, but in no uncertain terms, they use trickery and video editing to make virtually all leading power mobility products look really, really bad – to the point that if their efforts weren’t so shameful and unconscionable, it would be comical. To give an analogy of how rigged the video is, it would be like a boat company showing how their competitors’ boats will sink, while they’ve clearly drilled holes in the bottoms.

Of course, mobility products aren’t luxury items like boats, but are profound, life-sustaining devices that we rely on for our independence – and that’s why I find the manufacturer’s tactics and video so disturbing. For a manufacturer to spitefully disregard the value of our lives as those with disabilities by putting out a deceptive, misleading video of trickery, designed to scare consumers away from all mobility products that compete against theirs, crosses a line of basic human integrity.

The question, however, that I have is, Why did the manufacturer – and ultimately its individual employees – go as far as to make a video bashing among the mobility industry’s most-proven products and strive to deceive consumers?

To answer the question, I have to go back to sage advice from Poppop and his peers: Nothing clouds business judgment like desperation.

If the manufacturer is losing the battle in the mobility market bit by bit, I suppose they figure that they’re down to their last option: Play dirty.

Undoubtedly, some will fall for their skewed, deceptive, heavily-edited video, so they’ll get some results. And, maybe they’re even glad to have gotten under my skin, high-fiving each other in their cubicles, saying, See, we even got Mark E. Smith talking about us! However, any scant results from the video can’t make up for the loss of respect that they’ve invited by offending virtually everyone associated with mobility products.

Indeed, their video makes me angry, and even a bit ashamed to know that a manufacturer in my industry would stoop to such low levels. However, I ultimately have to cut them some slack, knowing that they haven’t been as fortunate in life as me, where I’ve had Poppop to not only teach me the right ways to succeed in business, but, most importantly, how to live with true integrity.

When Disability is the Story

By Mark E. Smith

I’m all for remarkable stories about remarkable people, from the historical and the famous to heroes next door. In fact, much of my free time is spent studying great people, where I’ve learned that we can discover much of our own potentials through the examples of others.

Yet, what’s discouraging is all of the mainstream-distorted disability fribble that we must wade through to get to great stories that involve disability. Sure, there are lots of so-called “inspiring” stories about disability on the newswire and television every day; but, very few are actually newsworthy when you take out the disability aspect.

For example, there’s nothing newsworthy about a 17-year-old kid with a great smile and lots of friends. But, if we give that young person a disability, then you have a feel-good cover story for your local paper, where, …Jimmy may not have all of his limbs, but he still has a smile that lights up the neighborhood. Or, there’s nothing remarkable about two parents with four kids who live on a farm. But, if those two parents have a disability – dwarfism – now it becomes a sensational reality TV show, Little People, Big World. Why is that? Why do we, as a 21st-century, westernized culture still see disability, in itself, as newsworthy and sensational, without requiring any real substance?

Unfortunately, the answer is, because our culture still doesn’t recognize the fact that many with disabilities live strikingly “normal” lives, where we work and raise families like most others. People still buy into the myth that disability, in itself, somehow makes every day “different” – and it’s captivating and mysterious to those readers and viewers who don’t know any better. It’s really tying into stereotyping and ignorance in the name of newsworthy.

Nevertheless, some with disabilities argue that such news stories and television shows about strikingly average people who happen to have disabilities are positive and educational, showing them in a “normal” light. However, that doesn’t prove true, as if that was the case, those with disabilities wouldn’t be profiled in the first place. The network, TLC, would never produce a show about an “average” family on a farm – that is, because no one would watch such a mundane subject. Yet, once disability is brought into it, then there’s sensationalism that sells. The X-factor is disability, and it reflects poorly upon everyone involved, including those of us with disabilities at large. The consequence is this: When people see those with disabilities applauded for living ordinary lives, it actually diminishes our equality, where if the ordinary is seen as our peak, then our true potential is lost in the message.

Interestingly, those of us with disabilities can likewise be falsely drawn into seeing the disability experience of others as inspirational, when it’s truly not inspirational at all. We can look at a story on television, just like everyone else, and say, Wow, isn’t it inspiring that a guy who’s a quadriplegic can play rugby, get tattooed, and pick up chicks? Yet, if you remove the disability, there’s no inspiration in that story – it’s every jock at your local bar. What we should do is remove the disability from the story, and see if true inspiration remains? For example, a 27-year-old preacher who travels the world speaking to millions is an amazing story, especially when you realize that he’s done it on his own, starting when he was 19, where religion is only part of his message, where he is also dedicated to speaking to youth about staying on positive paths, no matter the temptations or challenges that one faces. The fact that this amazing individual, Nick Vujicic, was born with no arms or legs simply adds to the story. The inspiration to look for, then, isn’t in the fact that one simply has a disability, but that he or she is truly impacting others in extraordinary ways.

Of course, worst of all is when the media portrays those with disabilities as inspirational when, in fact, the individuals’ lives are absolute train wrecks. TLC recently debuted a documentary on “Kenny,” the gentleman known from the Jerry Springer Show, who has no legs and walks on his hands. As the documentary showed, Kenny, a high school drop-out, caught the attention of some in show business, landing a decade-long career on the Jerry Springer Show, where he would sneak-up on guests and “freak them out” as “the man with half of body.” However, as the documentary chronicled, Kenny left the Jerry Springer show, and was living in a transient motel with his fiancée and her two children, one of whom Kenny thought might be his biological child because he had slept with his fiancée seven years earlier when she was still married to her husband, the legal father of the two children. Kenny and his fiancée’s goal was to have a paternity test, but Kenny insisted that no matter what, he would be there for the two children – and they even called him ”Dad.” Well, the paternity test came back negative – Kenny was not the father – and the documentary ends with an update that Kenny left his fiancée and the two children, and is now living with his parents.

Now, where the documentary crossed the line was in perpetually stating what a remarkable, inspiring individual Kenny is, seemingly oblivious that his life and choices are horrendous at best, devastating to others at worst – after all, how does a man of any moral fiber whatsoever vow to raise two children, have them living in poverty in a transient motel, then split? That may be a Jerry Springer episode, but it certainly isn’t inspirational, as TLC insisted.

Surely some reading this might argue that disability defines my own life story, asking the question of, Mark, if you remove disability from your own story, is there anything left to your merit beyond a guy with cerebral palsy?

It’s a valid question, and I believe that the answer is, absolutely there’s more to my life story than cerebral palsy. See, my roles – through the mobility industry, writing, speaking, and charity – aren’t centered so much around my own disability, but are ultimately centered around serving others. Yes, my disability adds to the story, but it’s ultimately my larger efforts in life that create what I hope is a legacy of positively effecting the lives of others in many different ways. And, that’s how we should all assess the merits of our own lives if we end up in the public light in any way, where we candidly ask ourselves, Am I being acknowledged solely based on disability, or because of the larger merits and accomplishments in my life? Again, individuals like Nick Vujicic are great examples, where disability, by nature, may be part of the story, but it’s not the whole story – and I strive to follow their leads by making my own life less about disability and more about making a difference in the world around me.

Indeed, I applaud mainstream media stories about those with disabilities, but only when they’re warranted. I don’t want to read about how 17-year-old Jimmy’s smile cheers up the neighborhood as one with a disability – it patronizes and reduces Jimmy to less than his potential, as it ultimately does everyone else with a disability. Nor do I want to see absolute train wrecks with disabilities presented as inspirational, making the inexcusable, excusable based solely on disability.

However, what I do enjoy seeing are stories like when 17-year-old Jimmy, who happens to have a disability, gets a summer internship on Capitol Hill – that’s a great news story, as it would be about any 17-year-old with such accomplishment. Put simply, let us find inspiration in stories about the sum of one’s humanity and accomplishments, not the singularity of disability, where stories don’t patronize but honor.

It’s A People Thing

By Mark E. Smith

Isn’t it pecular how people – including those of us with disabilities, ourselves – take specific character traits and somehow universally attribute them to those with disabilities? I read someone note that those with disabilities are too introverted in public. It struck me as an interesting observation directed specifically at those with disabilities – namely because many people without disabilities are likewise introverted in public. If you people-watch at Wal-Mart, or an airport, or a college class, or any public place, almost everyone in public is introverted – it’s a cultural norm in many regions. It’s not a disability thing; it’s merely a people thing.

Along these lines of conjuring that there are specific traits to most with disabilities, a friend confided in me that one of her employees with a disability wasn’t coming to work on time, and repeatedly called off work during bad weather and beyond – liberties that no other employees had. Knowing that I never miss work and don’t make an issue of my disability, she came to me for advice, wondering how she should handle the situation, finally confiding in me that what she really wondered was if this behavior was common to those with disabilities?

I explained to her that, as a manager, she had an obligation to take disability out of the equation, and see the employee based on the real issue: The person was just a bad employee, and disability had nothing to do with it. I said, “Look, this isn’t a disability thing, it’s a people thing. Some employees with disabilities are terrific, while others are terrible – but disability, in itself, has nothing to do with one’s work ethic. A bad employee is a bad employee, and disability isn’t part of the equation.”

To yet another extreme, I had a college professor once tell me how impressed she was with every student with a disability, that they were all brilliant, that she wished all of her students were like those with disabilities. I candidly noted, “You’ve just managed to miss out on the dumb ones with disabilities – there are lots of us, and I may be the first to prove that, ruining your track record.”

These three anecdotes point to an important truth: Character traits are about individual people, not disability. It’s strikingly obvious that those with disabilities are as diverse as everyone else – because those with disabilities are everyone else. Yet, some people don’t seem to catch on so quickly that people with disabilities are just people, after all.

See, what some miss – including some with disabilities, themselves – is the fact that there’s nothing inherent to the physicality of disability that standardizes one’s humanity. Everyone on this planet – and certainly within a cultural melting pot like the United States – is diverse, with individual traits – and disability doesn’t change that. Geniuses are geniuses, shy people are shy people, hard workers are hard workers, jerks are jerks, and it’s all totally regardless of disability. Nevertheless, where some get hung up is in presuming that disability effects all with disabilities in the same ways – it’s called stereotyping.

Interestingly, the stereotyping of those with disabilities comes from the root of all stereotyping – that is, a lack of diverse experience with others. When we know very few with disabilities – and some reading this only intimately know themselves as one with a disability – we use that very limited experience to cast a wide net, incorrectly presuming that all with disabilities are strikingly the same as what we’ve learned in our limited experience. However, when we’re fortunate enough to know many with disabilities – from rock-n-rollers to recluses, from scholars to strippers – we realize that those of us with disabilities are as diverse as everyone else, where individual character traits are just that, individual.

A large part of my career is based upon addressing disability experience through writing and speaking. Yet, I truly don’t address the challenges of disability, specifically; rather, I address the challenges of life. When I note one of my signature lines, stop blaming the dealer, and play the cards you’ve been dealt, it applies so well to disability experience, but it’s strikingly universal toward all adversities in life, isn’t it? Again, disability experience is truly human experience, and when we recognize that, we remove any stereotypes, seeing all people as just that – people.

The next time that you find yourself applying specific character traits to those with disabilities, or witness others engaging in it, stop the trend in its tracks, and say, Wait a minute, this isn’t a disability thing, it’s a people thing! – and appreciate the diversity of each individual’s character traits, good and bad, where people with disabilities are simply people, after all.

Facing the Uncertain

By Mark E. Smith

If you speak with others about the effects of their disabilities toward their futures, you’ll hear a common theme: Uncertainty.

What’s interesting, though, is that most aren’t simply speaking of the literal uncertainty of their physical condition – as in, will it get physically better or worse or remain static? Rather, when most speak of how disability breeds uncertainty into their futures, they’re speaking toward the larger picture – that is, health, career, family, finances, and so on. To paraphrase the sentiments of many, As I move forward with disability, I’m overwhelmed by all of the uncertainties in my life….

Yet, what if we challenge such universal thinking with a provocative question: Does disability, in itself, truly create inordinate amounts of uncertainty in our lives, or does disability simply highlight the universal uncertainty in life, itself?

To get to the heart of the answer, we need merely to consider the world around us, from as close as family members to as seemingly removed as the stories that we see on the nightly television news – from local layoffs to distant disasters. After all, how much certainty is there really in anyone’s life?

Now, in some aspects, there’s seemingly more uncertainty in some individuals’ lives than others. For example, statistically, a Detroit autoworker’s career is more intrinsically uncertain than that of a physician practicing in Detroit in today’s economy. Yet, again, in a larger picture, uncertainty truly looms with striking equality in the lives of both. If both buy a lottery ticket, who will win or lose? Of the two, who will find love or lose love among relationships? Which might live till 89, or might die at 65? On the drive home, which will get in a life-changing accident, or never have an accident? Indeed, we could speculate on these two individuals’ futures in countless ways – all because their futures, like all of ours, are ultimately uncertain. None of us truly knows what tomorrow – or even the next 60 seconds – will bring. We can plan, prepare, and predict – but uncertainty is ultimately a fact in each of our futures.

Think about your own life and those around you – how much uncertainty have you witnessed over the past decade? Chances are, more than you realize, from unexpected situations in your own life – both positive and challenging – to world events, like 9/11 or the many natural disasters that have occurred around the globe. Maybe in your life during the past decade, you lost loved ones, had a child, were laid off from a job, got a job, became ill, got healthy, and on and on. And, if you’re like most of us, those types of events – which are part of all of our lives – absolutely contained the unexpected. The fact is, all of our futures – as shown by our pasts – are full of uncertainties. And, with few exceptions, if you have a disability, it, too, occurred as one of life’s uncertainties, where it wasn’t predicted, just another uncertainty that came your way.

Being that all of our futures are ultimately uncertain, why then are those with disabilities seemingly more preoccupied with that reality than others?

This question was especially peaked for me when I had an inspired conversation with a remarkable young woman. I would politely guess that she’s in her early 30s, and I must say that in our conversation, I was struck by her intelligence, poise, and grace. She’s one of those rare people who, even if you never met her before, you could sit down over coffee and share stories like old friends. And, in an hour conversation, we did just that – chatted like old friends, speaking of our pasts, presents, and futures. But, what deeply touched me was the uncertainty that she expressed about her future. See, she has a degenerative condition, but the long-term prognosis remains unknown. However, that fact, in itself, she candidly shared, has effected the way she sees her future, where while she once envisioned a future of marriage and children, she now focuses day to day. I got the distinct impression that the uncertainties of her condition have brought her vision for her future to a partial standstill. And, I was puzzled by it. There I was, speaking with an an amazing woman, more full of life than most people I’ve met, and if anyone has the potential to be an amazing partner and parent, she tops the list. Yet, for her, the uncertainties that her disability might have on her in the future seemingly hampered her vision toward the future, unable to look toward long-term hopes and goals. I felt like if she saw what I saw – that she has far more potential than most! – she could begin embracing the future, and stop avoiding it based on the uncertainty that she described based on disability.

In this way, I wondered why a vibrant 30-something woman, who happened to have a diagnosis of a degenerative condition, would seemingly avoid actively pursuing some of her dreams due to an “uncertain future,” whereas a woman without such a diagnosis has no qualms about the future, even though her future, too, is ultimately uncertain? After all, no one can guarantee a healthy 30-something woman that her future will be ideal, just as no one can guarantee that a 30-something woman diagnosed with a degenerative condition will have a bleak future – both individuals’ futures contain absolute uncertainties. Therefore, again, does disability, in itself, breed more uncertainty into one’s future beyond the potential for uncertainty that’s intrinsic to everyone’s life, or is it simply a false perception surrounding disability?

The answer I’ve come to understand is, no – disability, in itself, does not make life more uncertain. Rather, disability simply brings life’s uncertainties to the forefront of our awareness – and people are unsettled by the realization of uncertainty in all of our lives. See, most causes of disability are so random – resulting from an unforeseeable accident or illness – that they highlight the uncertainty of life, itself. And, while we like to dream of “ideal” futures, we don’t like to acknowledge the possibility of the countless challenges that can arise in anyone’s life. Yet, when we have to acknowledge through disability that life for anyone can change at any moment – as with my acquaintance’s life – it brings life’s uncertainties to the forefront of our minds. Put simply, when we realize that life, itself, is uncertain, it makes many people more skeptical and fearful toward the future – emotionally and mentally paralyzing some. Really, it’s almost impossible for anyone to view disability or illness and not be reminded in the immediate of the uncertainties in all of our live, and for some it’s even more impacting toward the long term.

As those with disabilities, when we realize that it’s not our individual circumstance that breeds uncertainty into our futures, but that uncertainty is merely a part of life, itself, then that acceptance becomes liberating and empowering. Everyone’s future contains uncertainties, so when we, as those specifically with disabilities, recognize that putting our lives on hold due to future uncertainties is irrational, we’re instantly liberated, no longer trapped by fear. Life is uncertain, and solely based on that fact, we should live it to the fullest. Disability or otherwise, let us not fear what could be, but embrace what actually is, and our quality of life and accomplishments skyrocket.

Man Vs. Life

By Mark E. Smith

If there’s one common criticism of my writings, it’s that I’m an idealist. However, such critics couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, I’m the most cynical, paranoid person I know. See, I recognize that it’s Man versus Life, and when we’re not living to our absolute best, Life will take us out – it’s itching to drop us to the canvas like a soft-jaw boxer, never to get up again.

I figured out as a young kid that I could never give in to Life – I could never let it win. Sure, it’s tried every day since I was born to tear me apart, but I strive to stay one move ahead of it, a chess game of real consequence. It’s thrown adversity after adversity my way, landing a few blows; but, for the most part, I’ve bobbed, weaved, and ducked, telling it, Is that all you’ve got?

And, yes, it always has more – Life’s a worthy opponent, never ceasing. I give Life credit for being especially proactive with my cerebral palsy, where it thought that it could slow me down, placing an anchor around my neck right out of the womb. But, Life made a strategical error, lacking foresight, not planning on my simply choosing to grow bigger and stronger than that anchor, not dragging it as a burden, but carrying it as an honor.

Then, once life saw that physical limitation weren’t something that would slow me down, it decided to toss in mental and emotional turmoil – dysfunctional parents sure to defeat me. But, like watching old tapes of a boxing opponent, I learned Life’s most devastating tactics by seeing what it did to those around me, where it used addiction and poverty to defeat them. I knew it would send those my way, so I got my fists up as soon as the bell rang, ready to rumble.

Alcohol destroyed the lives of many around me, so I simply had to avoid that slippery slope of indulgence, not routinely drinking. Poverty kept those around me destitute, so I simply had to get a formal education, follow a strict work ethic, and live debt-free. And, irresponsible living took the health of those around me, so I knew that I had to maximize my health. Life lured those around me into easy defeats, placing them on the ropes – but, I wasn’t falling for its tricks.

Pushing 40 now, and having found security against many of Life’s blindsides, I might be inclined to relax a little, let down my guard, not be so cynical or paranoid. No way. To the contrary, I know that Life’s still waiting to tear me apart and rip me to shreds – as quick as we rise, Life will try to make us fall even faster. Life shadows me, where if I have one slip, I know it will kick all of the legs out from under my table, crumbling me like house of cards. But, I won’t let it. I sleep with my eyes open. I keep sobriety on my breath, and money in the bank. I work till I collapse on the keyboard, and I workout till my arms feel raw, ready to tear from my torso.

Life may be pacing me, but I’m pacing it, where when I take my last breath, I will know that I’ve likewise left Life bloodied, gasping on the canvas, with nothing left, from among the most epic battles it’s ever faced.

Count on the Counterintuitive

By Mark E. Smith

Among disability’s most intriguing aspects is in its capacity of proving counterintuitive – often to a point that makes one rethink human potential. See, the definition of counterintuitive is when we recognize that something is the opposite of what we expected – and that’s disability experience at its core.

Disability has a way of demonstrating one’s exceptional strengths among presumed weaknesses – and does so in ways that can seem so counterintuitive that they are mind-blowing. Literally, it’s often the case with disability that those who appear as the weakest are actually the strongest, where those who appear as the most downtrodden are actually the most empowered. Indeed, there’s a counterintuitive element to disability that turns common-sense perception upside-down.

Many would assume that an individual in a restaurant, who was using a wheelchair, fed by others, uncommunicative, with no facial expressions, strikingly incapacitated, might be an “invalid,” to the point that most waitresses wouldn’t likely even address the individual directly, probably assuming that the individual lacked cognitive abilities. Yet, through the amazingly counterintuitive nature of disability, that individual – using a wheelchair, fed by others, uncommunicative, with no facial expressions – could be among the most brilliant individuals in the history of mankind: theoretical physicist, Dr. Stephen Hawking.

While Dr. Hawking maybe an exceptional – albeit, perfect – example of the counterintuitive nature of disability, it can be part of all of our lives. In fact, in living our best with disabilities, our lives should demonstrate the counterintuitive nature of disability, much like Dr. Hawking’s does, where beneath the seeming obvious physicality of disability resides the extraordinary nature of human potential. While our lives with disability may appear on the surface to be all about what we can’t do, our lives at a more core level should be about what we can do, proving strikingly counterintuitive in their successes – even surprising ourselves, at times.

A common thought process is that as our bodies lack abilities, our entire lives likewise degrade. However, again, disability proves amazingly counterintuitive, where when we fully utilize our intrinsic capacities, it often demonstrates that the less physical abilities we have, the more capable we are, where the weaker our bodies, the stronger our other assets – mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Disability as counterintuitive truly goes to the root of adversity, where intuition tells us that adversity defeats us, where in actuality, it uplifts us, where the more we face adversity, the stronger we become – that is, when we harness our fullest potentials.

A friend of mine recently asked me about the counterintuitive nature of my life. “How is it that, as a guy with cerebral palsy, bundled up in your power wheelchair, you have all this stuff going for you,” he asked? “You work like a maniac, you’re in better shape than anyone I know from working out, you’re always there for your daughter. Meanwhile, there are all these people with no physical issues, who don’t seem to do anything. It makes no sense.”

Of, course, from my disability perspective, the scenario that my friend presented makes perfect sense: It’s not how much we have, but what we do with what we have that counts, where the counterintuitive nature of life proves that if we have less, we can accomplish more. During his first two years as a student at Cambridge, Dr. Hawking wasn’t by any means a distinguished student; however, it was when his condition, Lou Gehrig’s disease, set in and progressed dramatically that his success in academics grew exponentially. Quite literally, rather than Lou Gehrig’s disease hampering Dr. Hawking’s education, it inspired it – as he seemingly had less in life, he accomplished more.

I’m always intrigued – sometimes amused! – when those without disabilities note the counterintuitive nature of our lives. I was waiting for some friends at a bar, and a woman next to me struck up a conversation. Surely, she had already had a few drinks in comparison to my absolute sobriety, and she quickly warmed up to me. After a few minutes of conversation, she noted that she had slept with many men in her years, and her all-time best lover was a gentleman who was a quadriplegic. “He seemed to somehow understand the power of physical intimacy more than any other man I’ve known, even though he had very little feeling from the chest down,” she shared.

I was certainly a bit blushed by her so candidly sharing her experience with me, but what she was really expressing was her recognizing the counterintuitive nature of disability, where someone with limited physical abilities can prove among the most skilled lovers. Again, what initially seemed like a deficiency, she shared, actually was a proficiency beyond all others – proving completely counterintuitive.

In our own lives, the counterintuitive nature of disability can often engage others, not only enlightening them, but inspiring them, as well. It can change the way they see themselves and the world around them for the better. Disability often unleashes the extraordinary potential within all of us, and when others witness the results, it’s inspiring to all.

Yet, it’s not so important that others universally recognize the counterintuitive nature of disability experience. After all, not everyone will have the insight to look beyond the superficial facade of disability in its most blatant physical form. However, it is vital that we, as those with disabilities, embrace the counterintuitive nature of disability, where we don’t merely focus an any negatives, but recognizing the corrilating positives and potential in our lives that also come with disability. This process is accomplished by recognizing that our physical limitations are always mirrored by positive potentials, and by focusing on counterintuitive nature of disability experience – that is, the positive potentials that are inherent within us all – our lives flourish.

Make no mistake, the fact that disability routinely adds more to our lives than it takes seems at odds with common sense. Yet, when we look around at those with severe disabilities living empowered, successful lives, where among the most challenged prove as among the most successful, the counterintuitive nature of disability experience proves the seeming impossible time after time: When we truly apply ourselves in living with disability, weakness strengthens, defeat empowers, and challenge elevates. Indeed, based on its intrinsic counterintuitive nature, disability doesn’t have to limit us – it can liberate us.

Miles to go Before I Sleep

By Mark E. Smith

Someone recently asked me, At what point does living with disability get easier?

My answer surprised him. “Surely it takes time to accept disability – and at some point, most are able to accept it as a part of their life, and move forward with an emotional stability toward it. And, in that way, living with disability does get easier. However, on a larger scale, if you’re living with disability to any degree of success, life should never seem easier,” I said. “The moment that life seems easier, you’re truly losing the battle, both toward disability and overall.”

As I went on to explain to him, living with disability is life, itself, where the easier it is, typically the less we’re striving. See, we only grow when we’re rising to challenges, and when we’re not striving, pushing ourselves to our fullest potentials, beyond our comfort zones, we aren’t moving forward and bettering ourselves. Truly, in order to take our lives to increasingly higher levels of success, it requires constant effort and sacrifice – and that’s anything but easy.

I highly value exercise, not just for the health benefits, but because it’s a metaphor and model for empowered living. I have a wheelchair-accessible gym, and if I were to do the exact same exercise routine everyday for months, it would become strikingly easy, but it wouldn’t improve my strength or endurance. Rather, to constantly improve my physical fitness, I must increase the intensity of my exercise routine week by week, where as the workouts get harder, I get stronger – and as I get stronger, I must intentionally make the workouts harder. This same process is how we grow and succeed as individuals with disabilities – that is, the farther we evolve in disability experience, the harder we should strive, never resting but constantly propelling. We must maintain momentum to keep our lives on track and flourishing because the minute we stop, our lives effectively stop.

The evolving process for most of us with disabilities, no matter if our condition stemmed from birth or later in life, began in a notably universal way: We strove to adapt to the physical realities of our conditions, then moved on from there, addressing the emotional, social, and other aspects of living with disability as we “grew.” Now, surely some get frozen in the initial stages of evolving with a disability, where a seeming lack of personal accountability and motivation hold them back from ever living a healthy life, getting trapped in a woe-is-me state of mind. And, it’s easy to point a judgmental finger at such a 28-year-old with a disability who collects SSI, lives with his parents, and plays video games all day, and note such shortcomings.

However, complacency likewise reigns among far too many of us with disabilities who seem quite successful. In fact, in evolving through our disability experiences, many of us reach some level of personal accomplishment, and then hit the cruise-control button, noting, I developed my physical abilities, went to college, built a career, and I’m raising a family – what else can anyone expect of me as one who’s overcome disability?

The answer is, a lot. Just because we may think that we’ve “succeeded over disability,” doesn’t let us off of the hook to keep working at it – and life. See, here is the fundamental fact that everyone from those with disabilities to the mainstream overlook: We never truly “succeed over disability,” where just like every other aspect of our lives, there’s always room for exponential growth. Any success in living with disability isn’t an end, but should merely lead to our next levels of growth.

As individuals, we need to be far less impressed by what we’ve accomplished with disability, and far more concerned with what we can and must accomplish to keep our lives moving forward. This isn’t to say that we should dismiss previous accomplishments; to the contrary, we should use them as inspiring precedents that motivate us to move our lives even farther forward. But, we shouldn’t slap our disability experience on the page and declare, Done!; rather, we should look ourselves in the mirror each day and say, Great, I’ve gotten this far, but now the work really has to begin!

Interestingly, this principal of not being overly conceded about past accomplishments, but focusing on future ones, applies toward those living with progressive disabilities, as well. It’s so easy to say, I’ve already coped with so much loss of abilities, now I have to cope with this next stage – it isn’t fair! Again, the way we move forward is not by holding on to the past, but by rising to our present challenges, propelling ourselves into them with all of our might. And, with a progressive disability, one better buy into the truth that forging ahead is the only way to succeed – and to retain a sense of control over one’s life! – or life will become a disparaging mess. Keep sending adversity my way because I will rise to it, not be defeated by it, is a strikingly empowered way to live.

Where our will to move forward begins – or, hopefully, continues – is by asking ourselves, What areas of my life do I need to focus on right now to move forward in real time? And, Where am I dropping the ball or not raising the bar high enough for me to keep striving?

What’s especially interesting about such questions is that they’re easy to ask, but extremely challenging to live up to. And, that’s the point: We have to hold ourselves accountable toward constantly growing, or our lives stagnate. We have to constantly question how we can improve our lives – in both the bleakest and most successful of times – and consistently live up to pursuing the answer with all of our might. Neither the worst nor the best baseball players further their careers by sitting on the bench – they both have to consistently take to the plate and swing the bat.

Since an adolescent, I’ve been asking myself such self-critical questions about how I can continually improve my life, and I’m always striving to live up to the answers. What I’ve learned first-hand is that when striving to live up to our fullest potentials, we never “overcome disability” – life never gets easier, nor should it. After all, when it comes to living with disability, we can always improve at it, just like in living the entirety of life, itself. Sometimes in improving with disability, it’s physically, other times it’s emotionally, and yet other times it’s mentally – but we always have room to grow and improve even further. In the process, whenever we feel like giving up, or fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve succeeded, let us remember that when it comes to living with disability, we must be humble and wise, knowing that our work is never done, knowing that we mustn’t allow life to get easier, but to remain challenging as we improve further – for, as poet, Robert Frost, put it best:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.