My wife changes the world every single day.

And she does it just by being her.

She doesn’t spend hours researching how to build a platform online or how to drive traffic to a blog. She doesn’t stand in front of crowds or record a podcast or write ebooks.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things (Um, they’re exactly what I do) and she could do any of them (really well, might I add), but my point is that you can change the world without them.

Almost every day she’s meeting with some young woman over coffee who ends-up spilling her guts, then leaves feeling like she can conquer anything because of the love and wisdom Julie has shared. She puts in countless hours of thankless, behind-the-scenes work for our church, championing our community to anyone and everyone she meets. She’s helping to shape the lives of two little munchkins three days a week as the world’s best nanny. She’s raising our kids to be compassionate, loving young people who care about others more than themselves.

None of these activities are particularly glamorous and I know the daily grind can be frustrating. “Am I really making a difference?” we ask ourselves. I know Julie has felt that way, as I’m sure most of us have.

That’s why it’s nice to hear that you’ve actually made a difference every once in a while.

A couple months ago we volunteered at the Wisconsin State cheerleading meet. It was held at Wilmot Union High School where, over a decade ago, Julie took over as head coach for the fledgling varsity cheerleading team. Julie had never cheered for even one minute in her entire life. She was a drama geek in high school. But, they needed someone and it meant a few more dollars in her paycheck and, most importantly, an opportunity to impact a group of young people she’d otherwise never have the chance to.

The first year meant a lot of long hours basically making sure the girls stayed alive. Julie did a lot of research and relied heavily on the upperclassmen to help her out with the actual cheerleading stuff. And even though she wasn’t technically skilled on how to develop those girls as cheerleaders, she loved them with her whole heart and taught them how to be incredible young women.

Over time, Julie learned more and the team got better. Julie surrounded herself with other coaches who were able to help with the technical aspects of cheer/dance and they even placed at State before we moved away in 2004. But, through it all, Julie was always just herself, loving those girls and developing relationships. Fast forward a decade and Julie and I are standing next to Mandi, one of the coaches Julie brought on to help all those years ago. Mandi coordinated the State meet at Wilmot High School. Over 50 schools competing. I just stood there and watched them as they reminisced and then Mandi turned to Julie and said, “This is because of you, you know. Look around. This was our dream! This wouldn’t be happening…I wouldn’t be here doing this…if it weren’t for you.”

Of course I started crying. Gimme a break.

We saw former cheerleaders of Julie’s at that meet who were volunteering, some providing security, and a few of them even head coaches of their own teams now! In fact, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year is now the head coach of that team. Insane.

The point is, Julie didn’t have some master plan to change the world. The world changed because she loved people. Period.

And that’s just who she is.

Just a regular wife, mom and friend…changing the world every single day.

And I’m so proud of and in love with her.

Do you ever have that feeling, that you’d be able to change the world if only…? Do you believe you can change the world just by loving those around you? Just by being you? Are there people that have changed your life just by being them? How does that inspire you to do the same?

The WHS squad, way back in the day!

The WHS squad, way back in the day!

Julie and Mandi

Julie and Mandi

Julie and Jenni, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year and is now the varsity coach!

Julie and Jenni, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year and is now the varsity coach!

April is Limb Loss Awareness month.

The Amputee Coalition started the party and it was officially recognized by the President in 2012.

I didn’t lose a limb, though.

I also don’t use a prosthetic, so I can’t “show my mettle.”

lsp_sym-logo_171214-100141

So, since it obviously doesn’t apply to me, I’m going to get angry and cry about it.

GOTCHA! HAPPY APRIL FOOL’S DAY!

Seriously, though, it seems like every year this becomes a bit of an issue. Instead of a month to celebrate and unify, it becomes a month of defining even further our differences. I’m not down with that. Jen at Born Just Right wrote a great post about this, too, and I totally agree with one of the folks she quoted who said that despite our differences, “We all understand each other to some degree.” And that’s exactly it. Whether we’re missing fingers or toes or whole arms or legs, and whether we were born that way or lost them somehow…there are so many similarities in our experiences.

Here’s something interesting to consider: All of us who are “missing something,” are amputees by definition. Even those of us born this way. “Congenital amputation is when a person is born without a limb or limbs, or without a part of a limb or limbs.” Want to know how many years it took me to realize I’m an amputee? Over 30. I remember when I broke my short arm and the ER doctor was explaining that I needed to see the orthopedist to discuss my options and I asked, “Are they going to have to…amputate it…more?” My understanding at that time was that the only definition of amputation was that of cutting something off. The truth is, though, I’m an amputee, by definition, because I was born like this.

Now, do I ever call myself an amputee? Not really.

But I also don’t feel excluded when I see Barack Obama officially recognize Limb Loss Awareness Month just because I technically didn’t lose a limb.

And here’s why…I refuse to miss the forest for the tress.

I refuse to get lost in semantics.

Rather, I choose to engage with the heart of the matter. And that is support and encouragement and celebration.

Our community – those affected by congenital amputation, amputation, limb loss, limb difference, disability, however the heck you refer to yourself – while global and not insignificant, is too small to splinter. We need each other.

Which is why I’m going to celebrate and smile and encourage those in our community to embrace the similarities we all share. And take pride in all of the amazing and inspiring people who happen to share some physical characteristics with me that most people don’t.

Now, maybe more than ever before, our uniqueness is being noticed.

And celebrated.

And I am down with that.

The other night I took my son to dinner. He was excited because he had a $20 gift card and he was going to pay. We stood and looked at the menu and he said we should get whatever we wanted, his treat. He ended-up getting two corn dogs with his kids meal. He handed his gift card to the cashier and when the young man ran it through…one dollar came off the total.

Sam’s brows furrowed and he snapped his head in my direction. I could see in his eyes the surprise, confusion, embarrassment and anger. I probably didn’t hide those feeling especially well myself, but jokingly said, “I guess it’s actually dad’s treat tonight.”

We tried to figure out what happened, when he’d actually already used it, but it was no use. And it was fine. “It happens,” I told him. We ate our dinner and had a nice time, just the two of us.

Today I was remembering when we used to go out as a family with my dad and step-mom. I was always prepared to pay, but was rarely ever afforded the opportunity. It got to the point where I’d do the dance of saying, “What? Really? C’mon, dad…you don’t have to pay for us…” all the while knowing full well that he wasn’t going to let me. One time he grabbed my card as I was handing it to the cashier and tossed it behind us. He was stubborn like that. And generous.

That’s what I’m remembering about my dad today. He was generous. He took care of everybody around him. And today I’m inspired to be more like him. To provide for my son, for my family, without a second thought. That my default reaction would be to say, “Oh, don’t spend that on me, Sam. Save it for a fun night with your friends!” To be stubbornly generous, like my dad was.

Mostly, though, I wish he was here to thwart my attempt to pay for dinner.

I’d point out the window and yell, “Dad! Look!” and hand the cashier my card.

I’m sure my dad would act mad, but I know he’d be proud inside.

Miss you, dad.

Is it ok to admit that we have weaknesses?

And if we do admit that we have weaknesses, is it ok to take it a step further and embrace them?

Last year at the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR, I had a conversation with my friend Chad wherein we explored the inherent strengths that present themselves in our perceived weaknesses. Personally, I think it’s smart to acknowledge the weak areas in your life so that you can at the very least be aware of them, but also, so that you can ask for help or partner with those who are strong in those areas. That said, I’m a huge proponent of focusing the majority of your energy on making your strengths even stronger, while minimizing the “damage” of your weaknesses.

The obvious perceived weakness for me is the fact that I have one hand. I’ve never personally viewed it as a weakness, but I know others do and are inspired by my ability to succeed in life despite my weakness. That should pretty much all be in quotes, but I think you get what I’m saying. In my case, I’ve embraced my “weakness” and have turned it into a strength. Because I’ve embraced it, I’ve been afforded innumerable opportunities to help others in similar situations via speaking and this blog and videos. I’ve been able to travel and interview amazing people, including my childhood hero! It’s opened the door to a lifetime of purpose and opportunity that I would never have had if I relegated myself to viewing my difference only as a weakness and choosing not to embrace it.

So, what’s your weakness? And how can you embrace it? How can you make it a strength? You might be thinking, “Ryan, my weakness is overeating. You want me to embrace that? How is that a strength?” Great question. I have the same weakness. And I think this is where it’s fun to get creative. Making unhealthy choices isn’t a weakness I want to embrace. But, it’s a weakness I can admit and ask for help with and as I develop healthier habits I can then use my experience as a strength, right? I can help other people by sharing my story, which also happens to be fantastic motivation in my quest to develop healthier habits! This is just one example and I know there are a million of them.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying to give in to your addictions or unhealthy habits. I’m not saying to slump into your couch and mope about how weak you are. I’m saying to embrace your weaknesses so that you can become strong; so that you can use them to your advantage. So you can partner with others, honestly and vulnerably, and strengthen each other. So you can exert more control over your life and determine to live a better story than you’re telling now.

That’s what I want to do.

I’m still fleshing out this idea and would love to hear your thoughts about it. Please share them in the comments below!

It’s all about creating healthy habits.

A little over two weeks ago I wrote a post about being determined to get healthy again. The next week and a half was awesome! I ate well and tracked everything. I went to the gym several times and even restarted my Couch-to-5k program. I could feel the results and was even told my face had thinned out!

And then this last week happened. I ate things I shouldn’t have and then got frustrated when the scale showed the results of my lack of discipline. Instead of redoubling my efforts, I decided to just eat out for every lunch last week. I haven’t worked out all week. I haven’t weighed myself all week. I haven’t tracked anything I’ve eaten.

So…and pardon my French, but…what the hell happened?

51Ml+jD9l3LThanks to a confluence of “completely coincidental” circumstances, I started listening to Ben Dempsey’s Defy The Plateau podcast this week, then received an email that my Habit Journal was ready AND started reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit again yesterday. Simply put, my current habits suck. So, when I weighed myself last Monday and Tuesday and saw the numbers go up, I fell back into my already established habits and quit putting in the effort to develop the new, healthier ones. Duhigg says, “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

Those dang inflection points are usually my undoing. I’m sure you can relate.

I’ve seen this pattern in my own life now several times, where I’ll go a week or so and do really well, then “fall off the wagon” because I “screw-up” or see the number on the scale go back up. It’s great that I notice it and now I feel like I even know why it happens, but it’s time to buckle down and do the work of developing the new, healthier habits. And I know I can do it.

The benefits of developing healthier habits are exponential, also. That’s what’s so cool about it! Study after study has shown that “once willpower became strong, it touched everything” (Duhigg). Even in studies where they only focused on one habit – study habits, for instance – participants also “smoked less, drank less, watched less television, exercised more, and ate healthier, even though all those things were never mentioned in the program. Again, as their willpower muscles strengthened, good habits seemed to spill over into other parts of their lives” (Duhigg).

Tomorrow morning I’m going to weigh myself to re-establish my starting point and start again. I’m going to begin my 4-week Habit Journal session and focus on my physical health. I will be prepared for the inflection points that will inevitably rise up against me and I will power through and ask friends for help when I need it.

This is a journey and I refuse to quit.

Have you ever developed new habits? How did that go for you? Share your story in the comments below!

UPDATE: For as horribly as I thought I did this last week, I ended-up only gaining .2 pounds. .2. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill!

“And people keep asking how I dropped all this weight

More work and less food on the plate

Man, just a simple plan with a little bit of self discipline

To keep writing, keep spitting, keep em listening

To keep on doing what I do to get a salary

My number one mission is to make my son proud of me”

– From Ordinary Guys by Blue Scholars

 

I just got back from the gym.

It wasn’t any easier than when I went on Monday.

Sure, my expectations might be a tad unrealistic, but still.

Last month Julie and I went through Michael Hyatt‘s Five Days To Your Best Year Ever course, which is essentially a goal-setting system to help you, well, have your best year ever. One of my goals for this year is weight-related; namely, losing a lot of it. See, I’ve gotten really big. And that needs to change. More than just losing weight, though, it’s really about getting physically healthy.

This is from 2010. I do not look like this right now. Neither does Claire, for that matter.

This is from 2010. I do not look like this right now. Neither does Claire, as long as we’re clarifying.

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We weren’t all shaking our heads.

Elizabeth Heideman’s recent piece on Salon.com about the Toyota and Microsoft Super Bowl ads, which featured two people with limb-differences, would have you believe that we – all disabled people and activists – were upset about them.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, I believe her piece did more harm than good to an already nuanced conversation.

The fact is, differently-abled people aren’t represented very well in mainstream media. Some activists decry this injustice quite often. But then ads like these come out and those same people complain about them being “inspiration porn.” Frankly, it’s not a good look for our community. The other problem with Heideman’s piece specifically, is that the ads themselves don’t even meet the definition she herself puts forth in regards to IP. She says IP is anything that “sensationalizes people with disabilities.” To sensationalize something means to “present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy.” There was nothing sensational about either advertisement. The Microsoft commercial is essentially a documentary about how technology has positively affected the little boy and his family. And the Amy Purdy ad…

Amy Purdy is amazing and the ad showcased her process and achievements well, even pairing her with the voice of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest of All Time! She was not presented as broken or needy; she was shown as powerful and able. Nothing about the commercial asked me or anyone to pity her in any way. In fact, that’s kind of the point here. It’s my opinion that something is only “inspiration porn” if it is perceived that way by the viewer. That is to say, if I see something and think to myself, “Boy, at least my life isn’t that bad,” then that’s on me, not whoever created the inspiring meme. That’s where education about the reality of having a disability comes in.

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Recently I attended a support group for survivors of suicide loss.

I joked a lot with my wife beforehand that what I was most looking forward to was the donuts. Seems like every time you see a group like this on TV or in the movies, there are donuts.

There were no donuts at the group I went to, though.

Lies.

Lies.

Even so, I’m glad I went. In November, I lost my dad to suicide very unexpectedly. It’s been a difficult grieving process for all of us, so going to this group was another step forward.

One of the first things I noticed when I got there was a little note on the table that basically said, “What happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas.” This type of support group is one of immense hurt and vulnerability, so the appropriate thing to do is to respect the privacy of those in attendance. That’s why I won’t be saying any names in this post and I’ll do my best to honor those who shared with the stories I incorporate here.

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“What’s going on around here?”

I heard a guy say that to his lady friend as a group of one-handed kids ran by them in the hotel last weekend.

What was going on was the annual Helping Hands winter event and it was fantastic, as usual!

This was the third year in a row that I had the opportunity to join over 400 people at the Helping Hands Foundation‘s winter outing in Massachusetts. The HHF is an organization that connects families of children with upper limb-loss and this event brings everyone together for fun, education and inspiration.

My travel to the event was as smooth as could be this year, even getting an entire row to myself on the leg from Chicago to Boston!

Obligatory picture I posted while 40,000 feet in the air.

Obligatory picture I posted while 40,000 feet in the air.

Once I hit Logan, I met-up with (eventually – I’m the WORST at trying to tell someone where to pick me up at an airport) the Farnhams who took me with them to the hotel. I was SO grateful for their generosity. And the conversation I had in the back seat with their daughter Tessa was delightful.

Jerry, Marty and a tired Tessa

Jerry, Marty and a tired Tessa

The first night was spent reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones, like Josh Kennison. Josh is a paralympic sprinter and has an incredible story to tell. I’ve always enjoyed seeing how much little kids love Josh and now that I’ve met him in person, I know why! Josh is awesome.

Josh and me.

Josh and me.

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Yesterday as I was walking into work, my boss’s boss was laughing as she held the door open for me. I asked her what was so funny and she says, “Bill saw you walking up and told me to give you a hand.” Bill is my boss’s boss’s boss.

I acknowledged the hilarity of the situation because, you know, I super like being employed.

Honestly, though, I love when people joke with me about my arm because it tells me they know me. Bill and Michelle felt comfortable making that SUPER CREATIVE JOKE THAT I’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE IN MY LIFE because I’ve joked with them before.

And I love that.

Having a sense of humor about my situation, I believe, enables me to live my life confidently.

For one, it puts me in control. I’m the one breaking the proverbial ice; instead of me feeling awkward or uncomfortable, a well-timed joke can tip the scales in my favor when meeting new people. It also puts those around me at ease knowing that my difference isn’t a big deal.

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