Category Archives: Influence

Be A Kid

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Scott Drotar 'Merica
Why are we blowing stuff up? ‘Merica. That is why.

The Fourth of July is a pretty big deal across the rural Midwest. While I know that places, like New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C., may put on some impressive shows and get all of the press, but if you really want to celebrate the Fourth, you need to come to the Midwest. The Fourth of July is sort of a perfect storm of holiday festivities in this area. You get to have a cookout during the day, relax with family all evening (typically over several adult beverages), and then watch fireworks in your backyard that night. While these are activities that most everyone likes no matter where they live, in small towns across the Midwest it is on another level. This immense enjoyment stems from the fact that this holiday is right in our regional wheelhouse. Because if there are three things we do well in “Small Town, USA,” they are backyard barbecues, family gatherings, and blowing stuff up. Combining these three components into one holiday, and then adding in the fervor and zeal that comes with celebrating your patriotism, creates a trident of unstoppable holiday spirit that develops into an insanely good time. As you can imagine, many of my favorite Summertime memories occurred during these epic celebrations of American spirit, especially the years when my parents would host a Fourth get together. One of these patriotic parties in particular holds a special place in my heart, not only because of the fun and fireworks and such, but also because of an important lesson that it taught me.

When I was growing up, almost every year my family would host a Fourth of July get together at our home. Other than the fact that the Drotars know how to party, my family would host the gathering because our backyard had a perfect view of the town fireworks display. This was critical for a great Fourth barbecue, as it meant that you could continue to enjoy your adult beverage (the fireworks area is alcohol free) and the explosive show without battling through a crowd of people searching for the “perfect seat.” I do not remember exactly what year it was, but when I was around 10 or 11 years old my folks hosted one of these Fourth of July barbecues. Relatives, family friends, and neighbors came over (comfy, lawn chair in hand), and we ate burgers, played horseshoes, and lit fireworks all day. When it finally got dark enough that night, everyone picked out a spot in the yard, leaned back, and watched the colorful explosions lighting up the sky. I spent the day enjoying the festivities with my childhood best friend (his whole family was there), downing Mountain Dew, lighting firecrackers, and having a great time. As he and I were taking in the fireworks that night, and being every bit the tenacious, pre-adolescent boys that we were, I experienced a fairly trivial event that, has not only stuck with me my entire life, but has ended up having a huge impact on me.

Scott Drotar Fireworks
Every time I see fireworks, I am reminded of the important life lesson they taught me. 

As the town’s fireworks display was about to get going that night, my friend and I picked out a great spot in my yard to watch the show. My younger brother and one of his friends had set up a few feet away from us to get a good view of the colorful combustions to come, and a few adults were nearby too. As the light show in the sky started, my cohort in crime and I overheard my brother and his friend talking about each round of blasts and rating each one on a 10-point scale (1 being a lame, kiddo sparkler and a 10 being air raids over Baghdad explosive power). Being the jerky, adolescents we were, my friend and I decided to poke fun at my younger sibling for getting so much enjoyment out of some town fireworks (because obviously we were way too cool and grown up to like something like that at all of 11 years old). After a few minutes of doing our best to humiliate my little brother, one of the nearby adults stepped in and told us crossly to “leave him alone.” Not being one who misbehaved often (or at least I did not get caught often), getting this gentle scolding made quite the impression on me. In addition to making me straighten up and stop my juvenile behavior, it also impacted me in a much more profound way.

This moment has stuck with me for years. For me, it is one of those memories that you remember in vivid detail, no matter how much time goes by. I think the reason that this fairly uneventful moment from my life has remained such a clear memory is that it reminds me of an important lesson. That night, my friend and I wanted to assert our status as “big, bad teenagers” by making fun of my younger brother for getting so engaged and having so much “childish fun” watching the fireworks display. We wanted so badly to be grown up and treated like adults, that we were not only trying to act like we were not excited about the explosive show in the sky (which we both knew was a lie), but we were also teasing others for enjoying it. As I have thought about this night over the years, I have realized how truly backwards my thinking was at that age. I should not have been trying to solidify myself as an adult, but instead doing everything I could to remain a child for as long as possible. Because while we all have to grow up in terms of our lives and place in society, we do not have to completely let go of the childlike wonder and exuberance that we have when we are young. This moment always helps me remember how important it is to “be a kid” sometimes.

Scott Drotar Leaf Pile
A leaf pile is all a child needs to be entertained for hours.

When you are young, you have the ability to get enjoyment out of almost anything. Give a kid a pile of fallen leaves, a big, cardboard box, or even just a pit filled with sand, and they will be entertained for hours in complete bliss. As you grow up though, and this is happening sooner and sooner in our society it seems, you start to lose this youthful creativity and happiness. As we mature, and become jaded by life’s obstacles and burdened with the responsibilities of being a grown up, our capacity to enjoy the simplest parts of life slowly slips away. This would not be so bad, but unfortunately once you lose this childhood gift, it is very difficult to get it back. In most cases, by the time you realize how precious this ability is, it is gone forever. That is why it is so important to recognize how priceless these feelings are, cling to them as much as you can, and appreciate their impact on your life, as you carry them with you into adulthood. I am so thankful that I had this moment to show me the importance of “being a kid,” as well as the maturity to recognize its value at a young age. This has allowed me to maintain some of my youthful exuberance, even though I have had to grow up faster than most, and I am certain that this has made an enormous impact on my overall happiness as an adult.

While I needed a specific moment from my life show me the importance of maintaining some of your childhood innocence and excitement, you can see the powerful effects of these emotions all around you. Think about the happiest people you know, or better yet the people who make you the happiest when you are with them, and then try to describe their personality. More often than not, the happiest people in your life are the ones who exhibit the most childlike wonder and fun. This does not mean that they are any less mature or successful as adults, but more so that they had the vision and mental perspective to recognize the importance of these feelings and maintain them into adulthood. No matter how busy your life is or how much stress and anxiety you have as a grown up, you have to remember that it is ok to “be a kid” sometimes. In fact, it is not only alright, it is recommended. Take the time, at least every few days, to let yourself enjoy the simplest things that make you happy, the way you did as a child. Splash in a mud puddle, go play with puppies at a pet store, or go to the park and sit on a swing. You will be amazed at how great this will make you feel, and if you let your “inner child” out to play often enough, you will find that your adult world is a much happier place.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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SMA Conference 2015: “It’s A Wonderful Life”

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Recently, I got to attend the annual Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Conference. This was my first time being able to go (because it was held at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City about 20 minutes from my apartment), and while I feared that I was overly excited and had created far too lofty expectations, it turns out that I had no reason to worry. The conference, which was the second most attended conference ever for “Cure SMA,” not only met my high expectations, but surpassed them in every way. I had a phenomenal time, met some amazing people, and learned a lot about how to live with this horrible disease. In addition, I got the opportunity to share some of my own experiences about creating a successful life with SMA, as a member of a panel discussion that was held on the final day of the conference. After spending the first few days of the conference getting to meet and talk with some of the inspiring individuals trying to figure out how to give their disabled children and families a fulfilling life (much like my parents did many years ago), I felt extremely honored to get to pass on what I have learned from battling this disease for almost 30 years. This event touched me and impacted my life in so many ways that there is no way that I could fit everything I want to share with you in one post. So, in order to make sure that I adequately discuss all of the important things I learned, I will be writing several articles about the conference over the next week or two. Today you get the second of these posts (here is the first), which focuses on a very important life lesson that was brought to my attention after the conference, as I was looking back at the amazing experience I had.

Scott Drotar Panel Members
Here are some of the amazing people who participated as panel members with me the last day of the conference.

As I mentioned above, on the final day of the conference I was given the honor of participating as a member of a panel discussion. The panel consisted of about a dozen adults with SMA, all of whom had managed to overcome their physical limitations to lead successful lives. During the session, which was entitled “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the audience was given the opportunity to ask anything they liked about how we were able to rise above the obstacles presented by our disability. They could inquire about anything from moving away from home, to how to arrange around the clock home nursing care, to how to travel internationally with a power wheelchair (yes, there are individuals much braver than me who do this). Not only could the audience ask anything they wanted, but they could receive honest answers straight from people who have actually experienced these parts of life with SMA. In addition to being a way to pass on some of the experiences we have had and the things we have learned to the next generation of individuals with SMA, this question and answer session was also designed to show the parents of young, disabled children that you can still lead a happy, successful, fulfilling life despite the obstacles presented by this disease. This was the first year that they had concluded the conference this way, and not only was it a huge success, but it was also the most attended session of the entire weekend. It was a great source of valuable information for others facing this disease, and by sharing all of our success stories and giving young families effected by SMA some hope for the future, this panel discussion ended the conference on an uplifting, positive note.

Scott Drotar SMA It Forward
Sharing my experiences at the conference gave me an opportunity to “SMA It Forward” all of the kindness others have shown me.

Participating in this panel made me really reflect upon my life. Listening to others with SMA tell their success stories, as well as sharing a few of my own adventures with overcoming this disease, caused me to look back over the last 28 years and think about everything I have experienced. More importantly though, it helped me remember some of the most influential people in my life, who helped me create this wonderful life I lead. As I thought about all of the young parents in the audience that were doing everything they could to help give their disabled child a full, happy life, I was reminded of my own mom and dad. I realized how fortunate I am to have two amazing parents, who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to give me every opportunity at a “normal” life, the life I have always dreamed of having. As I watched all of the able-bodied siblings of people with SMA work as volunteers throughout the conference, I was reminded of my brother and sister. Despite the fact that they missed out on certain activities growing up due to my physical limitations and had to mature at a young age to help take care of me, they never made me feel “different,” and I know that they would give anything for me to be healthy. As I saw all of the relatives, friends, and caregivers, who gave up almost a week to allow their disabled loved ones to attend the conference, I was reminded of all of the people close to me that have shaped my life. These incredible individuals have willingly and openly given their time, their energy, and their love, just so that I can chase my dreams and be happy. Each and every one of these people, my parents, siblings, friends, played a major role in my life, and their selfless, generous acts of kindness have allowed me to be as successful as I am.

In thinking about all of the influential individuals who have given me the ability to achieve so many of my goals, I gained a new perspective on some things. Seeing all of the other families at the conference and thinking about how my family was in that exact same situation 25 years ago helped me to see my life in a different way. It helped me to realize just how lucky I am. My parents were told that I would not make it to my third birthday, and for many of the young families at the conference, this is the unfortunate reality that they will face. For whatever reason though, I have beaten the odds and overcome my physical limitations to lead a long, fulfilling life (as did everyone else on the panel). I am almost 29 years old, living on my own, paying my own bills, and enjoying a successful, happy life. And while I certainly worked hard to get where I am, and I also know that there was some luck involved, the most important factor in my success was the people around me. My phenomenal family, my amazing friends, and everyone else who has touched my life over the years are the ones who deserve credit for my success. Without these incredible individuals and everything they did for me, I would not have been on that stage the last day of the conference, and in all likelihood I would not be around at all. These are the people who should be looked up to and applauded for their achievements, as they are the real inspiration.

The title of the panel discussion, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” was chosen to illustrate how you can still lead a happy life with SMA, and every member of the panel definitely embodied that in numerous ways, but it goes even deeper than that. Even for those of us that have managed to beat this disease and be successful, it is important to remember how “wonderful” life is and just how fortunate you are. While we may be disabled and have to deal with more than most, when you consider the fact that most of the children born with SMA never make it to adulthood, let alone lead independent, fulfilling lives, you see how lucky you have been. Gaining this perspective makes you truly appreciate your life, and it makes you think about all of the people who gave you the ability to beat this horrible disease, because without even one of these individuals, you may not have accomplished everything you have. In some cases, you may not have made it at all. It is so crucial to keep this idea in focus and appreciate the influential people in your life, not only because they are the ones who paved the way for your success, but also because they are the people who can show you how to live the “right” way and make the world a better place. These are the people who know how to make life “wonderful.”

Scott Drotar It's A Wonderful Life
I may be no George Bailey, but I do have a wonderful life.

While the real goal of the “It’s A Wonderful Life” panel discussion was to inspire young families with SMA and pass on real-world experiences of what life is like with this disease, it accomplished so much more than that. It helped me (and I am guessing everyone on that panel) to realize how fortunate we are, and how fortunate we have been to have so many awesome individuals in our lives. This is something that we all need to reflect upon, because we all have had people touch our lives in incredible ways. These amazing people are the ones who gave you the ability to find success and happiness, and while they may not have wings or a halo (just like Clarence when he helped George Bailey in the movie), that does not make them any less miraculous. Be sure to remember the “angels” in your life and take the time to really appreciate the incredible impact that they have had on you. Keep in mind that while you are the one who built your life and achieved your goals, these are the people that gave you the tools and skills to do so. And most of all, if you want to be happy never forget that even when you are down on your luck and everything seems to be going wrong, that “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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SMA Conference 2015: Understanding

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Over the weekend, I got to attend the annual Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Conference. This was my first time being able to go (because it was held at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City about 20 minutes from my apartment), and while I feared that I was overly excited and had created far too lofty expectations, it turns out that I had no reason to worry. The conference, which was the second most attended conference ever for “Cure SMA,” not only met my high expectations, but surpassed them in every way. I had a phenomenal time, met some amazing people, and learned a lot about how to live with this horrible disease. In addition, I got the opportunity to share some of my own experiences about creating a successful life with SMA, as a member of a panel discussion that was held on the final day of the conference. After spending the first few days of the conference getting to meet and talk with some of the inspiring individuals trying to figure out how to give their disabled children and families a fulfilling life (much like my parents did many years ago), I felt extremely honored to get to pass on what I have learned from battling this disease for almost 30 years. This event touched me and impacted my life in so many ways that there is no way that I could fit everything I want to share with you in one post. So, in order to make sure that I adequately discuss all of the important things I learned, I will be writing several articles about the conference over the next week or two. Today you get the first of these posts, which discusses the first lesson that was passed on to me, and it was given to me before I had even made it into the hotel.

Scott Drotar Cure SMA Staff
The Cure SMA staff made this conference an amazing experience for everyone attending.

Before I get into the first part of my experience at the conference and the lessons I learned, I have to first tell you a bit about how well-run and efficient this event was. I cannot say enough about how great of a job “Cure SMA” did in making this weekend a success. If you have ever organized, worked at, or even just attended a large, multi-day conference, you know that events like this are incredibly difficult to run and often seem a little chaotic. There are just a lot of moving parts to keep track of both before and during an event of this magnitude, and no matter how much you plan and prepare for potential obstacles, there are always going to be unexpected issues that come up along the way. While I am sure that the SMA conference was no different, and it certainly had its own share of problems that popped up, from the outside as an attendee you would never have known. Everything, from the parking accommodations to the audio/video equipment to the scheduling of the various workshops, was carried out masterfully. The “Cure SMA” employees and the volunteers at the conference did an amazing job of keeping things running smoothly (and even more impressively, on time), and I believe I speak for everyone who attended when I say “thank you” to these awesome individuals. It is only through their abilities to prepare for everything they could and overcome the unexpected obstacles that arose (two skills that all of us with SMA have had to master and appreciate), that this year was such a success.

All of the time and energy that the “Cure SMA” staff put into organizing the conference is what made this event such an incredible experience. Like I said, while I have been to academic conferences and such over the years, this was my first SMA Conference. In fact, this was my first conference of any kind that focused on disabilities, so I was not sure what to expect before I arrived. It had been several years since I had been around lots of other people in wheelchairs, and I had never been around this many other physically disabled individuals, so I knew that this would be different from any event I had ever been to. During the days leading up to the conference I kept wondering what it would be like at the hotel. I kept thinking about silly, little things like how long the wait for an elevator would be at a hotel completely booked by people in wheelchairs. Or how loud a room filled with hundreds of ventilators and suction machines would be. These are obviously trivial things that would have no impact on how good the conference was, but for whatever reason these are the things I thought about (the elevator line was long, but no one was in a hurry). Thinking about these logistical challenges and such only fueled my intrigue and anticipation for the conference, and even though I had no idea what to expect, I was excited and ready for this adventure, which I knew would be full of surprises and new experiences.

Scott Drotar SMA Community
This year the SMA community came out in droves, making this conference the second most attended conference ever.

The first sign that this was going to be different from anything I had ever experienced occurred before I had even entered the hotel. As we drove up to the Westin and turned into the circle drive by the front entrance to unload me and valet my car, all you could see was this caravan of conversion vans with wheelchair lifts. They were lined up on either side of the driveway in two long lines about 10 cars deep, and everywhere you looked you saw families packing up medical equipment, suitcases, and wheelchairs into their vehicles. You would think that this sort of controlled chaos and slow-moving progress, especially when you are trying to get on the road, would have made everyone involved irritated and grumpy, but despite the mayhem everyone I saw had a smile on their face. No one was blaring their car horn because they could not get out, complaining to the parking attendants about the accommodations, or arguing with other drivers for being slow. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Everyone was smiling, patiently waiting their turn, and even helping other families pack up their belongings. This was an unexpected, but heartwarming, sight to behold, and it illustrated one of the many important things I took away from the conference.

It took me a while to fully appreciate what this scene had to teach me, but after giving it some thought, I realized the powerful lesson that was being presented to me that day in the circle drive. On any other day, at any other event, a parent holding up a whole line of traffic to take care of their disabled child, who needs you to drop everything to give them a suction, would be met with car horns, foul language, and any number of colorful hand gestures. On this day, at this event though, this same action was met with nothing but patience, smiles, and understanding. No one was upset, and the reason for this is understanding. They were not upset, because two weeks, two months, or a year ago they were in the same situation. They know the frustration and embarrassment that comes with inconveniencing a whole group of people, because this awful disease has erupted yet again to make your life difficult. They know what it is like to have to burden others close to you, or even strangers, to make sure your disabled child has the best life possible. They know the struggle that comes with having a family that is affected by SMA. They understood.

This knowing that everyone around you understands what you have to go through can be a very powerful thing. In addition to witnessing this idea outside of the hotel, I also got to feel its effects first-hand throughout the conference. It was so refreshing to be able to introduce myself to someone and not have to explain who my nurse was, why I carry around a suction machine, or anything else about my disability, because they already understood. Inside that hotel, for the first time ever in my life, I was “normal.” It is difficult to put into words, and I do not know if this will make sense, but experiencing what it feels like to be the “normal” one was an extremely refreshing and empowering thing. While I did not feel abnormal or misunderstood in general, nor did I think about how nice it would be to be “normal” very often, getting to know what it is like to just be Scott had a major impact on me. I was the exact same person at the conference that I was the weekend before, but the way I felt about who I was completely changed as a result of being in this environment of understanding. It helped me to better recognize and appreciate the fact that even though my SMA is a part of my identity, it does not define me any more than my gender, ethnicity, or religion do. It is only the way that others (as well as myself) view and understand my disability that it impacts my life. Getting to experience what “normal” feels like and gaining this insight into who I am is something that I will always remember, and I am certain that I will lead a happier life because of it.

Witnessing the controlled chaos outside the hotel and experiencing what it is like to be “normal” for a brief time illustrated the powerful effects that understanding can have on our lives. Watching an entire driveway full of vehicles patiently wait for someone to move without any signs of anger or frustration shows you how much your own understanding of what others are going through can influence your thoughts and actions. Not only that, but having a strong sense that others understand you, and the obstacles you face, can also have an enormous impact on your life. The common experience of battling a disease like SMA changed a situation that would typically be filled with misunderstanding, awkwardness, and frustration into one filled with nothing but empathy and compassion. You will be surprised at how often this phenomenon occurs throughout your life, if you really think about it. Keep this story in mind the next time you angrily flip someone “the bird” for holding up traffic or get upset when someone inconveniences you. Remember that you cannot always see or understand the struggle that others go through, and that the lens through which you view a situation makes a big impact on your feelings. Try to be more understanding of those around you, and you will eventually find that you have a better understanding of yourself as well. If we can all just be a little more understanding of one another, just imagine how much happier the world could be.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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A Positive Force

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Scott Drotar David Letterman
David Letterman hosted his final episode of “The Late Show” last month.

As you are probably aware already, last month after more than 6,000 airings David Letterman hosted his final episode of “The Late Show with David Letterman.” No matter where you stand on the Letterman-Leno continuum, you cannot deny the fact that Letterman had an incredible career and made an enormous impact on the lives of millions. Even though at first glance you may not think of this goofy, self-deprecating comedian as someone who influenced several generations of Americans, when you really think about it, you realize that this amazing entertainer spent 22 years trying to bring happiness to others. Whether he was feuding with Oprah, running through the nightly “Late Show Top Ten List,” or throwing things off of the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater, he was always doing his best to make us smile. Every night we could turn on CBS, take a 60 minute break from our lives and problems, and just sit back and enjoy whatever hijinks Dave was up to. While he may have touched the lives of countless people throughout his career, the impact he had on my life in particular runs deeper than laughing mindlessly watching “Stupid Human Tricks.” For me, Letterman was much more than a brief escape from reality. He was a nightly reminder of the happy, fulfilling life I wanted to achieve, during a time when I felt that I had very little to fight for.

Right after I survived my brush with death and got my trache when I was 15 years old, I entered a very dark period in my life. I was never “officially” diagnosed with depression, but anyone who knew me during this time would certainly tell you that I was not the optimistic, positive thinking person you know and love. You would think that the mere fact that I was alive, home, and well would have been enough to put me in a permanent state of bliss after nearly losing my life to pneumonia, but this was not the case. For about six months or so after being discharged from the hospital, I had a really hard time finding reasons to be happy and keep fighting to create a fulfilling life for myself. Looking back, it makes perfect sense that I had such a difficult time, since my whole world was changing, and I definitely had a lot to get used to. Physically, I was trying to recover from pneumonia, getting used to having a trache, and learning to live with a whole new level of chronic pain. At the same time, I was mentally coping with my near death experience, working through the reality that I would never get my old life back (the life I had pre-trache), and trying to put together a new life that would make me happy. And on top of all of that, I was also your typical, hormone-filled teenager, who are borderline depressed to begin with, so it is no great surprise that I felt so down.

Scott Drotar Going Through The Motions
While I went through the difficult process of getting used to life with a trache, I was really just “going through the motions” of living my life.

Justified or not, this was an extremely difficult period for me. I rarely smiled, and I had a hard time finding any reasons to be happy. I felt like every part of life that I enjoyed had been taken away from me. My body hurt more and was weaker than before, which meant I could no longer do many things like I used to, if I could still do them at all. My freedom and independence were greatly reduced, since I now needed either a nurse or parent constantly by my side in case I needed to be suctioned (and what teenager wants to have adults hovering all the time). Even eating, one of the most basic parts of life (and one that I have always thoroughly enjoyed), was unpleasant at this time, because my throat was sore from my trache surgery, which made swallowing painful. I felt like I had beaten death just so I could experience a life filled with pain and suffering instead. Even though I still got out of bed every day, went to school, and did the things I needed to do, I was mostly just “going through the motions” so that my parents would not worry. Inside I was a broken man, and I really did not see a reason to keep fighting so hard to try to create a great life for myself, because in the end my failing body was going to take it from me anyway.

Despite my complete apathy towards life during this difficult time, there was still one thing every day that I looked forward to. Every night, while my nurse and I went through my nightly care, we would turn on the television and watch “The Late Show.” My nurse and I would flip on the little 12-inch television in my room and laugh at Rupert Jee, discuss the current events that came up, and watch Dave bumble through his interview questions, as I got ready for bed. I do not know if it is the fact that both David and I are Indiana boys, our similar-style of self-deprecating humor (except he is funny), or just random happenstance, but for whatever reason watching Letterman was the one thing that could still make me smile. This was the one part of my day that always made me happy, which is something I desperately needed at this point. By having things like “The Late Show” to keep me smiling and giving me a reason to keep fighting, I was eventually able to work through my issues and adjust to my new world and limitations. As strange as it may be, it was the goofy antics of a weatherman turned talk show host that helped me to get through this troubling time, and move on to create a happy, fulfilling life for myself.

Of course, at the time I did not see how influential watching “The Late Show” was on my life. Even years after I had gotten through this difficult period, as I looked back and reflected upon how I was able to work through my depression and adjust to my new life, I still failed to see just how important Letterman had been to my personal growth. It was not until just recently, after receiving a text from my sister about his final episode (she knows I am a Letterman fan), that I was able to recognize how influential he had been. As I thought about the thousands of hours I had spent laughing at Dave, and the fact that I would no longer be able to turn on my television late at night and see him, I finally realized how much watching Letterman had meant to me. His late night shenanigans had been a beacon of light at a very dark time in my life. It gave me a reason to smile and be happy during a period when few things could. Even more than bringing some joy into my life though, watching that hour of mindless humor every night was a constant in my life. At a time when everything in my world was changing, and I felt like I had no control over anything, Letterman was always there. I knew that each night, I could escape from my troubles, watch his show, and relax. It was something I could count on, something I could control. For those 60 minutes every weeknight I knew what I would be doing. Having this hour every day to get away from everything I was going through is what gave me the mental space to eventually work through my feelings and get on with my life.

Scott Drotar The Late Show
Watching “The Late Show with David Letterman” was one of the few things that could make me smile after I got my trache.

David Letterman will always be remembered, along with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, as one of the “Kings of Late Night.” He will be remembered as a great entertainer and comedian, who gave millions of viewers an hour of humor every night for over two decades. You will remember his “Top Ten Lists,” his banter with Paul Shaffer, and the time he put up a billboard on the New York-New Jersey border that said, “Attention Motorists: Jersey Is Closed.” To me however, Letterman’s time hosting “The Late Show” will always mean something more. I will remember him as another small town, Hoosier boy that was not afraid to dream big. I will remember the way he used his gift of being able to make people laugh to bring happiness to others. Most importantly though, I will remember him as an unwavering, positive force in my life at a time when I truly needed something to grasp on to. I will be forever grateful for how he impacted my life, and I will miss having him there every night to make me smile, but I hope that he enjoys his retirement. Perhaps now that he has called it quits and I have told my story, he will finally be recognized for everything he has accomplished and achieve his lifelong dream of having I-465 named “David Letterman Expressway” (I can dream right?).

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Mother’s Day 2015

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Scott Drotar Mother's Day 2015
My mom has always been my biggest supporter and advocate, and she gave me the skills to live with my disability.

Over the weekend we celebrated one of the most under appreciated holidays of the year, Mother’s Day. Like most people, I went out of my way yesterday to make sure that I told my mom how much I love her and that I appreciate everything she has done for me. As a proud “momma’s boy,” I think it is great that all of the hardworking mothers out there get recognized for all of the things they do for their children, and I always try to do my best to make my mom’s day extra special. This is the woman who has sacrificed so much to give me the best opportunity to create and enjoy an independent, fulfilling life, and I could never repay everything she has done for me. She took care of me, taught me how to live a happy life in spite of my disability, and is still the person I want nearby when I am sick, injured, or scared. She has done so much for me and my siblings, and like all good mothers, she did this without expecting anything in return besides our happiness. It was in thinking about all of this and preparing for this year’s Mother’s Day that I realized something fairly unsettling about how we view the moms in our lives and decided that I was going to do something to change it.

As I was thinking about what to do for my mom this year to show her how much she means to me, I had a small, and slightly upsetting, revelation. I was online looking at various options for flowers, fruit baskets, and other typical Mother’s Day gifts, when I realized that in celebrating this holiday, and picking this one day as the day to recognize the most important women in our lives, we are doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. These ladies give up their lives and sacrifice everything and anything they can to make their children’s lives better, and we say “thank you” by sending them some flowers the second Sunday in May, and then go back about our lives. Should not the women that are responsible for turning us into the happy, successful sons and daughters that we are get at least a long weekend (if not the whole year)? In thinking about this travesty we are committing against these wonderful women, I decided that, while I was still going to call my mother and wish her a happy Mother’s Day, I was not going to send my mom any flowers or other festive gifts this year. Instead of choosing an arbitrary day to give her some commercialized token of gratitude that will end up thrown away or collecting dust in a few weeks, I was going to do something a little different and much more meaningful.

Scott Drotar Motherly Love
I am going to do my absolute best to make sure that my mom knows how much she means to me the whole year, not just the second Sunday in May.

This year, and for every year in the foreseeable future, I am going to try to make sure my mom knows how much she means to me more than just once a year. I am not going to pick an arbitrary day in May that amounts to less than 0.3% of the year to honor the woman that is the most responsible for turning me into the man I have become. I am going to make it a point to at least once a week do something to show my mom that I love her and appreciate everything she does for me (I have even put a weekly reminder on my calendar). This showing of my gratitude does not have to be anything big or extravagant or even tangible. All it has to be is a little way of letting the most important woman in my world know that all of her hard work and sacrifices over the years have not gone unnoticed. A short email saying “thank you” for something she always does without me even asking, calling her to ask about her day, or a quick text telling her that I cooked something that she always made for me because I was missing home, all will mean far more to her over the long run than any cleverly designed fruit bouquet ever could. By taking the time to stop and devote a few minutes to my magnificent mom, not only will she better understand how incredibly important she is to me, but I will better understand it too. In a day and society where so many of the important people in our lives get overlooked all too often, having this constant reminder will ensure that I never forget the most influential woman in my world, and how amazing my mother really is.

To kick off this new campaign of gratitude and appreciation, I would like to end this post with a little note to my mom. And even though Mother’s Day is officially over, I would like to thank all mothers out there for everything they do, and I hope that they realize how much their acts of love and devotion to their children really are.

“Mom,

I hope you had a great weekend and enjoyed your special day. Even though I was unable to be with you in person, I assure you that I was with you in spirit and thought of you often. I know how lucky I am to have such a selfless, strong, and caring woman in my life, and without your help and guidance there is no way that I would be where I am today. You gave me the tools to lead a happy, successful life on my own, and even though it scared you to death, you had the courage to let me leave the nest and chase my dream of living independently. I work hard every day hoping that I can make you proud to call me your son, because I am definitely proud to have you as my mom. You gave me all of the best parts of yourself and so much more, and you will always be the most important woman in my life. I love you.”

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Over The Bar

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Whenever I deliver one of my Roll Models talks, afterwards I always try to stick around and make myself available to my audience, in case they have any comments to share or questions to ask me. While I always enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories, and I think it is important to connect with my audience in order to develop my craft as a speaker, there is one part of this “meet and greet” process that always makes me a little uncomfortable. When the members of my audience first come up to chat with me, they usually begin by telling me how amazing my accomplishments are and showering me with praise. Now, I enjoy being complimented as much as the next guy, know that I have a lot to be proud of, and am happy that my achievements can help inspire others, yet I still feel awkward when people start gushing over my successes. As much as I appreciate their praise and admiration (and I truly do), it is hard for me to see my accomplishments as these incredible feats of will and determination, because from my perspective I was just living my life and doing the best I could to achieve my goals. As I went through this awkward process during my most recent Roll Models talk, “Beyond Bedside Manner,” I began thinking about how others see my achievements and why I see my successes so differently than them. After numerous hours of letting these ideas simmer in my subconscious and reflecting upon them, I finally figured out this puzzle as to why I see my achievements as far lesser accomplishments than other people do. It turns out, that it is all about expectations.

Scott Drotar Over The Bar
Setting lofty goals for myself is part of what allowed me to graduate from the University of Notre Dame, one of my proudest moments.

The way that we view events in our lives, and also the lives of others, is greatly influenced by our preconceived expectations. For example, if you see a frail, weak man with a trache that cannot even drive his own wheelchair, whether it is right or not, you would probably think that he has not accomplished much, lives at home with his parents, and leads a fairly dull life (we all do this, myself included). This is why when I get in front of an audience and begin sharing some of my accomplishments with them, everyone sees my successes as such great achievements, while I see them as a “normal” life. Since my expectations are much higher than the expectations of people who do not know me, we see the things that I have accomplished very differently. As I am writing this now, this whole idea probably seems so simple and straightforward that it is barely worth discussing, and you are likely wondering why I think this revelation is so profound. It turns out, that hiding within this painfully obvious concept is an extremely important life lesson, and I think that the simplicity of this idea is why the immense power of this notion is so often overlooked.

By harnessing the powerful effect that your own expectations can have on you, you can greatly improve your life, or at least the way you feel about it. The usefulness of this idea lies in setting goals for yourself. You are well aware of the importance of setting goals and the positive effect that this can have on your success. As important as it is to set goals for yourself though, the real benefits of this process are only fully realized if you set and pursue them in the proper way, as a means to shape your expectations. Setting goals in the most beneficial way involves two main points. The first key aspect is to set the bar high and not allow the opinions of others to lower your expectations or diminish your dreams. Think about what you want your life to look like in the future and what you want to accomplish to feel happy and successful, and do not let others talk you into lowering your expectations. Remember that these are your dreams and no one else’s, and also that it is your happiness and success that is at stake, so it should be up to you to set the bar as high as you like. After you have set your goals, it is time to employ the second key part of this process, working to over-deliver. Do not merely try to achieve your goals, but instead try to exceed them. If you only try to reach your goal and fall a little bit short, you will see yourself as having failed to accomplish something. However, if you work to exceed your already lofty expectations one of two things can happen, both of which are good. Either you succeed in over-achieving and feel great about your accomplishment, or you fall just a bit shy, in which case you still have likely succeeded in achieving your goal, because you strived to over-achieve. In both cases, you end up reaching the goal you set for yourself, meeting your expectations, and feeling happy about your life. As the great Norman Vincent Peale said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

There are literally thousands of examples from my own life that I could use to illustrate how powerful this process of correctly setting your expectations can be, but I will stop at two. One perfect example of this process is my success in graduating from college. My goal from very early in life was to go to college and get a degree, and given my disability this was setting the bar pretty high. While getting a degree was my real goal, that is not what I was shooting for as I went through high school. I was trying to get into a top-tier university, live on campus, and graduate on time with my piers. And by shooting for the moon, I ended up being accepted to the University of Notre Dame, living in Keough Hall and making hundreds of friendships, and graduating with a degree in mathematics in only four years. While I definitely would have survived with going to a community college, living at home, and doing “just enough,” by striving to over-achieve I was able to gain some incredible experiences and accomplish some great things. And none of these incredible experiences from my life would have happened, if I had not strived for more than my goals and merely been content with “good enough.”

Another prime example of how powerful the process of properly setting goals for yourself can be is my graduate school career. My goal after college was to go to graduate school and get an advanced degree. Instead of merely going for a two-year, master’s degree though, I decided to “go for broke” and pursue my doctorate. After four years at the University of Kansas, I ended up not completing my Ph.D. due to medical reasons, but because I aimed so high I still left KU with a master’s degree in quantitative psychology and achieved my initial goal. While I failed to over-achieve and get my doctorate, I still felt successful because I was able to complete my goal. If I had only been working towards my master’s, chances are I would not have pushed hard enough to finish the degree before my body was unable to continue the rigorous schedule of academia, which would have robbed me of getting to complete my master’s, one of my proudest achievements. By working to get more than I really wanted, I was still able to set the bar high and achieve my dream.

Scott Drotar Flying Trapeze
Having good control of your expectations can help you achieve great things, like flying trapeze artists who soar through the air without fear.

I read an article some time ago about a group of flying trapeze performers. This team of dare-devils was world renowned for their skill and ability, as well as the fact that they performed without a safety net. The journalist writing the piece asked one of the performers about how he mentally handled the anxiety of defying death, and gravity, on a daily basis, and the entertainer’s response perfectly embodies this idea of expectations and goals. He replied that the stress is all about how you frame the event in your mind (set your expectations). If you aim to throw yourself over the bar, even if you fall a little short, you will still hit your mark. He said that he would always try to fly six inches too far, because he knew that he could always get that close to his mark, and in doing so he never had to be afraid of falling. If this process of setting high standards and working to over-achieve can give people the ability to fly through the air 75 feet off the ground without fear, imagine what it can do for you. Take the time to think about what you really want your life to look like and set your goals, no matter how lofty they may be. Do not only work hard to achieve these goals, but instead strive to exceed them in every way possible. I cannot promise that you will always succeed in over-achieving, but you will succeed in your life, if you learn to properly set your expectations. Whether you end up cheating death 100 feet in the air, living a fulfilling, independent life, or something else entirely, you will definitely feel successful and you will definitely be happy, which is all that matters.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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“Beyond Bedside Manner” Talk For Symposium

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Several weeks ago, I was contacted by the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) and asked to speak at their “Caring for the Long-term Caregiver Symposium.” This all-day event was sponsored by the NPF, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Johnson County Community College, and it was designed to address and discuss the difficulties and obstacles presented by long-term disabilities, not only for the patient, but for their caregivers as well. This is a topic that I have a bit of experience with and is near and dear to my heart, so I was honored and excited that they wanted me to speak for their audience. And not only did they want me to speak, but they wanted me to close the event as their final speaker of the day. Other than the keynote speaker, the final speaker is the most important part of any event, since it is what the audience will have fresh in their minds as they are leaving and is what they will remember most vividly afterwards. After speaking with the event coordinator and getting a good idea of what they were looking for, I was extremely excited to prepare a new Roll Models talk to close their symposium. After a few weeks of careful brainstorming, writing, and revising of my material, I eventually put together a brand new Roll Models talk called, “Beyond Bedside Manner: The Complex Relationships of Long-Term Care.”

Scott Drotar Beyond Bedside Manner
Last weekend I delivered my newest Roll Models talk, “Beyond Bedside Manner,” at the “Caring For The Long-Term Caregiver” symposium.

“Beyond Bedside Manner” is my newest Roll Models talk, and it is probably my most well-written piece to date. The main message that I am trying to get across to my audience in this talk is that physical disabilities impact more people than just the person being diagnosed with the disease. While the patient definitely has their life effected in nearly every way imaginable, and I do not want to at all minimize that fact, the loved ones who serve as the primary caregivers for the patient have their lives forever changed as well. As the patient is trying to learn to live with a physical disability and having every aspect of their life altered by the disease, their caregivers/family members are going through their own process of having their lives changed too. With building healthy relationships between family members being extremely complicated to begin with, you can imagine how throwing everyone’s life into a state of flux, like what happens after being diagnosed with a severe disability, could make maintaining strong family relationships quite difficult. Throughout “Beyond Bedside Manner,” I discuss how this happens using some examples from my own life, and I also try to give some tools for getting over these obstacles and forging even stronger familial bonds. I believe that this is an often overlooked aspect of living with a long-term disability, and I hope that this talk can do some good and bring this important issue more into view.

The talk itself went extremely well, and the symposium was without a doubt one of the best run and most well organized events that I have ever been a part of. The event coordinator was really on top of things, all of the event staff were happy and helpful, and everyone in the audience was kind and gracious. They even managed to stay on schedule the entire day while running presentations back-to-back without any dead time, and if you have ever worked at any type of event with this many people, you know that that is nearly impossible. I felt like it took me a few minutes to get into rhythm with my talk, but once I found my groove my delivery felt very natural and smooth. They were a great audience too. They actively listened and gave me some silent feedback as we went, which means that we truly connected and makes my job so much easier. I even got to meet a few members of my audience afterwards, and the individuals I spoke with were all caring and interesting people. To sum things up, this was a great event to be a part of, and I only hope that my audience enjoyed themselves and got as much out of it as I did.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Discrimination

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As you have probably heard on the national news circuit recently, my home state of Indiana has been quite the topic of conversation lately. For those of you who do not know, on March 26th Indiana passed a piece of legislation called Senate Bill 101 (SB 101), better known as the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” This bill states that “a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion…” This may not sound so bad, but what this document opens the door for is pretty scary.  It implies that if a business owner does not want to provide his company’s services for a certain group of people because of his religious beliefs, that he does not have to. Believe it or not, a business in my tiny hometown of Walkerton, Indiana, which has a population of only 2,500 people, became the first organization to illustrate the dangers of this legislation. “Memories Pizza,” a small pizza place and one of very few restaurants in my little town, was the first business to openly state that they would deny their catering services to same-sex couples. Whether you agree with same-sex relationships or not, we all can agree that discrimination is bad, and that by allowing companies to deny service to any group of people they choose, we are opening the door for discrimination to occur. As I have been trying to stay up to date on this hot button issue that has been plaguing my hometown, I have been thinking a lot about prejudice and discrimination, and how these despicable parts of human behavior can impact your life.

Scott Drotar Memories Pizza
Memories Pizza, a restaurant in my hometown of Walkerton, Indiana, was the first business to show the dangers of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Having been born with a severe, physical disability and having to use a power wheelchair my entire life, I have had to face a fair amount of discrimination. Whether it is a group of teenagers deliberately making fun of my disability at the mall or a business inadvertently not being wheelchair accessible, being singled out and treated differently as a result of something I have absolutely no control over is never easy to deal with. Even though throughout my life I have developed a lot of coping skills to help me manage the negative emotions that arise when these prejudicial situations occur, these feelings of discrimination still have an impact on me. It is not the judgment and discrimination from others that I struggle with however, but rather the feelings of self-discrimination that they create. For example, there are times when I will not go out to do something, because I am worried that I may be viewed or treated differently due to my disability. This self-discrimination is far more dangerous than the judgment of others, because it prevents you from even attempting to experience numerous parts of life. In reality, you could have enjoyed many of these situations without any feelings of discrimination arising, but because of your own fear of these potentially painful emotions, you prevent this from ever happening. As I have matured and learned how to better work through these difficult emotions, I have realized that this self-discrimination is actually what makes acts of prejudice so dangerous, as this is what gives these heinous acts their power.

When I was in my first year of college at Notre Dame, I had to write a term paper on civil rights for my required freshman composition class. As a part of this project, I also had to conduct an interview with someone and include the information I gathered in my paper. To satisfy this criterion I decided to interview a quite well respected professor in the African-American studies department, who I had had for another course the previous semester. During this interview he told me a story from his own life that greatly changed the way that I think about discrimination. Back in the 1970s, when he was 18 years old and was about to graduate from high school, he and his best friend, both of whom were black, decided to enjoy their final Summer of youthful freedom and independence by making a Jack Kerouac-like journey across the country. They spent countless hours planning their way, gathering the supplies they would need, and making all of the other necessary preparations to make their way from the “Deep South” to the California coast, and as the school year was drawing to a close they were merely waiting for graduation so that they could embark on this epic, once in a lifetime journey. Unfortunately though, they never made it to California. In fact, they never even made it out of their hometown. Despite the fact that they had spent a lot of their hard earned money preparing for this trip, devoted an enormous amount of time planning their route, and had been looking forward to their “On The Road” adventure for months, they never even left. They were so concerned, being two African-American, young men, about being discriminated against on their trip that they cancelled the whole thing before even starting.

Even though this was the late-1970s, and a lot of progress had been made in terms of racial equality and civil rights, the powerful effects of discrimination were still a major issue. There were still some people and places where outright discrimination would occur (and sadly, I fear there always will be), and the acts of prejudice and ignorance from these few individuals could be quite upsetting, painful, and at times even dangerous. While these prejudiced people were only a small minority of the general public, and the chances of coming into contact with them was extremely low, the power that these individuals had over their victims was quite large. Despite the fact that these two well-spoken, young men probably would have had no problems with discrimination during their cross-country trip, the anxiety and fear of this happening prevented them from even attempting to live out a dream that they had worked so hard to turn into a reality. This self-imposed discrimination is far more powerful than any form of prejudice that someone else could inject into your life, because it takes complete control over your actions. Whether these feelings of self-discrimination are justified or not, they were powerful enough to stop two young men from seeing the country, as well as keep me from experiencing certain parts of life, and this is what makes them so dangerous. The danger lies in the fact that self-discrimination does not need to have anything “real” attached to it in order to control you. Even though most of the potentially prejudicial situations that you avoid would have been discrimination free, you still do not get to enjoy them because your own self-discrimination and fear prevents it. It is this type of discrimination that you have to learn to control, if you want to stop the prejudices of society from having a major impact on your life.

Scott Drotar Civil Rights
While the “Civil Rights Movement” ended decades ago, even today discrimination is still a major issue in our society.

Just as developing the psychological tools necessary to cope with the prejudices of others is a long and emotionally painful process, learning how to deal with your feelings of self-discrimination is also an extremely difficult task. The first step is being able to recognize these feelings when they arise for what they are. You have to be able to see that your fears are stemming from your own feelings of self-discrimination, and not from something out in the world. The next step is the hard part. You have to be able to realize that your fear and anxiety is coming from possible, yet not necessarily probable, outcomes, and then convince yourself that you have no real reason to believe that you will be discriminated against beyond your own nightmarish thoughts. While this is a very difficult thing to do, if you can make yourself truly believe that your worries about being discriminated against are merely the worst possible outcomes and there is no reason to think they will happen, your feelings of insecurity and anxiety will instantly lose all of their power. Since self-discrimination has nothing “real” attached to it, once you convince yourself that your fears are just highly unlikely possibilities rampaging around your head, this once awful sense of dread ceases to have any meaning. You will immediately be free of your self-discrimination, and you will be overcome by a revitalizing sense of freedom that is beyond words. Now, this is not an easy thing to accomplish, but nothing worth doing ever is, and by learning to deal with your feelings of self-discrimination you open yourself up to a whole, new world of opportunities and experiences to enjoy.

Thanks to the enormous amount of vocal opposition to this unfortunate piece of legislation from all over the country, it seems like this most recent act of outright discrimination in my home state will be eliminated soon. Even though it looks like my hometown and the state of Indiana will survive these sad, despicable acts of public prejudice that have been wreaking havoc recently, the effects of this discrimination will be felt by those mistreated for years to come. Having to face these actual acts of discrimination, only makes your feelings of self-discrimination stronger and more difficult to cope with. In order to effectively manage and get beyond these emotions, you have to recognize that these fears, although extremely terrifying, are only figments of your imagination. They are only as powerful as you allow them to be. Remember that only a very small percentage of the people and places you come into contact with are prejudiced, and the vast majority of the situations you experience are wonderful and discrimination free. Take the time to slow down your thinking, regain control of your brain from your emotions, and see your feelings of self-discrimination for the illusions they are. This will allow you to eliminate these nasty notions from your life, and without these self-imposed obstacles in your way, you will be able to fully enjoy the happy, fulfilling life that you deserve.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Validation (Part 2)

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In the first part of this article we discussed my parents visit, and how great it felt to get some recognition and approval on my life from my family. Watching my folks and uncle enjoy and comment on the wonderful meal that I had worked hard to prepare for them gave me a wonderful sense of validation that had an enormous impact on me. Even though I already knew that my parents were proud of me and was not looking for their praise, this powerful feeling of accomplishment was a pleasant surprise that nearly overwhelmed me with its warm, comforting glow of euphoria. I would have been more than happy if that was the end of this energizing, emotional experience, but life was being very generous to me, and it turns out that my feelings of bliss were only beginning to fill my life with happiness. Because while my parent’s visiting gave me validation in my personal life, after they left and I got back to work, I was given another great sense of achievement in my professional life.

Scott Drotar Business Logo
We all want to feel like we made good career choices and are good at what we do.

I am fortunate enough to have the greatest job in the world and get to pay my bills doing something that I love, but up until about a year ago, I had spent my entire, adult life learning to be a statistical analyst. Even though I would never stop speaking through Roll Models and have found my calling in life, I do sometimes feel like I am wasting my knowledge and experience with statistics by not putting my numerical skills to use somehow (especially when those student loan bills come in). This is why I still do a minimal amount of advertising myself as a freelance statistical consultant to try to share my array of mathematical knowledge with the world. With the economy being the way it is though, there are not a lot of companies out there looking to spend money on statistical consulting, so I have not gotten many opportunities to use my skills. At least until recently that is, as last week I received inquiries about statistical help from two different organizations. Even though neither of these requests resulted in a consulting contract, by meeting with these companies to discuss their projects I received something much more valuable than any partnership would have paid me.

As I was reading about these companies’ projects, going over their data, and speaking with them about their statistical needs, I felt a great sense of accomplishment wash over me. Even though I had not done hardly any statistical work in over a year, it felt really good knowing that I could still easily and effectively understand their questions and knew how to respond to them. It was so reassuring to know that all of the time and energy I had put into my eight years of college education was not a complete waste, and that I still had at least most of the knowledge that I had worked so hard to attain. Having these initial meetings with both of these companies gave me a sense of validation about my career choices, as I was able to utilize my academic training while still developing Roll Models and pursuing my mission to help others with my story. This gave me a feeling of validation that has given me a renewed sense of drive and focus in my work. One of those feelings that makes you feel confident and knowledgeable and gives you this intensity towards your work, while at the same time relaxing you, slowing your thought process, and helping you concentrate on the most minute details. You are in “the zone,” or a flow state, and this makes you both more efficient and productive, as well as filling you with a wonderful, “on top of the world” feeling.

In addition to getting this sense of approval with respect to my career choices, I got yet another powerful dose of validation in my professional life through Roll Models. Last week, I received an email about a possible speaking engagement from the National Parkinson Foundation. They are working with the Saint Luke’s Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute and Johnson County Community College to hold a symposium called “Caring for the Long-Term Caregiver” on April 25th. Someone on the board of directors for their organization had heard me speak last Spring, thought that I would be a good fit as a speaker for their event, and gave them my contact information. After exchanging a few emails and speaking with them about the symposium and Roll Models, I am happy to announce that we were able to work everything out, and I will be the closing speaker for their event. This will be a great opportunity for me to help others, a terrific chance for me to network and market Roll Models, and a huge honor to wrap up their symposium that I am really excited to experience. On top of all of these benefits to my career though, getting this speaking engagement also gave me another valuable gift that has improved my life.

Scott Drotar National Parkinson Foundation
I am going to be the closing speaker for a symposium sponsored by the National Parkinson Foundation.

Having no prior experience as a professional speaker or writer until I started Roll Models, I have a difficult time feeling confident about my articles and talks that I write. I went to school for mathematics and statistics, and throughout my eight year academic career I did my best to avoid any classes that involved a lot of writing, so I have not had any official training to prepare me for this line of work. Now, I have worked extremely hard, read dozens of books on writing and speaking, and spent countless hours studying many great speakers on my own to develop my craft, but while I have definitely come a long way, I still do not feel comfortable calling myself a writer or professional speaker. I sometimes feel like I am just fooling people into thinking I am this gifted writer, and it is only a matter of time until everyone realizes that my talks are boring and my posts are terrible. That is why getting this request to speak for the symposium was so special to me. Knowing that I had made a big enough impression on someone with my words that they still remembered me over a year later gave me a sense of reassurance about my abilities as a storyteller. And not only had they remembered me, but they also thought highly enough of my message and performance that they recommended my services to someone else. This incredible honor has helped me to realize that I do know what I am doing and have at least a moderate amount of skill as a writer, which has filled me with a sense of validation, a renewed confidence about my craft, and a lot of happiness.

Getting the opportunity to put my statistical knowledge to good use and being bestowed the honor of being the final speaker for the symposium, each gave me an immense feeling of validation about my professional life. These separate, unexpected events all improved my life by providing me with reassurance that my career choices were good ones, and that I belong in this field. No matter how long or how well you do something, you always want to feel like others think that you are good at what you do. We all want to get the sense that our clients and others in our field are impressed by our work, to reassure us that we were wise in choosing the career we have. While this does not in any way change your abilities or skill in your work objectively, it does improve your confidence, which in turn positively impacts your job, as well as your life in general. It is important to be open to and aware of these moments of validation that emerge out of the blue every now and then, in order to take advantage of their power. Be open to compliments and graciously receive them, no matter where they come from or what form they are in. The enormous amount of confidence and reassurance that they will bring you will penetrate and improve nearly every part of your world. With your renewed sense of validation and accomplishment, you will not only feel better about your life choices and do better work, but you will also experience a new level of happiness that will greatly improve your life.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Roadtrippin’ Through My Mind

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Throughout my entire life, since flying is extremely difficult for people who require the use of a power wheelchair, if I wanted to take a trip or go vacation somewhere, I had to drive. Thankfully, my family has always been able to afford a wheelchair accessible vehicle that allowed us to travel like any other family of five despite my mobility limitations. To take full advantage of this mobility and freedom, during my childhood my siblings, parents, and I went on numerous family road trips all over the United States, and I have continued this custom now that I am an adult living on my own. Having a conversion van that gave me the ability to travel about the country, not only created the opportunity for me to see some amazing things, but it also helped me make some priceless memories with my family on the open road. In appreciation of this privilege I have had to see the world as a physically disabled person, I have decided to share with you five of my most memorable road trip moments, the number of miles driven on these excursions, and what these miles have meant to me.

Dallas — This was my first road trip without my parents. When I was 23 and in my first year of graduate school at the University of Kansas, my brother, sister, and I decided to take a “siblings vacation.” After deliberating for several weeks over where we should go, we decided on Dallas. My brother, who lived with me at the time, and I drove down while my sister flew in from New York, and we stayed right in the middle of downtown “Big D.” We ate great Tex-Mex and Texas style barbecue, went to the aquarium (manatees!), and visited the JFK Museum. It was a wonderful, fun experience with my siblings, but the most vivid memory from this excursion is making the drive home in a blizzard with my brother, and laughing nervously with him as we just hoped to get home. (Roundtrip: 1,038 Miles)

Scott Drotar Niagara Falls
That is a lot of water.

Niagara Falls — This was the first stop on our family vacation when I was 12 (Toronto was the second stop), and it was the first time that I was in awe of something in nature. The only way to truly appreciate the incredible beauty and raw power of “Mother Nature” is to see something like Niagara Falls in person. That is a ton of water coming over that cliff. What made this trip so special for me was that it was extremely wheelchair friendly, especially for a national park. I could get everywhere and see everything without any trouble, and even the famous “Maiden of the Mist” boat tour was totally handicap accessible (although I did need my rain gear). (Roundtrip: 1,032 Miles)

Galveston — This was my first solo vacation, which I made when I was 25. One of the things on my “Bucket List” was to take a trip on my own with just my nurse. After several months of research and planning, I came to realize that a cruise was the best way for me to go about this. It was a controlled environment with its own medical team (just in case), did not require any travel once you got on the boat (simplifying the logistics), and would give me the vacation experience I was looking for. So, I saved some money, talked one of my nurses into a free vacation (not exactly difficult), and we road tripped down to the port of Galveston to go on a week long Caribbean cruise. It was an amazing seven days, and I got to see and do some incredible things, but the most memorable moment was on the drive home when the fuel pump in my van went out in the middle of nowhere. We ended up being stuck in a small hotel room in Texas for two days, but my wheelchair accessible wagon held up after being fixed, and got us safely back to Kansas with a great story to tell. (Roundtrip: 1,614 Miles)

Disneyworld — This is the earliest family vacation that I can really remember. I was about 6 years old, and my family drove the entire 19 hours from Northern Indiana to Florida. I can still remember getting to meet Mickey Mouse for the first time and getting his autograph. As great as the theme park was though, my favorite memory from this trip is waking up as my dad was driving in the middle of the night and staying up with him while the rest of my family slept. That alone time with my dad on the open road was a big deal as a young boy, and remembering that time always makes me smile. (Roundtrip: 2,228 Miles)

Cincinnati — The Summer before I turned 14, my brother and sister both got to attend week long, sleep away camps, which is something that I could not do due to my disability. My parents decided that since my siblings each got a little vacation somewhere, that I should too, so they took me on a trip with just the two of them to Cincinnati for a few days. We window shopped, saw Ken Griffey Jr. play at Cinergy Field, and I got my parents all to myself. As much as I love my brother and sister and the trips we have taken as a family, this road trip will always be special since it was just my parents and me. (Roundtrip: 478 Miles)

Scott Drotar Ocean
Here I am experiencing the beauty of the ocean for the first time.

Every one of these road trips is special in its own way, and they all impacted my life and who I am today. We do not often think about how much our ability to travel impacts our life, but your experiences with the world around you plays a large part in shaping who you are. If not for the freedom to get out into the world (like my conversion van gave me), chances are you would be a very different person. Think about all of the cherished memories you have from your own family vacations and road trips. The moments fighting with siblings in the cramped back seat, and the first time you saw the ocean, breathed in that crisp, sea air, and just gazed out at that endless blue water. These memories are not only sentimental and emotionally special, but they also helped you grow and develop into the incredible person you are. All of the miles you travelled and places you saw had an influence on your life. They helped you bond with your family, learn about the world around you, and taught you many valuable life lessons that you have carried with you ever since. Be sure to acknowledge the effects these moments with your loved ones on the open road made, and also try to continue these fun-filled adventures with your own family. Most of all, remember that your mobility and ability to travel freely is a great privilege, and that there are people who do not have the opportunity to explore the amazing world we live in. Do not take this freedom for granted, and appreciate all of the incredible gifts these trips have given you.

Total Miles Driven: 6,390

Flat Tires Fixed: 3

Gallons of Gas Used: 391

Impact on My Life: Priceless

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