Several months ago in an effort to satisfy my obsessive-compulsive-like desire to quantify and track everything I do, I marked Sunday the 13th on my Google calendar with the description “six month anniversary for Roll Models and www.scottdrotar.com.” I am so proud and excited to be able to share this benchmark of the success of Roll Models with you, but I must admit that when I typed those words into my calendar, I was not exactly confident that I would get to celebrate them. It is not that I did not believe in my message, my ability as a speaker and blogger (although at that time I probably shouldn’t have), or my work ethic and drive, but I was aware of the statistics on the dismal success rates of new bloggers and professional speakers (especially those with no formal training). Fortunately though, I was able to beat the odds through a combination of hard work, an incredible support system of fans, family, and friends, and a little luck, and now I work full-time as a professional speaker and blogger, spreading my message and helping improve people’s lives as best I can.
When I saw that I had hit this milestone, I started thinking about and reflecting on how far Roll Models and I have come. It’s almost like I was an entirely different person six months ago. This feeling is in large part due to how much I have learned since starting this incredible adventure half a year ago. I have learned so much about who I am, what is important in life, relationships, happiness, and a thousand other things that I probably never would have even thought about if not for the success of Roll Models. To commemorate this momentous occasion, I thought I would share with you some of these things that I have learned during my first six months as a storyteller and writer (it still feels weird to call myself that, but I guess the shoe fits).
- Speaking is exhausting.
If you are anything like I was six months ago, when you watch a professional speaker give an hour long talk, you think to yourself, “It must be nice to get paid to just get up and talk for a while. I could do that.” In my case, it probably seems even easier since I talk mostly about myself, which requires little to no research, and I don’t even stand or move, but just sit in my wheelchair and speak. What could be easier, right? And like I said, when I first started Roll Models I felt the same way. I thought that getting on stage to talk about my favorite subject, myself, was going to be a piece of cake. I could not have been more wrong. After my first talk, I was completely wiped out mentally. I was completely unprepared for the amount of effort it would take to connect with my audience, give a good performance, and deliver my message. I could barely think straight my brain was so fried after that talk, and as my dad would say, I was basically a talking monkey for about 48 hours. I spent the majority of the next two days just letting my mind recuperate and recover from those 60 minutes of extreme concentration.
Since that first adventure on stage though, I have learned to better prepare myself for my talks, and I have gained a whole, new appreciation for how difficult speaking professionally truly is. Giving a talk is definitely one of the most exhausting things I have ever undertaken. While it may not be tiring in a physical sense, it makes up for this by requiring an enormous amount of mental energy and focus. I often describe the level of effort required as taking all of the mental strain of a full, 8 hour day of lecturing and teaching, and cramming it into one hour. It is like taking the amount of brain power you expend trying to be “on” socially at a party, and multiplying it by a thousand. It takes every bit of mental energy you have and then some. This realization as to how hard this new career was going to be showed me two things. First, it made me respect my craft more appropriately and gave me the kick in the ass I needed to study the art of speaking and develop my skills (which has allowed me to become a much more effective and influential storyteller). Second and more importantly though, it helped me remember the dangers of making judgments about things (or people) before you have really experienced them for yourself.
Like I said, prior to my first Roll Models talk I thought that preparing and delivering a 60 minute talk about myself would be an easy gig. I had participated in speech competitions in high school and had given several academic presentations in graduate school, so I figured this would require about the same level of time and effort. After I began the process of outlining and drafting my first talk however, I found that this was an entirely different ball game. I eventually found out that every minute of time you are on stage requires between one and two hours of time offstage. This means that an hour long talk represents anywhere from 60 to 120 hours of preparation time (that is three weeks of full-time work for one talk). This includes everything from coming up with the message of the talk, selecting the stories to use, writing the material, practicing the delivery, and numerous other things that go into creating the performance you see in the 60 minutes that I am on stage. Realizing the amount of time and energy I would need to devote in order to give inspiring and entertaining talks helped me to increase my efforts to develop Roll Models, but it also carried a more powerful lesson about life in general.
Being prepared at all times and planning ahead is something that I have had to do my entire life in order to function in public with my disability. I have been doing it for so long that it is something that comes as naturally to me as eating and drinking, and as a result I often take for granted that this is not a skill that everyone has mastered out of necessity. Going through the process of preparing my first few Roll Models talks gave me the perspective to really think about the importance of preparation in our lives. Just like putting in 100 hours of time getting ready for a talk will allow me to avoid making mistakes on stage, you can avoid making mistakes and ending up in difficult situations in life by taking the time to prepare for possible problems that may arise. You can often eliminate what could be large amounts of hardship and discomfort by putting in a relatively small amount of time preparing beforehand. Whether it is in life or getting on stage, you will find that being prepared will bring more success and happiness to your world.
- Career vs Calling.
Prior to starting Roll Models I had spent the last four years working as a statistical consultant and data analyst. It seemed like a smart career path for me since I have always been a numbers guy and enjoyed the work for the most part, it paid the bills, and I was pretty good at it. It also allowed me to work from home some of the time, which made it less physically taxing than most other jobs. Of course there were some aspects of working in consulting that I was not fond of, like the fact that you are often paid a flat rate per project regardless of the number of hours you work and clients constantly change their minds about what they want, but I thought that little drawbacks like this were part of every job. I thought that you were doing pretty well if you had a career that you found somewhat enjoyable, paid decent money, and didn’t make you want to burn the building down every Friday. I was completely prepared and ready to settle for my 9-to-5, cubicle job, but thankfully the economy tanked, no one was hiring, and I was shown that you don’t have to settle for a good, safe career. You can, and in my opinion you should, hold out for something great. You should wait for that one great job that you were always meant to do. You should find your true calling in life.
Finding your calling in life is not easy, it isn’t fast, and in my experience it is not even something that you can bring about with more effort or energy. It is one of those things that you just have to be patient and watchful for, and bide your time until you find it, or maybe more correctly, until it finds you. Sometimes, like in my case, you may not have ever thought that this was the career for you, but you will get this feeling in your belly that tells you that this is your path. It is one of those things that you have no idea what it is beforehand, but when it enters your life you know without a doubt that you have found your place in the world. You will instantly feel happier and more at peace with your life. You will want to spend more and more of your time working on your new career, and you won’t care if you put in 60 hours a week, because it won’t feel like work. You will take great pride in your craft and want to hone your skills and build your experience to be as good as you can possibly be. This may all sound a little over the top and super touchy-feely, and I would think the same thing if not for finding my calling in Roll Models. I guarantee though, when you finally find your own calling in life, you will understand exactly what I mean. So keep your eyes open for any signs that life is throwing your way to get you on your path, and when it comes, have the courage to take a leap of faith and go for it (even if it means abandoning your academic training and entering a career that you have no experience in), and you will be amazed at what can happen.
- Different but the same.
As we grow up we are all taught how everyone is unique and special, and that we are all like snowflakes, no two of us exactly the same, blah, blah,… While I do agree with this to a degree, I think that by presenting this idea in this way that we oversimplify the way our society actually operates. I hadn’t thought about this much at all until I started speaking and had to learn to understand and connect with my various audiences. Of course I knew that everyone I spoke to would have a different upbringing, a different genetic makeup, and a different set of life experiences that would make them unique and influence how they would interpret my message. However, even though everyone would have varying details about their lives, they would also all share certain common traits and experiences that I could use to connect with the audience as a whole. Realizing that it is important to celebrate our differences and individuality as people, while also keeping in mind that it is equally crucial to remember that we are all human beings sharing this one world, has had a profound impact on my speaking as well as my life.
When you are not a member of the majority groups (i.e. able-bodied, white, Christian, etc.), it can make it difficult to feel like you are part of a connected society. As a result, people that are in these minority groups tend to focus on their differences to distance themselves from this world they feel apart from. I know this, because I was one of these people six months ago, and I would always focus on my disability first, because in my mind that is how society saw me. They didn’t see a person, who happened to have spinal muscular atrophy. They saw a disabled person (at least, that was my perception). Through writing and speaking about my life through Roll Models and getting the opportunity to connect with so many other incredible, disabled individuals though, I started to really question and think about how I see myself and my place in the world. I finally realized that I am just as much a human as any able-bodied person, and that even though I was disabled and had had a different life than most people, that I had a lot more in common with mainstream society than I had differences. I am still a man, still feel pain, still long to be loved unconditionally, and still have a place in this world. This new perspective has greatly increased my confidence and changed how I see myself as a functioning member of society. At the same time though, by helping me connect with my world it has allowed me to embrace and celebrate my uniqueness, my disability. This has helped me accept myself, but more importantly it has helped me to find my voice as a disabled person and become an advocate for other differently-abled individuals. Don’t forget that even though every snowflake may be different, they are all still snow.
This is a lot of information to digest at one time, so as to not over saturate your minds, I am going to stop here for today. I will bring you the rest of the lessons I have learned during these incredible first six months with Roll Models in part 2 on Friday.