Tag Archives: Communication

Validation (Part 1)

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It feels like forever since my last blog post, and I am really excited to be getting back to my normal routine and sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. I have had a fun-filled few days, and a lot has been going on in my life. The same can be said for Roll Models and www.scottdrotar.com, as there has been quite a bit of action on that front as well. With so much happening during my little hiatus from blogging, I thought that I would use the next couple of posts to fill you in on what has transpired since my last article. You need to get up to speed on my parents’ visit, seeing my uncle, and my exciting Roll Models news, so that you can continue to accompany me on my journey through life. I hope that you will enjoy reading about my recent adventures as much as I enjoyed having them, although I am not sure that is possible. At the very least you will be entertained by my most recent escapades, and you may even get some life lessons along the way.

Scott Drotar Validation
I had a great time visiting with my parents last week.

The main reason I took so much time off was so that I could enjoy my time with my parents, who came to visit me last week. Since it was my dad’s Spring Break, they were able to spend more time catching up with me and not have to hurry back so he could get to work, which helped create a more relaxed atmosphere the entire time they were here. This made for a great visit, and we had a wonderful time discussing everything going on in each other’s lives. Making this time even more momentous was the fact that my uncle, who happened to be in town on business, was also able to come spend time with us. Since I had not seen him in over four years, it was really fulfilling to get to show him the successful, happy life that I have created out here on my own. Living over 500 miles from any of my relatives, I typically only get to share my world with them through pictures and emails, so it is quite special for me when I get to show them my success first hand. In addition to sharing my world with him, I also got to hear about how he has been doing, his work, and my cousins. The four of us had a terrific time talking about our lives, and I am so happy we were able to all be here together.

Scott Drotar Uncle Fred
It was really special to get to visit with my uncle after not seeing him for so long.

The climax of our visit was, hands down, the multiple course meal that I prepared for them. As you are well aware, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen now, and I frequently chronicle my culinary adventures on Facebook. My mom, who has been reading about all of my delicious dishes and seeing pictures of my mouthwatering creations since Christmas, told me that I had better prepare a feast for them when they visit, now that I am such a good cook. Since I am a dutiful son that would never disobey my dear mother (even I could not help but laugh at that one), I did as I was told and planned a three course, gourmet meal. Anyone who has ever thrown a dinner party knows that planning a three course meal is much more difficult than merely preparing an appetizer, entree, and dessert. You have to come up with three dishes that are not only flavorful and delicious on their own, but also work well as a group. For example, you would never serve a hearty, spicy Indian chutney with big flavors as an appetizer for baked white fish in a light white wine sauce, because your palette would not be able to enjoy the subtle, complex flavors of the fish after such a bold start. You want your courses to work together to tell a story to create a more enjoyable dining experience. While I did not fully understand how difficult this can be until recently, I now have a whole new appreciation for people who prepare entire menus for people on a weekly basis.

Despite my inexperience and lack of appreciation for how hard it would be, I did manage to put together a delicious, three course meal for my family. It took me several weeks of strategizing and preparation, but eventually I was able to find three complimentary dishes that I thought my parents and uncle would like. After browsing through hundreds of recipes, testing dozens of different of flavor combinations, and changing my mind constantly about what would be best, this is the menu I settled on. We began our gastronomic journey with an appetizer of seared sausage medallions topped with a Venezuelan salsa criolla over a bed of rice. For the entree, I served a pear and goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with a soy-citrus marinade and a side of garlic-lemon new potatoes. This delightful dining experience ended with spiced wine poached pears topped with caramel sauce for dessert. Everything turned out better than I had hoped, and it must have been good because it was nearly all gone by the time the meal was over. It felt really good watching them enjoy the meal I had worked so hard to create, and I am so happy that I was able to share my new passion for cooking with the people I care about most.

Scott Drotar Pork Tenderloin
My entree of pear and goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with a homemade marinade.

Both getting the opportunity to share my independent, successful life with my uncle and watching my family get so much enjoyment from the meal I prepared gave me a feeling of validation. Even though I know my family and relatives are extremely proud of me, it still feels good to get to show them first-hand everything I have been able to accomplish. Although your own happiness is all that truly matters, it still feels good when you can show your loved ones all of your success. Getting some positive feedback and appreciation of your achievements in life reminds you of why you put in so much time and energy to build the world around you, and it is part of what drives you to continue to work hard to reach your goals. Knowing that your family and friends recognize how much effort you put in to achieve everything in your life, and hearing that they are proud of you, can be an extremely powerful feeling that will fuel you on your journey for future success. This is exactly the feeling I got during this visit, and I am definitely fully recharged and ready to get back to work enjoying my happy, fun-filled life and giving my all chasing my dreams.

This feeling of validation was not something I was looking for, or even thought I needed, but that did not in any way reduce how much of an impact it had on me. Visiting with my uncle and watching my folks slowly savor each bite of the meal I prepared filled me with a feeling of accomplishment that has given me a renewed focus and drive to achieve my goals. I never would have guessed that their approval and appreciation of my efforts would have such a great influence on me, but you do not always know what you need in life. No matter how much success you have or what you accomplish, we all want to feel like our loved ones are proud of us. By sharing your achievements and passion for things with your family and friends, you will often get to enjoy this feeling of validation, whether you are looking for it or not. Take the time to share your life with those who are most important to you, and help them experience some of the things you are passionate about. This will fuel you as you continue to work to accomplish your goals, and it will also help you forge even stronger relationships with your loved ones.

My feelings of validation were just starting to build after these two events though, as after my family returned home I got another dose of this powerful sensation. This second round of recognition and approval came not from my personal life, but from my professional world. Thanks to some unexpected consulting requests and Roll Models, my feelings of validation were able to grow even further. You will get to hear all about these events and how they effected me in the next part of this article.

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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“We Have The Technology.”

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Scott Drotar Microchip
I have always had a fascination and curiosity for technology and anything with a microchip.

My entire life I have been a huge uber-geek when it comes to computers and technology. Ever since I was 4 years old and got my very first Apple II computer, courtesy of the Make A Wish Foundation, I have been hooked. Not only have I always been interested in figuring out how various gadgets work and learning to program in as many languages as I can, but I also realized at a fairly young age that modern technology had something special to offer me due to my disability. It became obvious to me early on in my time tinkering with computers, and later on the internet, that in the virtual world of microprocessors and internet protocols my physical limitations were no longer a disadvantage that I had to overcome. For the first time in my life I was on a level playing field with the people around me, able-bodied and disabled people alike. I realized that learning as much as I could about programming, operating systems, and computers in general that I would be able to create an environment where I could operate on the same level as everyone else. Not only does technology level the playing field for me, but it also provides me with the tools to prevent my disability from limiting my world as my body gets weaker with time, which is something that I was reminded of during last year’s Holiday Season.

I have discussed in some of my earlier articles about how travelling long distances is difficult at best when you have a severe, physical disability, even if you are fortunate enough to have your own wheelchair accessible vehicle. One of the effects of not being able to make long trips is that I cannot go to visit my friends and family who live in other parts of the country. Whether it be visiting my old college roommate, attending my 10 year high school reunion, or going to one of my best friend’s wedding, unless it is less than a few hours drive from my apartment, I am probably not going to be able to make it. This could definitely make it difficult for me to maintain relationships and have a fulfilling social life, but thanks to the recent technology boom and my fascination with anything containing a microchip however, this is fortunately not the case. By taking advantage of some of the new features available on our phones, tablets, and the countless other “big kid toys” in our lives, I have been able to find alternative ways to keep my social and professional worlds from being restricted to the greater Kansas City area and maintain a very fulfilling social life.

While I have been aware of my use of technology in expanding my world for a long time now, during the Holidays last year this is something that was really brought to my attention. The Holidays are a time to be with friends and family, and since my loved ones are scattered all across the country, not being able to travel very far makes it difficult for me to share this festive time with some of the the most important people in my life, at least in person. Thanks to several different technological features that are now almost commonplace on most technological devices, I was able to share my Christmas celebration with all of the people who make my life so great. Touchscreen displays for example, which are pretty much a standard feature now, have helped those of us with weak muscles more use of technology, as they require far less pressure and range of motion than previous control options. Live video streaming, available free through programs like Skype and Google Hangout, allow disabled individuals who cannot travel the ability to still be present at any event nearly anywhere in the world, at least in a virtual sense. I was able to still share the Holidays with several of my old dorm brothers thanks to video chatting, despite the fact that they live hundreds of miles away. Even the recent advancement that allows anyone to purchase nearly anything without ever leaving their home has been a major improvement for people with disabilities. I was able to have wonderful gifts for my family, wrapped beautifully and waiting under my Christmas tree, without having to put my body through the physical toll of going out in the cold, subjecting myself to millions of new germs, and risking spending my Christmas in a hospital bed, thanks to the amazing service of websites like Amazon and Overstock.com.

Scott Drotar Social Media
The social media boom has helped open up the world for many physically disabled individuals.

I am so thankful that the various technology companies have inadvertently improved the lives of thousands of disabled people over the last several years. As they have worked to develop more and more new features before their competitors, they have also been giving new levels of freedom and independence to people with physical limitations. Although these companies will probably never realize it, and it will definitely not show up in their stock values or quarterly reports, organizations like Apple, Samsung, and Google have allowed people with severe, physical disabilities achieve goals and experience things that would have never been possible without the developments in technology that they have produced. These advances, which are so often thought of in terms of dollars and cents, to people like me are so much more than that. Being able to chat with one of my best friends about his new job and getting to be a part of my loved one’s Christmas festivities without ever leaving my home are things that are so special that I could never put a dollar value on them. These features have given me a happy, fulfilling life that I am so proud of, and that is something that is priceless.

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Setting Boundaries

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Scott Drotar Purple People-Eater
I am a huge “people-pleaser,” not to be confused with a “flying purple people-eater.”

I have something I have to tell all of you, but it is not going to be easy. I have not addressed it explicitly thus far in my Roll Models articles or talks, but I have decided that I need to be open with you. If I am going to share my world with you, then I need to share the good, as well as the bad, in order to give you an accurate depiction of my life. I hope this will not change your opinion of me, but I will totally understand if you see me differently after this post. I better just do it before I lose my nerve, so here it goes. My name is Scott, and I am a “people-pleaser.” That is right. I, Scott Drotar, your wise, witty, wheelchair-using wordsmith, is a “people-pleaser.” Not only that, but I am probably one of the worst “people-pleasers” in the world. I have a compulsive desire to please others and make people happy. I have a problem saying “no,” volunteer for things even when I have a full schedule, and often burn the candle at both ends. I fear missing a deadline and “dropping the ball” on a project more than death. My drive to help others live better lives even caused me to create (at least partially) my own speaking program and website to motivate and inspire as many individuals as possible, and if that does not scream, “people-pleaser,” I don’t know what does. However, I know that admitting I have a problem is the first step to coping with my issues, so I am here telling you today that I am a “people-pleaser.”

Ok. I know that this is a bit over-dramatic, and I do not mean to make fun of addiction issues or recovery groups, but I am a bona fide “people-pleaser.” When I get the sense that someone is not happy with something I have done, I get this physically ill and uncomfortable feeling throughout my body. I do not know why I get such a strong physiological response, but when I say “no” to someone, do not meet someone’s expectations, or otherwise let someone down, I get these horrible, sick feelings. I get this nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach, my breathing gets shallower, and my body gets

Scott Drotar Setting Boundaries
Growing up, my siblings and I were always being told to think of others before ourselves.

flushed and sweats like a sinner’s on judgment day. While I do not know why it happens, I do have a good idea of how it started. Growing up, one of the things that my parents were constantly preaching to my siblings and I was the importance of thinking beyond ourselves. They were always telling us to put the needs of others before our own and to focus first on the happiness of the people around us. These altruistic ideals are something we all need to learn, and they have been quite valuable throughout my life, but it is important to remember to keep things in perspective. Just like everything else in life, you need to find the right balance. If you are only ever worrying about the well-being and happiness of others and completely ignoring your own needs, you will end up being just as bad off as people who only think of themselves. Sure, people may like you a lot more than these greedy, self-serving individuals, but you will not be any better off since you are not addressing your own needs. By constantly giving to others all the time, you will end up burnt out and miserable from ignoring your own wants and desires. This is not only bad because you deserve to be happy, but also since in giving too much of yourself and burning out in the short-term, you will no longer have the drive to help improve the lives of others over the long-term. In order to help others as much as possible, maintain your own happiness, and avoid fizzling out and imploding on yourself like a dieing star, you have to learn to set boundaries.

When I was in my first semester of graduate school, since I was new to the quantitative psychology program, had almost no knowledge of theoretical psychology, and had a much different background than my colleagues, I felt like I had something to prove. I felt like I needed to show everyone that I belonged and could be an asset to the department. In an effort to prove my worth, I would volunteer and sign up for anything that I was even remotely qualified to do. When my boss would start looking for people to handle certain jobs at our weekly staff meetings or email the entire department looking for someone to take on a new client, I would be the first to speak up or hit reply. As you can imagine, after a couple months of signing up for anything and everything I could, my plate was very full. It got to the point by mid-semester where I had zero free time or personal life, and if I was not in one of my own classes, I was working on something for a client. I was well on my way to burning out, and if I had continued much longer this way I am certain I would have (probably ending my academic career), but thanks to some wisdom from a professor, I was able to avoid this unpleasant fate and learn an important life lesson.

I was sitting in a lecture hall the week before Fall Break waiting on one of my classes to start, and as I was quietly sipping my Starbucks latte, the professor walked over and asked how my first semester of graduate school was going. I told him that I was enjoying myself and thought I was doing well in my courses, but I was still struggling with finding enough time to complete all of the projects I was working on. He smiled and said that time management was a big part of grad school, and then asked me what projects I was currently helping with. I started going through my mile-long list of current projects, and after about the sixth one, my professor stopped me. He said that I had more projects going than he did even as a tenured professor, and that I was definitely doing way too much for a first year graduate student. He then went on to ask me who had assigned me to all of this work. I shook my head quickly and told him that no one had assigned these projects to me, but that I had volunteered. I added that I thought as the new person in the department and being “low man on the totem pole,” that I was supposed to volunteer a lot and show people what I could do. At this point, a gentle smirk came across my professor’s lips as he said that I had things “completely back-asswards.” He then gave me two great pieces of advice. The first was that the people that mattered already knew what I could do, or I would not be there in the first place (a universal idea that we all forget occasionally). The second, and more valuable, nugget of wisdom was the importance of setting boundaries.

My professor explained to me that in academia, one of your most valuable commodities is your time. There is only so much time in the day, and you will always end up having more work to do than time allows. Unless you can learn to set some boundaries, you will end up going crazy as you painstakingly try to do everything for everyone. If you do not protect your time today by learning to say “no,” you will not have the drive or mental faculties to say “yes” later on when you do have time. It is all a matter of having the ability to help as many people as possible in the long run. It is much better, both for you and others, to help on a few less projects every year, but be around for four years, than to help on every project this year, but burn out and leave after this Spring semester. Having it explained to me this way, as a cost and benefit type problem, really put everything in perspective for me. I realized that you have to balance your “yes’s and no’s” by setting boundaries, in order to get the best result and participate on the most projects.

Scott Drotar Totem Pole
As the “low man on the totem pole” in my first semester of graduate school, I rarely said “no” to a project.

As important as my professor’s sage-like advice was for surviving my grad school career, it was only after I thought about his words for a few days that I realized their real value. It turns out that this same concept about protecting your time and setting boundaries is applicable to nearly every part of life. Just like I needed to say “no” to some projects early on in my grad school career in order to maintain my sanity, graduate, and achieve my long-term goals, you also need to create and sustain limits in all of the other areas of your life if you want to be happy and successful. By developing boundaries you will be able to better prioritize your life and maintain a healthy balance even when you are being pulled in a thousand different directions. Whether it is turning down a “happy hour” invitation from a colleague to have family dinner, or saying “no” to your boss’s request that you stay late to watch your child’s dance recital, your boundaries will ensure that you do not get beaten down by life or lose sight of what is most important to you. Developing these limits, learning to say “no,” and remembering that long-term success is most important, will make you feel much happier and fulfilled with your life, and since you will be better equipped to help others in the long run, it will improve the lives of others as well.

I am a “people-pleaser,” and that will never change. The feelings I have to make everyone around me happy and not disappoint others will never completely go away. Like any other compulsion or addiction though, you can learn to manage these feelings and live a happy, successful life. Developing good boundaries, and sticking to them, will go a long way towards controlling your “people-pleaser” urges. If you too suffer from this horrible affliction, take the time to really think about the wisdom my professor shared with me. What areas of your life are making you feel burned out? What parts of your life are you ignoring because of other obligations? Make a list of what aspects of your life are the most important to you, and then create boundaries that ensure you devote your time to the right things. If you develop good boundaries, and stick to them even when it is hard, you will no longer be a slave to your urges as a “people-pleaser.” You will enjoy a long, happy life with your loved ones, and better yet, in the long run you will be able to give more of yourself to others.

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Risk And Reward

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You have read in earlier posts about how complicated the nurse and client relationship can be in home care. I even have an entire Roll Models talk about these complex connections, and the key to understanding them to build strong relationships in the home care setting. Even though I have had nurses with me nearly non-stop for over a decade, and speak as an expert on these relationships, that does not mean that I have everything figured out or do not struggle at times with managing my relationships with my caregivers though. One of the most difficult parts of maintaining these bonds is being able to tell where the professional relationship ends and the personal relationship begins with each nurse. Due to the fact that my nurses are paid to care for me and be a part of my life, it is never easy to gauge how much of the relationship is professional and how much is personal, especially since it is different with each and every caregiver. The idea that plagues me to this day is determining whether my nurses would still want to maintain our friendship, even if they were no longer my nurse. Whenever I get close to one of my nurses I always wonder about this idea, and it is usually only when our professional relationship ends, and it is too late to do anything to protect myself emotionally, that I get an answer. The other day however, due to a rather random set of circumstances, I was able to get the answer to this question with one of my current caregivers. Getting this information while our relationship is still strong and healthy not only gave me a reassuring and comforting feeling, but it also gave me some powerful insights into the nature of relationships in general.

Scott Drotar Risk And Reward
My relationships with my nurses are very complex due to being a combination of our working and personal connections.

One night last week, there was a bad snow and ice storm that tore through our area beginning around sundown and continued until the wee hours of the next morning. The nurse who was with me that evening was one of my most veteran caregivers, and he and I had gotten pretty close in our more than two years of working together. He had worked a double that day with me (a 16 hour shift), and he was supposed to leave at midnight to make his usual 45 minute drive home, right in the middle of this winter storm. Not only that, but he was also scheduled to return at 8:00am the following day to work another 12 hours with me, which meant making another treacherous drive in the dark on icy roads. At around 10:00pm, we were jokingly discussing how he would not be able to make it in to work the following morning due to the weather and how he would love getting to sleep in, when his wife sent him a text about how bad the roads were getting. After texting back and forth with her for a few minutes, he looked at me and asked if he could stay in my second bedroom on my air mattress, so that he would not have to drive home just to turn around and drive right back a few hours later. Of course I said yes, as I tell all of my nurses every Winter that they are always welcome to crash at my place anytime the weather is nasty, but typically I have to talk them into not risking their lives on the roads. This was the first time that I had had one of my nurses actually ask to take advantage of my offer, and it had a surprisingly large effect on me emotionally. The true value of these feelings however, were the insights they brought with them that gave me a much better understanding of the nature of all close relationships.

I had known for a long time how I felt about my relationship with this nurse, but once you have gotten your feelings hurt a few times by nurses ceasing all contact with you when they are no longer your caregiver, you learn not to assume too much. I knew that just because I saw our connection as more of a personal friendship than a professional, nursing relationship, that did not necessarily mean that he felt the same way. Through his request to sleep in my spare room, which is something only a close friend would do, he showed me how he saw our bond. I now knew that I was not merely Mr. Drotar, his home care patient through CareStaf, but something much more. I was Scott, his friend. This information made me feel so good, as it reassured and validated the nature of our relationship, while also strengthening our connection. Additionally, having this knowledge made me feel secure enough in our friendship that I now have the courage to strengthen our bond and grow even closer. It was as I was thinking about this idea and how we will now be able to improve our bond, that I had a sudden stroke of insight into the nature of friendships.

Scott Drotar Icy Roads
Who would have thought that some icy roads would teach me such an important lesson about relationships?

After a couple days had passed, and all of these comforting notions and warm feelings had been given plenty of time to bounce around my brain, I had a slightly unsettling thought. I realized that even though I now had a solid idea as to how he viewed our relationship, I had no way of knowing if he wanted to develop our friendship further. Just because I wanted to strengthen the bond between us, that did not mean he wanted to as well. Maybe he was happy with our friendship and did not want to improve our connection further. As these somewhat troubling ideas raced through my mind, I realized that I was in the same situation as I had been before all of this happened. Sure he and I were closer than before, and I had a better understanding of how he saw our relationship, but I was still in a situation where I did not know whether I should put more time and energy into our friendship or not. It was at this point that I realized something about relationships. I learned that you will never really know how the other person feels in an objective sense, the way you know that grass is green, and you are not supposed to. You just “know” down in your gut how they feel about you, and you have to trust that you are right. Even though it is this level of trust and faith in the other person that makes relationships so difficult at times, it is also what makes them so exciting and rewarding. Sure, by putting so much of yourself into a relationship you run the risk of getting hurt emotionally, but having the strength and courage to throw yourself into the unknown is the only way to get all of the rewards that come from strong, healthy relationships. In order to get the incredible benefits and gifts that only a close friendship can bring, you have to be brave enough to open up to being hurt. No risk, no reward.

I never would have thought that a Winter storm and a worried wife would have given me such an incredible insight into one of my close friendships. I certainly would never have expected to learn such an important lesson about the nature of relationships in general, but wisdom comes in many forms and often when you least expect it. I am obviously thankful that I now feel closer to my nurse, and I am even more grateful that I now have a better understanding of all of my friendships. It is important to remember that you are not supposed to definitively know how the other person feels before investing in a relationship, as it is this unknown component of these connections with others that makes them so great. Whether it is your bond with your spouse, your child, or even a friend, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and risk getting hurt, if you want to enjoy all of the amazing and wonderful gifts that close relationships offer. The next time you find yourself being too timid or scared to take the next step in strengthening your relationship with someone, remember that without risk, there can be no reward. Take a chance and step into the unknown, and you will be amazed at how often your fears were unfounded. Not only that, but you will also be amazed at how much happier your life has become.

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Just Listen

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Here in the Kansas City area, we have had one of the strangest Winters that I have ever experienced. About every four or five days for the last couple months, the temperature has shifted by at least 30 °F. It will go from being barely 20 °F with blustering winds and snow, to 65 °F and sunny, back to 10 °F with sleet and ice, all in a single week. Even for a born and raised Midwestern boy like myself, who is used to the frequent meteorological fluctuations of the “plains states,” this has been a little tough to handle. When you never know what the weather will be even 48 hours from now, it can be a little hard to plan various activities and such. As inconvenient as this has been for everyone in the area though, for those of us with certain types of chronic pain and disabilities it has been much more difficult to deal with. This increased hardship is a result of the fact that every one of these large shifts in temperature comes with an equally large change in the barometric pressure, which can cause increased discomfort in some types of pain (anyone with severe arthritis knows what I am talking about). In trying to cope with my elevated pain every few days, I have been reminded of how quickly my body can go from completely healthy and fine all the way to agonizing pain and illness, as well as how you can easily avoid this potentially life threatening problem.

Scott Drotar Changing Weather
The frequently changing weather in the Kansas City area lately has made my chronic pain much worse.

As the weather has been fluctuating so often recently, I have gotten many opportunities lately to examine the sensations that my body goes through as the shifting barometric pressure amplifies my chronic pain. You would think that this would be a gradual process, and as the new weather front moves in my discomfort would slowly grow in magnitude, but this is not the case. There is nothing gradual about it. Instead, it is like a switch gets flipped in my body once the atmospheric pressure changes a certain amount, and this switch instantly causes my pain to increase substantially. I will be sitting, writing on my tablet or even just lying back in my wheelchair watching television, and in the blink of an eye I will go from feeling my normal level of aches and pangs, to being in agony in all of my joints. My hips feel like they are filled with sandpaper that grinds on my bones with every movement, and my shoulder feels like it is covered in broken glass that cuts into my flesh with every breath. I will get this instantaneous increase in my pain, and I will look at my nurse and say, “The front has moved in hasn’t it?” They will go outside or get online to check, and without fail, every time the new weather front will have just passed over us. As excruciating and difficult as this is to deal with and as much as I would love to be rid of my internal, weather forecasting system, it has had the one bright spot of reminding me of the important life lesson of how critical it is to listen to your body.

As I touched on in a different way in the latest post in my Roll Models series, “A Recipe For Success,” it is extremely important to be aware of what your body is trying to tell you. Your body has evolved to be able to monitor and communicate to you what it is feeling and what it needs in order to stay in a healthy, working condition. We so often turn to the internet, books, and doctors to make decisions about what to eat, how to exercise, and how to determine our health, and while I am all for being well educated and learning as much as possible before making a decision, more often than not we can make a good, well informed decision simply by taking the time to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. Are you tired all the time? This is your body’s way of telling you to get more rest. Gaining weight? Your body is telling you that you are getting more than enough energy from your diet, and you could eat less. Shoulder hurting? Maybe you should take it easy on the racquet ball court for a couple weeks. Your body will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about your health, if you are just willing to listen. Even though the examples above may seem a bit mundane and not all that critical to your overall health and well-being, there are also times when your body tries to prevent you from serious harm, and you can avoid a lot of pain and suffering by merely being aware of these signals. There are even situations where your very life could be in jeopardy if you do not pay attention to your body, which is something I know all too well.

As I wrote about in my most viewed article and most popular Roll Models talk, “I Can’t!” when I was 15 years old I nearly lost my life. I had three different types of pneumonia at once, both of my lungs collapsed in the span of a few hours, and there was a period of time when it was not clear whether or not my body would be able to fight off the infection and recover. Thankfully, not only did I pull through this near death experience, but I also

Scott Drotar Just Listen
If I had listened to my body and skipped the marching band competition, I could have avoided a lot of pain and suffering.

learned many important life lessons through this process. One of these critical pearls of wisdom was how vital it is to listen to your own body. Two days before I went to the emergency room and ended up being diagnosed with pneumonia and such, I woke up not feeling well. Even though I did not feel good at all having chills, body aches, and a ton of chest congestion, the regional marching band competition that I had spent weeks preparing for was that afternoon, and I did not want to miss it. So I did what any teenager who thinks they are invincible would do, completely ignored what my body was telling me and went to the all day band competition. I spent the afternoon sweating in the hot sun in my black, polyester band uniform, and then spent the evening freezing in a cold drizzle after the sun went down. When I woke up the next morning, surprise, surprise, I felt like death. I could barely breathe, ached all over, had a fever over 103 °F (my father actually thought the thermometer was broken because my fever was so high), and within 12 hours would be fighting for my life. All of this suffering and hardship could have been avoided too, if I had simply been willing to listen to my body.

While I hope that you will never be put in a situation where listening to your body is a matter of life and death, I do hope that you will think about my story and keep it with you as a reminder to pay attention to your body’s signals. Just like I could have avoided nearly dieing and everything that my family and I had to suffer through as a result, you can save yourself a lot of effort and discomfort by simply taking the time to listen to your own body. If you really give this a try, you will quickly see that your body is truly an amazing machine and will tell you everything you need to know to maintain your health and well-being. After a week or two of focusing on how you are feeling and what your body is communicating to you, this process will become second nature, and you will find that without even thinking about it that you will be more aware of your well-being and in tune with your body. Just take a few moments throughout your day, shut up, and listen to what your body is saying, because no one knows what you need better than you. Not only will you avoid nearly killing yourself by attending a marching band competition, but you will also feel healthier. This newfound improvement in your well-being will allow you to put more of yourself into your life and relationships, which will bring more happiness and success to your life.

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A Humbling Revelation

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As you are well aware by now, I am a huge nerd and have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I am constantly reading a book on some new topic that interests me or teaching myself some skill that I have always wanted to learn. Between my never-ending quest for enlightenment and spending eight years of my life in college and graduate school, I have accumulated a plethora of facts, skills, and expertise in a variety of areas, and I am learning more every day. Despite my wealth of knowledge (most of it being useless sports and movie trivia), an IQ north of 130, and multiple college degrees from top universities, I had a conversation the other day that reminded me of how dumb I really am. Maybe dumb is too strong a word, but I did have a humbling revelation about how little I actually know about life. This epiphany as to my own ignorance helped me realize some important things about my place in the world and reminded me of some valuable lessons that are vital to living a fulfilling life.

Scott Drotar A Humbling Revelation
Graduating from a prestigious university does not necessarily mean that you know more about life than a high school dropout.

One of the best parts about having a team of nurses with you at all times is that you get to meet people from all walks of life. I have had nurses of all different ages and from more than seven different countries over the years, and it has been quite educational to get to listen to all of their stories. The other day I was talking to one of my nurses, who was born and raised in Kenya, about her weekend plans, and she mentioned that her and her husband were helping with a wedding. After talking with her about this a little more, I came to find out that what we think of as a wedding in the United States is very different from the way they do things in Kenya. It would take me a long time to go through it all here, and I doubt I would get it all right anyway, but a Kenyan wedding ceremony is quite a thing to see. They have an entire set of rituals that they “act out” in a way to remain in touch with their cultural customs in our modern world. There is a fake kidnapping, family rivalry, and a lot of other important, yet exciting, practices that they adapted to modern times to tie the knot. It was extremely interesting to get to listen to my nurse tell me about her culture, and as I was thinking about everything she had told me later that day, I had an enlightening insight into the world and my place in it.

After learning about how the Kenyan culture celebrates a wedding, I realized how much I do not know about the world. This is the first time that I can remember looking at knowledge and intelligence in terms of how much I do not know instead of how much I do know. Even with a topic as basic and important to any culture as a wedding, I know very little beyond my own limited experience. In the grand scheme of things, I really know next to nothing about weddings when you look at how much knowledge is actually out there to take in. I also realized quite quickly that if I know so little about a concept as common as a wedding, then I surely know even less about other more advanced or complex subjects. For someone who has been told his entire life how smart he is and has devoted a lot of time and energy to obtaining knowledge, this realization was quite humbling to say the least. I finally gained the perspective to see how much is out there to learn, and how little I actually know in comparison. While this was a bit off putting and discouraging at first, I soon realized that I should not see this as something to be discouraged by, but as a golden opportunity.

Now that I have come to terms with how little I know about even basic topics, there is so much more information out in the world for me to obtain. While it is a bit overwhelming to think about how much you have to learn, and it did make me feel a little like a fly on an elephant’s ass to think about what I know compared to how much knowledge is out there, for a nerd like me recognizing that there is a seemingly infinite amount of information out in the world waiting for me was very exciting. Not only that, but since everyone has their own unique, distinct background, I realized that there is not a person on this planet that does not have something to teach you about life, if you are willing to listen. So frequently we are only willing to listen to or learn from academic types with numerous degrees and titles, and these brilliant individuals do have a lot to teach you, but that does not mean that other, less formally educated, people have nothing to share with you too. My grandfather has taught me so much more about life than probably any of my teachers, and he never finished high school. Whether someone is a Fulbright scholar giving a prestigious talk or a high school dropout sitting next to you on the bus, they both have a story to tell and something to teach you. If you want to truly learn about life and how to be happy and successful, all you have to do is take the time to listen to anyone who is willing to share their story, no matter who they are.

Scott Drotar Socrates
Even Socrates was aware of how little any one person can know about life and the world.

One of the greatest thinkers of all time, Socrates (pronounced, “so crates”), once wrote, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” While I am not sure it is the “only true wisdom,” I do think that realizing both how much there is out in the world to learn, as well as how little you know in comparison, is an important aspect of leading a successful, happy life. If you look at this humbling situation as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person, there is so much for you to gain. Like any other topic, and even the lessons in this blog, by learning from others about their lives, you can obtain valuable lessons that you can apply to your own. Take a moment to stop and think about the immense amount of knowledge there is to be learned, and then take advantage of this realization to improve your life. Remember that everyone has a story to share and a lesson to pass on, if you are only willing to sit there, shut up, and listen.

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If You Can’t Take Muhammad To The Mountain,…

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The Braun Corporation creates mobility solutions for people with physical disabilities.
The Braun Corporation creates mobility solutions for people with physical disabilities.

Today’s post is located on the BraunAbility Blog website. I discuss how my disability has impacted, not only my life, but the lives of my entire family in major ways. Thanks to my amazing parents, siblings, and the incredible bond we share however, we always find a way to focus on what is really important in life and make things work. By working together and combining our efforts, the five of us are able to overcome the obstacles presented by my physical limitations and lead fulfilling, happy lives together. 

***There was an issue with posting this article on the BraunAbility blog, as they are in the process of remodeling their website, so I am posting it here instead. My apologies for any confusion.***

Even though I am fortunate to have a van with a Braun hydraulic lift that allows me to travel as I please, this does not mean that my disability does not still present obstacles that make it difficult for me to travel, especially long distances. Without even considering the logistical issues that come with venturing far from my home, like arranging lodging that will meet my needs, finding a caregiver to travel with me, and being sure to pack enough medication and medical supplies, the physical toll that spending all day travelling has on my fragile, weak body is an issue that can make driving great distances very tough on me physically. While I can easily recover from shorter trips in my van, the cumulative effects of the repeated abuse from spending hours getting tossed around on the road are much harder on my body. Due to the nature of my disability and my chronic pain, every crack, pothole, and bump I hit during these long days on the highway hits me like a body blow from Mike Tyson, which for short trips is not a big issue, but withstanding this over an extended period of time is a completely different story. The total effect of repeatedly getting bounced around for hours on the freeway often results in me having to spend two to three pain filled days recovering for every day I spend on the road, so unless my destination is something really special, the trip is probably not worth it. Since I cannot travel long distances and live more than 600 miles away from my family, you may think that I lead a very isolated life having no way to visit my family for holidays and such. And for most people this may definitely be the case, but thanks to my incredible family and by making the most of the distances I can travel thanks to having my own vehicle, I have been able to not only maintain, but improve, my familial relationships and enjoy a fulfilling social life despite my inability to spend long days on the road.

Up until a couple years ago when my body could no longer handle the long drive to my parent’s home, like most families, during the Holidays my siblings and I would all trek to my parent’s house to spend time together as a family. These were always fun visits as they allowed us to practice our family’s Christmas traditions, escape from our busy schedules, and retreat for a few days back to the simpler times of our childhood. Two years ago however, it was fairly obvious that me making the 12 hour drive home was not a good idea, which meant that we could no longer all get together at my folks like usual. My phenomenal family however, was not about to let my inability to make this lengthy journey stop us from enjoying the Holidays as a group, so they adopted the old saying, “If you can’t take Muhammad to the mountain, you bring the mountain to Muhammad.”

Instead of everyone journeying to my parent’s house in Indiana, my loving mother, father, and siblings all travelled to my home here in Kansas City for Christmas. This allowed me to avoid having to spend all day on the road, while also letting us celebrate together as a family. While they were making arrangements to head my way, I was making the most of the mobility my van provides me to create the most festive atmosphere as I could for them. Having my own vehicle allowed me to make the necessary trips to do things like pick up the ingredients to make our favorite Holiday treats and shop for tinsel, lights, and other items to decorate my apartment. My ability to make these short trips allowed me to cook the same foods that my mom would have made back home and decorate my apartment like Santa’s workshop at Macy’s, which created a Winter Wonderland for everyone to enjoy. My family’s willingness to modify our Christmas celebration to accommodate my disability, along with me maximizing my mobility to run errands and such, allowed us to have a wonderful Christmas together despite the obstacles posed by my physical limitations. While doing all of this allowed us to continue our family customs, spend Christmas together, and enjoy the Holidays though, the most important thing was that even though we were not in the same city as usual, we were all together. In the grand scheme of things, this is really all that mattered in the end. Regardless of where we meet, so long as the five of us are together we know we will be happy.

This was our second year of holding our family’s Christmas gathering at my apartment, and I am happy to say that this year was even better than the first. Not only did I avoid having to spend a long day getting beaten up on the road, but we were also able to carry out our family traditions of putting up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving night, opening gifts one at a time Christmas morning, and watching our favorite Holiday movies (“Elf,” “Christmas Vacation,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” etc.) together as a family. Even though I would like to think it was my improved decorations and other preparations that made our family Christmas so great this year, the truth is that the ornaments, garland, and Santa shaped sugar cookies had little to do with it. It was our strong family bond and our ability to focus on what I can do instead of what my disability takes away that really made the difference. In the end, the thing that makes the Holiday Season feel so special is that we are all together around our family Christmas tree on December 25th. No matter what city we are in, how many miles of tinsel we hang, or how much Christmas fudge we make (and eat), so long as the five of us get to wake up Christmas morning and sit together around our tree, it will feel like Christmas.

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Honorary Roll Model: Dr. Stephen Hawking

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The incredible individual that you will be learning about today is someone who has been inspiring and motivating me ever since I first heard about him when I was 13 years old. Although I have not seen it yet, with the biographical film documenting his life, “The Theory of Everything,” recently hitting theaters, it seems like a fitting time to introduce you to this amazing man. While I am not conceited nor naive enough to think that I am in the same league as him, you will quickly see that today’s inductee and I have a lot in common. We both were born with genetic, neuromuscular diseases. We are both huge nerds and have a fascination and love for mathematics. Most notably though, we both refuse to let our physical limitations stop us from leading fulfilling, meaningful lives and sharing our mental gifts with the world. Today’s topic for discussion, and newest entry into the club of Honorary Roll Models, is Dr. Stephen Hawking.

Scott Drotar Stephen Hawking
As a boy, Stephen was not considered a genius or academic prodigy, nor did he show any signs of his future physical limitations.

Stephen Hawking was born a bouncing, healthy baby boy in 1942 in Oxford, England, to two loving parents. His parents were both very well educated graduates of the University of Oxford, and their love for knowledge and learning definitely rubbed off on Stephen and his younger siblings. While he always showed a keen mind and an interest in learning, he was not considered a prodigy or especially gifted academically as a young boy. As a teenager however, he began to show a considerable affinity for scientific subjects, especially mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and thanks to the encouragement and guidance of one of his teachers, he was able to develop his enormous gift for understanding science. He ended up attending the University of Oxford as an undergraduate at the young age of 17, and although he wanted to study mathematics, to make himself more marketable (there are no jobs for math majors, which I learned the hard way) he decided to study physics and chemistry instead.

He found his time at Oxford boring and uninteresting initially, as he was not challenged by any of his course work. After he matured and got more acclimated to college life, he underwent a personal transformation and became much more personable with his peers. Stephen actually grew into a quite popular student around campus, and he even joined the Oxford Boat Club, where he coxed a rowing team. Although he once estimated that he only studied 1,000 hours during his three years at Oxford (that is not even an hour a day), he still graduated with a first-class honors degree and was accepted to study cosmology at the University of Cambridge in 1962. During his time at Cambridge he became very interested in the heated debate at the time about the creation of the universe and the work of Roger Penrose on black holes and singularity (nerd-speak, feel free to move on). By melding together parts of both of these topics he was able to write his thesis and highly regarded essay, “Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time,” and graduate with his PhD in 1966.

Scott Drotar Motor Neuron Disease
Hawking’s amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known motor neuron disease, has left him unable to communicate without the help of a computer.

His time at Cambridge is also when he first started having issues with his health. He noticed that he had grown increasingly clumsy during his final year at Oxford, and he even had an incident where he fell down a flight of stairs. His ability to pursue his activities on the rowing team also had gotten considerably more difficult. When he went home during the Holidays of his first year at Cambridge, his family noticed that his speech had gotten slurred and hard to understand. With something obviously wrong, he began seeing various doctors looking for answers. Eventually in 1963, at the age of only 21 years old, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neuron disease. Despite the fact that specialists only gave him a life expectancy of 2 years, he could no longer walk without help (if at all), and his speech had become nearly unintelligible, he refused to give up or give in to this despicable disease that had turned his life upside down (starting to sound like someone you know?). He returned to Cambridge and threw himself into his studies with a renewed zeal that has never diminished, and this newfound devotion to his passion for science is what has fueled him ever since.

For the last 50 years Hawking has been considered one of the the top minds in the field of cosmology and the study of the universe. He has written countless essays and proofs that are held in the same esteem as Einstein’s theories on relativity as the most important scientific papers of the 20th century. His argument for what is now called Hawking-Radiation in 1974 about the nature of black holes was one of his first groundbreaking works. He also is highly regarded for his work with Penrose on the aptly named Hawking-Penrose Theorems that deal with singularities within black holes. In addition to his academic publications that maybe a dozen people in the entire world can understand, he has also strived to pass some of his love and knowledge of the universe to the general public by writing other, more accessible works. His book, “A Brief History of Time,” which was first published in 1988, is still considered one of the best books on the market for learning about the universe, and it spent hundreds of days on the best sellers list. All of the contributions he has made to science have not gone unnoticed, and he has been awarded numerous honors and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Maxwell Award, and induction into the Order of the British Empire.

Scott Drotar Vomit Comet
Hawking has even taken a ride on the infamous “Vomit Comet” to show how weightlessness could benefit the physically disabled.

You would think that being the smartest person on the planet and painstakingly trying to share your genius with the world, especially when you cannot even speak other than through the use of an electronic device, would be enough for a person. For Dr. Hawking though, it is not enough to merely work to explain the entire universe to the rest of us. He also devotes a great deal of time and energy to trying to advance the rights and place of disabled people around the world. In 2000, he signed the “Charter for the Third Millennium on Disability,” which asked governments to work to prevent disabilities and protect the rights of the currently disabled. Several years ago he even took a ride in the “Vomit Comet” to show how weightlessness could potentially benefit individuals with physical limitations. Just last year Stephen accepted the now infamous “Ice Bucket Challenge” to raise awareness and money for ALS research. These are just a few of the numerous ways that this brilliant, courageous man has worked to better the lives of disabled people worldwide, and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next.

The following quote by Hawking from the biographical documentary film, “Hawking,” does a wonderful job of showing how disabled individuals fit into our able-bodied world.

“We are all different – but we share the same human spirit. Perhaps it’s human nature that we adapt – and survive.” – Stephen Hawking

Despite the fact that he has spent nearly all of his adult life trapped within a failing body and can barely communicate with those around him, Stephen has achieved more and done more for others than most people do in a lifetime. He has unravelled some of the secrets of the universe, helped progress the rights of the physically disabled, and been a source of inspiration for millions throughout his life. While I like to think of myself as a “poor man’s version” of Dr. Hawking, since we do have a lot in common, I know that I can never reach his level of genius or accomplish as much as he has. By learning from him however, I do hope that I can use the motivation he instills in me to help others in my own small way, and I hope you will do the same. If we all had the drive and determination of a Stephen Hawking, just imagine how much we could achieve and how much better the world would be. Although it is nothing compared to having cameos on shows like “The Simpson’s” or “The Big Bang Theory,” I am proud to announce Dr. Stephen Hawking as the newest Honorary Roll Model.

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I have discussed in other posts about how, due to the fact that I always need a caregiver with me, I am never totally alone or have complete privacy. This is something that took me a long time to adjust to and accept as a part of living with my disability, but by focusing on the positives of never being on my own, I have been able to come to terms with this part of my life. Things like always having someone to listen when I need to vent, always having a designated driver, and always having someone to have dinner or go to a movie with are all perks of living with a nurse constantly by your side. You would also think that never being alone would mean that I never have to worry about feeling isolated or lonely either, but unfortunately this is not the case. There are definitely days when I feel as if I am on a deserted island, thousands of miles from any other person, despite the fact that my nurse is sitting a mere five feet away. There are even times when I am surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones, yet I still feel like I am completely alone. These feelings of seclusion have taught me that there is a big difference between being physically isolated and feeling lonely.

Scott Drotar Loneliness
Even when I am surrounded by people, there are still days when my disability makes me feel very isolated and alone.

Being born with a severe, physical disability has given me a very different perspective on the world than that of an able-bodied person. Simple, everyday tasks like getting dressed, eating lunch, or going to the bathroom are things that most people do without even thinking, but for me they are activities that require quite a bit of planning and forethought. Even though I see things through another point of view though, most of the time I can bridge this mental gap between my perspective and that of able-bodied individuals by respectfully discussing how we see things. Thanks to my ability to communicate well with others, over the years I have been able to help the people close to me understand the way I see things and how my physical limitations affect my life. Being able to explain my perspective on the world to my loved ones has definitely made it much easier to cope and learn to live with my disability, but as gifted as I am at talking with people, there are certain aspects of my life that no amount of conversation could adequately explain. Certain parts of life just have to be experienced in order to be fully understood, and just like I will never be able to truly know what it is like to drive a jet ski or jump on a trampoline, there are aspects of my life that must be experienced firsthand to fully comprehend. It is this inability to accurately portray my thoughts and feelings on certain parts of my life that can make me feel completely and utterly alone, even with a crowd of people around me.

By far the most difficult aspect of my life to effectively communicate to others, even my family, is my chronic pain. I have been experiencing some level of chronic pain since I was 13 years old, and over the last 15 years I have suffered from pangs of numerous different types, over various parts of my body, and of all different magnitudes. I have learned countless methods to manage my discomfort, as I have used everything from opiate medications to physical therapy to meditation techniques to alleviate my pain. In addition, I have also developed ways to deal with the psychological and emotional sides of living in constant agony. While I have gained lots of tools to personally cope with my chronic pain, and these techniques have been critical in my being able build an active, fulfilling life for myself, I am yet to find anything to help me explain what it is like to live in unending anguish to others. There is no way to fully convey what it is like to wake up every morning for more than 10 years and hurt all over before you even open your eyes. There are no words to communicate how exhausting it is to rarely sleep more than two hours at a time because your discomfort is so bad that you have to wake up to take painkillers. There is nothing to accurately depict what it feels like to live every, single day suffering from pain that would destroy most people, knowing that it will never go away and will most likely only get worse. While I have the tools to cope with the pain itself, having to go through this on my own since no one else can relate to my situation can make me feel very isolated and alone.

While I do want to accurately portray how isolating my inability to explain this part of my world to those close to me can be at times, I do not want to give the impression that I go about my day with a brave face, but I am actually this depressed, lonely cripple with no will to live. That is not what I am trying to say, nor is it the reality I live in. The vast majority of the time actually, the coping strategies I have developed to deal with my aches, soreness, and spasms are more than enough relief to get me happily through my day. Just like everyone else however, there are also those days every now and then where my pain gets the best of me. Those days where I am so physically and mentally exhausted from constantly hurting that I just want to take a day off and let someone else shoulder my pain for a while. That is when my inability to share this part of my life with my loved ones can make me feel so alone that I might as well be on another planet.

Scott Drotar Unquestioning Support
The unconditional and unquestioning support of my family and closest friends is one of the things that helps me cope with my feelings of loneliness.

These difficult days that arise occasionally would probably feel much more isolating, be much harder to deal with, and quite possibly even become life altering, if not for the unconditional support of those closest to me and the recent social media boom. Even though my family and closest friends realize that they will never be able to truly understand what my chronic pain is like, they are still unyieldingly and unquestioningly supportive on my worst pain days. They know that they do not need to fully grasp what I am going through to take care of me. They just sit beside me, hold my hand, and do anything else they can to make me feel more comfortable. This unconditional love not only helps me to overcome my pain, but it also reminds me that, despite my unique perspective on the world, I am still connected to it and will never be completely alone. In addition to the support of my loved ones, the recent rise of social media sites has also helped alleviate my feelings of loneliness. Now that websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have become household names, it is now extremely easy to connect with people of any age, race, or ability. By joining a few chronic pain themed Facebook groups and such, I have been able to interact with other people who are able to understand what I am going through and feeling. Through sharing my story and reading those of others in similar situations, I have actually been able to eliminate some of my feelings of isolation altogether.

It is important to remember that just because you are always around people that does not mean that you are never lonely. Often times, people do not even realize how isolated they actually feel, because they think that since they are always surrounded by people they could not possibly be lonely. In order to lead a happy, fulfilling life, it is important to recognize this fallacy, take a step back, and examine your social world and how you feel about it. If you do find yourself feeling secluded in certain areas of your life, turn to those closest to you for their unconditional support. Also remember that we live in the information age, and that you are never totally disconnected from the world. Find someone to share your story and what you are going through with, so you do not have to carry your burden alone. No one, not even yours truly, can be strong all the time, and there is nothing wrong with tagging in someone else every now and then. This will not only help relieve you of whatever burden you are carrying, but it will also remind you of how connected you really are to the world and the number of people you have who love you.

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As you are well aware by now if you have been following my blog, I am a proud and self-proclaimed uber-geek. Just in case you are not fully convinced of my epic level of geekdom by my love for chess, mathematics, and computers though, today’s admission should seal the deal. Up until just a few years ago when I grew out of it, I was a big gamer, specifically games from the Dungeons and Dragons universe. I would sit around for hours on end trying to build the perfect dwarven warrior or gnome mage with a bunch of other uber-geeks, and then go slay dragons and hunt for treasure. Even though this solidifies my title of uber-geek beyond a shadow of a doubt, these long days journeying through dark castles and far away lands also illustrated an important distinction that has been useful throughout my life. Since you are far to cool and hip to spend hundreds of hours in search of some “Gauntlets of Ogre Giant Strength +3,” I am going to share this valuable information with you today. This critical disparity is the difference between wisdom and intelligence.

Scott Drotar Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons not only solidified my uber-geek title, but it also helped me recognize the difference between wisdom and intelligence.

In the Dungeons and Dragons universe when you create your character you give them varying amounts of certain attributes, like strength, dexterity, wisdom, and intelligence, that would best suit the type of character you want to play. For example, if you want to be a bruitish fighter, you would want more strength and dexterity, but if you were going to play a sorcerer you would want to load up on wisdom and intelligence (it is way more complicated than that, but that is the basics). In addition to spending a slew of hours thinking about the distinction between wisdom and intelligence within the Dungeons and Dragons world, these years of making countless characters also caused me to think about this important difference in the real world as well. After letting these two concepts percolate and bounce around my brain for a long, long time, I was able to come up with definitions for each term that effectively explain their differences and the role they play in your life. Intelligence, and we are talking about traditional intelligence as would be tested by an IQ test, is a measure of your ability to identify patterns, solve novel problems, and retain new information. It is what we look to develop and implement in academics and performing daily tasks. Wisdom, on the other hand, has little to do with academics, as it is more abstract. Wisdom is the knowledge of what constitutes a good life and living the “right” way.

A great example of this differentiation from my own life is my relationship with my first night nurse, Mark. Mark and I came from totally different worlds. Mark was 30 something, African-American, and a devout Christian with a wife and kids. I was 15 years old, physically disabled, and thought I knew everything about everything with no responsibilities. Despite being complete opposites and coming from totally different backgrounds, Mark and I quickly became good friends. We really enjoyed the hour or two every night when we would do my night time care, laugh at David Letterman, and talk about our days. In addition to having a great time together, we also taught each other a lot. While on paper you would think that I would have done most of the teaching, since I had an IQ north of 130, got over 1450 (out of 1600) on my SATs, and scored in the top 0.5% on other standardized tests, but you would be wrong. I may have passed on some trivial facts about dinosaurs or the environment to him, but even thousands of facts like these would pale in comparison to the things that Mark taught me. Even though I may have been more intelligent, Mark was much wiser than I could ever be (although I am trying), and he was kind enough to share his wealth of knowledge about life and happiness with me.

Mark taught me a lot of lessons about life and happiness (many of which I have since passed on to you), and he did this without ever lecturing or preaching to me once. Mark, being the clever sage that he was, shared all of these pearls of wisdom with me by modeling them for me for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, every week for over 5 years

Scott Drotar Wisdom
This is the mouthy, self-centered, know-it-all version of me (aka teenager) that Mark put up with for nearly 6 years, and shared his wisdom with.

(roughly 100,000 hours). He taught me things like the importance of having patience. Not only did he put up with me and my endless babbling for years (a Herculean feat of patience for sure), but he also showed patience in his personal life. I remember when he was having new house built and there were issues with the realtor and the contractors that pushed back the move-in date for his family over a year, and despite the fact that they could not wait to move, he never got discouraged or overly upset. He merely said that when the time was right, he would have his dream house. Mark also showed me the importance of continuing to challenge and better yourself, no matter what age you are or how much is going on, in order to have a fulfilling life. He was always reading something new and interesting, and in the time I knew him he became an expert on home theater systems (and built one in his home) and studied on his own about real estate and became a licensed realtor. The most important life lesson that Mark shared with me though was how important it is to be in touch with your spirituality. We are all aware that the topic of spirituality is touchy at best, yet he was able to illustrate for me how critical your faith is to your happiness, regardless of your specific beliefs. In all of the numerous discussions Mark and I had on this subject (and a few got intense), he always respected my opinions and explained his own. His understanding, gentle demeanor coupled with his strong faith and knowledge of his beliefs, showed me how to practice my faith, whatever that may be, in a way that enriches my life and brings me happiness.

While I have not seen Mark in several years, and we only communicate on Facebook or by email a few times a year, I will never forget how much he taught me or how much he impacted my life. By passing on his wisdom to me, he gave me many of the tools I have developed and used to create the happy, successful life that I have now. This wisdom he shared is so much more valuable to me than any of the lessons I have learned in any classroom, where I was supposedly being made more intelligent. I am not saying that academic learning is not important (I am a huge nerd), but it is essential to remember that a lot of the most important lessons you acquire are learned outside the lecture hall from people without multiple degrees (sometimes in a dungeon with a half-orc barbarian). Make sure you are not so busy learning all of the things that society says is relevant that you miss out on the lessons that are really important. Also remember that everyone has something to teach you, if you are open to it and willing to actually listen. Most importantly though, recognize the difference between wisdom and intelligence and try to find the right balance for your life. By maintaining the right harmony between these two concepts, you will have all the tools you need to lead a happy, successful, and fulfilling life.

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