Tag Archives: Friendship

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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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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My Other Family

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Scott Drotar Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29th, 2005, and in doing so changed my life forever.

I will always remember August 2005 as the time when I moved away from home, started my collegiate career, and began living as an adult on my own. While these were all monumental moments that were major milestones in my life, there was another event that occurred at this time that was much more important and influential. The impact of this occurrence was felt for years by millions of people all over the country, and its effects are still being felt in some areas, but it also had an unexpectedly large effect on my life as well. This awful moment that took place the last few days of August was Hurricane Katrina. This terrible event killed hundreds of people, ruined the lives of thousands more, and damaged the entire nation, but even with all of this carnage and mayhem, thanks to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit some good did come out of this horrible destruction. I will never forget that night Katrina hit, sitting in the chapel with my new dorm brothers, hoping that everyone’s family and friends were alright. As I sat there with my dorm brothers from the New Orleans area, as they were watching and waiting helplessly to hear from their loved ones, I learned an important lesson about life. This tense, stressful time filled with prayer and brotherhood showed me the power of community.

I was only 18 years old when I moved away from home and began living in the dorms at Notre Dame. Like every teenager on the cusp of adulthood, I thought I had everything in life figured out, and I was certain that my transition from living in a tiny, Midwestern town to being on a college campus with a graduating class larger than the population of where I grew up, would be a piece of cake. Also like most young adults, I could not have been more wrong. Almost as soon as I got to campus and began freshman orientation, I was in culture shock. I had spent my entire life in a one stoplight town of barely 2,000 people, nearly all of whom were white, Middle-class families, and now I was in an environment with over 10,000 students from all over the world and from every background you can imagine. I will admit, I was a little overwhelmed and taken aback by this huge shift in my surroundings. I do not want to give the impression that I was not enjoying my new life away from home or that I was not making friends, but for my first couple weeks on campus, even though I was trying to be very active socially, I never felt like I was really connected to my dorm brothers and other fellow “Domers.” This all changed though on the night of August 29th, when one of the worst hurricanes in our nation’s history struck New Orleans.

While I had been aware that a large hurricane had been heading for the United State’s gulf coast area, I really had not been paying too much attention to the specifics of this storm. Since I had no family or friends in that region, to me it was just another hurricane that the weather forecasters were trying to dramatize for higher ratings (“storm of the century” and “snowpocalypse” come to mind). The evening Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, I was going to check my mailbox that was down by the dorm’s chapel, and I noticed that there was a pretty big group of guys in the pews. This seemed a little strange to me, since there was no priest in the room and was not time for mass yet anyway, so I decided to see what was happening. As soon as I entered, before I even spoke to anyone, I could feel from the atmosphere of the room that something terrible had happened. I sat in the back next to an upper classman I had gotten to know during orientation, and once I was certain he was done praying, I quietly asked him what was going on. He explained to me how bad Katrina was, that currently there was little to no communication with people in that area, and that they were all praying for their loved ones and hoping they were safe. Looking at all of the red eyes, tears, and silently moving lips of prayer that surrounded me, I immediately felt bad for my new “siblings,” and the terrifying unknown they were currently in. Even though I am not Catholic, or even what you would call “religious,” I stayed there with my new brothers of Keough Hall and silently supported them with my presence. When one of them stood up and said that some of them were going to light candles at the Grotto, I decided to go along to offer any solace I could.

Scott Drotar Grotto
The Grotto on the University of Notre Dame campus, made famous by the movie, “Rudy,” is a very sacred place.

For those of you who are not familiar with the University of Notre Dame campus, have not seen the movie “Rudy,” and are not Catholic, I will give you some background. First, the “Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes,” or just the Grotto, is a miniature replica of the French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette multiple times in the mid-19th century. Father Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, was so awed by the beauty and divinity of the original site, that he vowed to recreate it in some form on campus. It contains a stone from the original site in France, and it is one of the most sacred places on campus. Every evening, no matter how cold or wet it may be, the Rosary is prayed, and there is rarely a moment when there is not someone kneeling before the statue of the Virgin Mary, lighting a votive candle, and saying a prayer. Which brings us to the second topic to cover, the act of lighting candles in worship. I believe some other faiths do use candles as symbolic offerings during worship and prayer, but it is most widely known as a Roman Catholic tradition. While I am not Catholic, as best I can understand it, the lighting of a candle during prayer is a symbolic offering of devotion when you pray for someone or something. Generally, you light a candle for someone specific, and that flame is representative of your prayer. This is a very special and holy act that is quite sacred, and it is typically only used during difficult or trying times, like the night Katrina made landfall.

It was a dark, balmy August night as my dorm brothers and I made the quarter mile trek over to the Grotto. I do not think anyone said a word during the entire walk. There was nothing to be said anyway, as we all knew how each other was feeling, and there were no words that could make things better. When we arrived at our destination, some guys lit candles, others were kneeling with their rosary beads gripped tightly in their devoted hands, and a few, like myself, simply took a seat before the Virgin Mary, but we were all doing the same thing in our own way. We were all praying, not just for our own family’s safety, but for the safety our new brothers‘ families as well. This moment of destruction and terror had forged between us a bond that we would carry with us the rest of our lives. We now belonged to two families, our biological family and our Notre Dame family. Sharing in each other’s pain and suffering that night brought us together, and it did not matter what our backgrounds were, because we were all in the same family. Our group slowly dissipated as guys slowly trickled back to the dorm, but I will never forget how I felt walking back to my room that night. In just the couple hours I was out that evening, I had gone from a home sick, culture shocked fish out of water to a confident man with over 200 new brothers that I could count on. After that night I never felt like I did not belong or wonder if I was fitting in around the dorm, because I knew that we were all family.

Scott Drotar My Other Family
My second family is so precious to me that I have the Notre Dame logo and my graduation year tattooed on my chest.

I am not trying to compare my relationships with my parents and siblings to my relationships with my dorm brothers, as that is comparing apples and oranges, but this connection I formed that night in the Grotto is something special. It showed me the strength of banding together in a common goal, and how by coming together in your shared pain you can alleviate your suffering. Most of all though, this story teaches you the power of community and brotherhood. In that one evening, we created a union between us that to this day is extremely strong and has a major impact on our lives. If you have the courage to open up and let yourself feel with others, empathize with them, and support them without judgment, you can harness the true power within your hearts and minds. Whether you call it resilience, the might of the human spirit, or something else entirely, you will know it when you feel it, and its impact will last a lifetime. The force of this banding together will pleasantly envelope you and help you overcome whatever you are going through together. Sharing this powerful, emotionally charged experience will create a connection between you that will never weaken. It is a bond forged in the fires of suffering and despair, and like iron hammered on a hot anvil, it is unbreakable. It is a relationship you can only describe as family, and just like your original family, you will be much happier having these amazing connections in your life.

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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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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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An Emotional Lightning Rod

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Scott Drotar Give and Take
In order to maintain any healthy relationship, there has to be equal give and take between both people.

Pretty much everyone knows that any relationship, whether it is with a friend, family, or a romantic partner, requires a certain amount of work by both people involved in order to be strong and healthy. Not only do both people need to devote some energy to maintain these connections, but they also need to put in relatively equal amounts of effort, if they want the relationship to last. We all have had those relationships with people where you feel as if you are the only one trying to maintain your bond. These lopsided connections inevitably come to an end, because the individual putting their time and energy into maintaining the relationship begins feeling taken advantage of and resenting the other party. That is why it is so important when building and managing your relationships to remember that there has to be some give and take. While this may seem extremely straightforward and obvious in theory, it is much harder in practice, and it is something that I struggled with for a long time.

Like most people, I learned fairly early on that you have to put some energy into your relationships if you want to have any kind of social life. As a child though, your relationships are all friendships, and the effort required is as simple as watching “Power Rangers” every afternoon to discuss the next day at school or bringing an extra cookie in your lunch to give to your friend (to be a kid again, right?). As you get older and enter adolescence, your relationships start to get more complex. Your friendships become more intricate and begin to require actual effort to be maintained. Additionally, you begin having romantic partners, which brings about an entirely new type of connection to master. You go through the heart-wrenching experiences of being betrayed by your “friend,” having your heart broken, and all of the other teenage relationship issues angsty, pop groups sing about. These relationships continue to grow more and more complicated as you mature into adulthood and make your way out into the world, but thankfully you also get better at maintaining them. You learn the difference between lust, love, and “Love,” that a broken heart will eventually heal, and even though “rebound relationships” are fun that they never last. Then you finally get to the point where you have learned how to tell your “real friends” from everyone else, what to look for in a potential life partner, and that, even though you will never be able to completely figure out this whole relationship thing, you know enough to have healthy, strong connections with others.

While I went through this same social growth as a physically disabled person, or at least one fairly similar, I struggled with all of my relationships for a long time. I am not saying that I did not have any healthy connections with people, as I have always been close with my family and had a great social life, but it was very difficult for me. Internally, I had a hard time emotionally with nearly every relationship in my life, even if I did not show it on the outside. This difficulty with making and maintaining my connections with others stemmed from my feeling that every relationship I ever had would always be uneven, due to the fact that I require help with nearly everything in my life. I was convinced that any relationship I had would eventually end, because I could not reciprocate the number of things the other person did for me, and they would start to feel like they were my caretaker and not my friend. For a long time, as so often happens, this feeling of inadequacy became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I subconsciously sabotaged many of my relationships. Thanks to some great counseling and a ton of personal introspection though, I was able to gain some perspective and develop the tools to work on my feelings of social deficiency. This eventually led to an enlightening revelation that allowed me to build strong, lasting relationships and changed my life forever.

About four years ago, there was a three month period when several of my friends came to me to discuss something major in their lives. These were not conversations about hating your boss or having an argument with your boyfriend. These were conversations about things most people would not tell anyone other than their priest. I heard about how they cheated on their spouse, were abused as a child, and how they were the victim of domestic violence. I was also told about other, far more disturbing events that literally made me nauseous, but to protect the privacy of my friends, and spare you from having to envision these atrocities, I am not going to write about them. While hearing about all of these horrible memories from my loved ones was very difficult for me, and even though I would do anything to take away their painful past, I was happy that they told me. I felt honored that my friends trusted and felt safe enough with me to divulge their darkest memories. I was happy to give them an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to hold, so they could talk about their past and begin to heal. It was after having heard several of these troubling tales that I realized something about myself and had a life-changing epiphany. I suddenly recognized that, even though I cannot help my friends physically, I can still give a lot to our relationship by helping them emotionally.

Scott Drotar An Emotional Lightning Rod
My mix of mental tools has made me an emotional lightning rod.

This period from my life made me realize that my high emotional intelligence, ability to communicate, and listening skills were a unique and powerful combination of tools that could help others. While I do not fully understand why it happens, this skill set has made me someone that people feel comfortable talking to about almost anything from their life, no matter how private or painful it may be. I am like an emotional lightning rod. I attract other people’s emotions, give them a safe, comfortable environment to discuss their difficult memories, and in turn get rid of some of their pain. Not only does this special ability help the individuals I care about cope with their unpleasant emotions, but it is also my way of putting effort into my relationships and avoiding the feeling of inadequacy that plagued my connections with others. It is how I can put something into a relationship and repay my friends for all of the assistance they give to me. It is my way of giving and not just taking, which in turn will ensure that my relationships with others will be strong, healthy, and last a lifetime.

Scott Drotar Maintaining Relationships
By putting in some effort and maintaining relationships, you will bring happiness to both your life and the lives of others.

Relationships are not easy. They are complicated, require a lot of time and effort to remain strong, and can make you feel awful when they fall apart. We are willing to overlook all of this however, because when you build one of those incredibly strong, close relationships with someone really special, you experience a feeling of bliss that is unlike any other. In order to have any chance of creating one of these life changing connections though, you have to make sure there is equal give and take. As I have said countless times before about other aspects of life, there has to be balance. Think about your close friends, your spouse or life partner, and your family, and then ask yourself whether your relationships with these people are balanced. Are you being taken advantage of by someone in your social world? Worse yet, are you not putting enough effort into a relationship and running the risk of losing someone you care about? Find the answers to these questions and take action to fix the broken connections in your life before it is too late. With just a little effort, you can strengthen your bond with others and bring happiness to the people you love most. This will bring more happiness to you as well, as these individuals complete the circle and put their own energy back into the relationship.

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More Than Blood

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Rarely a week goes by on www.scottdrotar.com where I do not post an article about my family and how great they are. I have written about my sister protecting me like a tigress watching over her cubs, the incredible sacrifices that my mom has made over the years to give me the opportunity to have the life I have always dreamed of, the unbreakable, indescribable bond between my brother and I, and the way my father refused to let my physical limitations prevent me from sharing his passion for sports. These posts, and countless others, have shown you how important my family is to me. While these four individuals who I am most closely linked to genetically will always have a special connection with me that no other relationship could ever come close to matching, that does not mean that there have not been other people in my life over the years that I would consider “family.” “Family,” and I mean family in a broader sense of the word, is so much more than biology and being genetically more similar to certain people than others. It is about sharing your day-to-day life with people, caring about their safety and happiness more than you do your own, and loving them in an unconditional, unquestioning way that is beyond words, yet you know it when you feel it. Relationships like this may not happen often outside of your actual family unit, but when they do, they can have an enormous impact on your life.

Scott Drotar Ed
Although we are not related by blood, Ed is definitely someone I consider family.

Whenever I think about my “family,” the first person that comes to mind is a close friend of my father’s, Ed. Ed initially entered into my world before I was even born as a lineman on one of my dad’s high school football teams many, many moons ago. After graduating and going off to college (ironically, to the same college as my father), Ed came back into my life (I was just a baby at this point) when he was hired as an assistant football coach under my dad, and eventually as a coworker of both my parents as a high school, English teacher. Even though my father and Ed were quite a bit different in age, their personalities and backgrounds were similar enough that they quickly became very good friends. For the entirety of my childhood growing up, Ed was always a big part of my life. We celebrated holidays together, he would babysit my siblings and I, and he even learned a lot of my care related to my disability. One year he even went with us on a road trip to Disneyworld for a “family” vacation, and if spending 22 hours in a car with three kids that are not your own does not make you “family,” I do not know what does.

Ed was like an “uncle” or “big brother” to me throughout my childhood, and during this time he taught me so many things about life and happiness that I still carry with me today. By living his life with a fun-loving attitude and smile on his face, he showed me that, even as an adult, it is alright to be a “big kid” sometimes. He also taught me that it is alright to like things that people think are uncool, childish, or geeky, through his love for things like “Speed Racer” and the television series, “Highlander” (he even had a replica of Duncan’s katana). Ed was a rather large man (he was often referred to as “Big Ed”), and while he was not unattractive by any means, he was definitely not a Calvin Klein model either. By getting to see him date women over the years, I learned that even though I am in a wheelchair, have a trache, and look different from what is generally considered physically “attractive,” that does not mean I cannot date beautiful women. He even taught me about how to approach and speak to women (or as he would always say “pick up hot babes”) with confidence and charm, because I have a lot to offer and the worst that can happen is they politely say no. Much to my mother’s dismay, Ed also told me that it was important to be a little rebellious sometimes, by taking me to see movies that my parents would not allow and sneaking me CDs of music with lyrics they would not approve of (he gave me a Kid Rock album in a Bon Jovi CD case for Christmas one year). And of course, the most important thing he imparted upon me was the delicate art of creating the perfect, chocolate milkshake (even John Travolta would agree that it is worth at least $5).

Scott Drotar $5 Milkshake
Ed taught me many important things about life, like how to make the perfect milkshake.

By far the most valuable thing that Ed brought to my life though was his role as a constant in my life, a “safety net,” that I knew was always there for me. I knew without a doubt that I could go to him with any problem I was having that I could not go to my parents with, and he would give me whatever help and guidance I needed. I felt this way because, just like the four members of my immediate family, we had been together for so long that we had forged a strong, unwavering connection. We had seen each other at our best, like when he won a trip to Vegas at a golf competition or when I gave my valedictorian’s speech to my high school class. We had also seen each other at our worst, like when I nearly died and got my trache or when he had some medical issues and found out he was diabetic. We had spent hours in a car together, gotten each other out of trouble, and probably more often, gotten each other into trouble, but throughout it all we always knew we had each other’s back, no matter what. Just like a toddler wants to know that their parent is sitting nearby before exploring their environment, Ed being a constant source of comfort in my life helped me expand my horizons. Having the knowledge that, if I needed it, someone was there to catch me if I fell, gave me the confidence to break some rules, take some risks, and live a full, exciting life.

Ed, or “Falcon Eddie” as I would call him, is definitely someone that is as much a part of my “family” as anyone else. While my parents, siblings, and I will always have a special connection with each other that is more powerful than any other, it is not because of blood or genetics. This unbreakable, familial bond is so special because of the time we have spent together, the memories we have created, and the unconditional love that we share. Since my immediate family has been a part of everything in my life, we share the strongest connection, but other “family” members, like Ed, who have been constants in my life are not far behind. Who in your own life would you consider “family?” Take the time to think about these people, and how much they have meant to you. Make sure that these individuals, who have had such a huge impact on your life, are aware of how you feel about them, because it is important to tell your “family” how much you love them. This is so important, since in the blink of an eye it could be too late, and you do not want to miss your chance to share your feelings with these major influences on your success. Telling them how you feel will not just bring happiness to their life, but it will also remind you of all of the happiness that they have brought to yours, which is what family is all about.

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Break Some Rules

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Scott Drotar Fisher Rigatta
Building the best boat, or worst anchor, for the annual Fisher Rigatta is one of the many ways that ND students show their dorm pride.

At the University of Notre Dame there are no fraternity or sororities allowed, so as a result of this the dorms take on a lot of the characteristics that are commonly associated with Greek life on other campuses. For example, every residence hall adopts a charity, has its own mascot, and has a rival dorm to rally against, and these types of activities cause students to take a large amount of pride in the hall they live in. One of the main ways this dorm loyalty becomes important is through interhall competitions between rival dorms. Whether it is playing interhall sports, building the best boat for the annual “Fisher Rigatta,” or just being the loudest cheering dorm at pep rallies, you always want to beat your rival residence hall. While it is always in good fun (at least, usually…), most students want nothing more than to dominate and embarrass their rival dorm in any way possible. This drive to show dorm superiority, coupled with copious amounts of alcohol, can cause lapses in judgment in overzealous students that sometimes leads to misguided, but well-intentioned and often hilarious, dorm hijinks. These harmless, college pranks are not only a great source for entertaining stories, but they are also wonderful examples of the importance of breaking some rules every now and then.

This story may or may not have allegedly taken place on the University of Notre Dame campus during the Winter of 2009. I will let you decide as to the validity of this epic tale. Just like on “Dragnet” though, “Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is [possibly] true. Only the names have been changed [or omitted completely] to protect the [mostly] innocent.”

While I was at Notre Dame, I spent all four years living in the best dorm on campus, Keough Hall (Go ‘Roos!). Our rival dorm was the inferior, second-rate dorm, O’Neill Hall. One of the things that these lesser mortals do every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas is hang a giant wreath (symbolic of the “O” in O’Neill) that is covered in lights and probably 10 feet across from the third floor of the building. This heavy-handed, tacky display of Christmas cheer is sort of their trademark, along with being all around worse than Keough. After four years of staring up at that precocious ring for a month every Holiday Season, one courageous student had had enough. It took many days of careful planning, but eventually he came up with a plan to rid campus of this Seasonal eyesore. He took it upon himself to put this plan into action and assert his dorm’s dominance once and for all.

Scott Drotar O'Neill Wreath
Ridding campus of the O’Neill wreath that taints South Quad every year was the goal of our mission.

The mastermind of this daring endeavor knew that he would not be able to execute a plan of this magnitude alone, so he put together a crack team of fearless, loyal dorm brothers who possessed the skills necessary to pull off this feat of hall pride. In total, it was a four man crew, two men to infiltrate O’Neill Hall and discretely lower the wreath and two outside on the ground to quickly carry it away. The first step of this master plan was a week of both real-world and online reconnaissance to gather the necessary details to determine when to put this plan into action. After memorizing the path taken by Notre Dame security every night and looking through the O’Neill Hall website to find a time when a dorm function would be going on (so most of the residents would be occupied), we found the perfect time to strike. O’Neill was having a talk from a hall alumnus that was being catered by Pizza Hut and Buffalo Wild Wings, and if there is anything more certain than Keough being superior to O’Neill, it is that college guys never miss pizza and wings. That was the perfect hour long window to execute our Holiday heist.

It was a cold, windy night with a foot of snow on the ground when the time came to put our plan into action. It was myself, as a lookout/mastermind, and “Matt” on the ground, to whisk away the wreath once it was lowered. Heading deep into enemy territory under the ruse of joining a study group were “Don,” who was the inside lookout, and “Rick,” who was going to release and lower the wreath. Once the security guard made his nightly pass, we started to move in. The security guard was 15 minutes later than usual, which only left us 30 minutes before the dorm function was over, but that should have been more than enough time. Everything looked good as the cold weather left the snow covered ground deserted, and the majority of O’Neill’s residents were busy feeding their faces with free food. “Rick” had unplugged the wreath and started working on releasing it from the building, and we started thinking we were going to pull this off, when we hear “Don” say quickly over the com, “Enemies coming! Abort! Abort!” I look up at “Rick” through the third floor window, and I see he and “Don” hurriedly getting things plugged back in, as I hear “Oh, #@$?!” come over the airwaves. Then I hear a muddled, barely discernable conversation between “Rick” and a gang of O’Neill guys asking what they were doing there. “Matt” and I high-tailed it back to Keough, thinking our comrades were at best captured, and at worst getting pounded by a throng of angry, stuffed O’Neill guys. Thanks to some quick thinking and an even quicker tongue however, “Rick” and “Don” joined us back at Keough later that night, unharmed.

Scott Drotar Break Some Rules
Two alleged members of the team of loyal Keough brothers who were willing to break some rules to do what they believed in.

We may not have been successful in ridding campus of this circular eyesore and striking a winning blow for Keough over its rival, but this mission was by no means a failure. Through our efforts to hack the O’Neill website, infiltrate another dorm under false pretenses, vandalize a residence hall, and break a ton of other campus rules, we may not have accomplished our goal, but wewere successful in so many other ways. We successfully came together as dorm brothers and formed a bond that connects us to this day. We successfully managed to protect each other and not get our asses kicked or arrested (a minor miracle). Most importantly, we created memories that we will always remember fondly and recount with a smile. If we had not had the courage and willingness to break some rules for what we believed in (even if it was just dorm superiority), we would have missed out on this adventure that is one of my most cherished college memories.

I am not saying you should be this rebel that ignores all rules, but I do think it is important to break a few rules from time to time. By taking this risk for a common cause, despite the fact that it was “forbidden,” my dorm brothers and I ended up with a bond and experience that we will carry forever. The next time you feel yourself pulled to break a rule or two to do something you believe in, have the fortitude and strength to go for it. Remember, it is often easier to ask forgiveness than permission, and if you are fighting for what is right and you really believe in, you can never fail. Even if you do not successfully complete your mission, like me and my loyal compadres, you will be successful in forging friendships and creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Isn’t that worth a possible slap on the wrist?

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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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