For the Love of Helen Keller, Stop Saying "I Can't"
all photos creative commons (l: Radcliffe College graduation; r: Helen reading Annie's lips)
Helen Keller went blind and deaf when she was 19 months old. She spent the next four-and-a-half years unable to communicate. She was frustrated, angry, and out of control, and who could blame her?
Then her parents brought in the brilliant and patient teacher, Annie Sullivan. The rest is history.
With Annie’s help, Helen:
- communicated with finger spelling using American Sign Language
- read and wrote Braille
- wrote block letters by hand
- learned English—and French and German and Latin
- read lips by using her hands
- graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, becoming the first deafblind person to earn a B.A.
- wrote her autobiography and became a professional writer
- performed vaudeville
- spoke out against WWI and for women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, civil rights, and rights for the blind and deafblind
- wrote and shared over 475 speeches and essays on everything from health issues to faith to atomic energy
- traveled to 35 countries on five continents, including a 40,000 mile tour in Asia, to encourage and help the blind and disabled
Helen went from not even understanding the concept of words to accomplishing a list that would be extremely impressive for someone who was able to see and hear.
So for the love of Helen Keller, stop saying “I can’t” if there’s something you want to do!
If you can’t do it on your own, find your Annie Sullivan. Maybe you’ll need more than one Annie. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you get out of your own way. Find what’s holding you back, figure out a way through it, and go on to become the incredible, game-changing, world-changing you you’re meant to be.
I’m not saying it’ll be easy. And I’m not saying you need to live a life that even remotely resembles Helen’s. But there’s something you’re meant to do. There’s something your heart longs for. There’s something you’ll regret if you get to the end of your life and haven’t done it.
Start now. Find your something. Then do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Career Inspiration from Famous People (No, Not the Kardashians)
Lately, when I’m not doing coaching-related stuff or napping, I’ve been writing biographies for first and second graders for an online reference site.
Not only is it a fun gig, but I get to learn a lot and be inspired on a constant basis. I thought I’d share some of my biggest inspirations (so far) in the hopes that you can get something from them, too.
Abraham Lincoln: As a kid, Abe barely went to school. Yet he learned to read, write, and do math and eventually studied law and grammar on his own. (He borrowed books from friends.) Plus, of course, he won the Civil War and freed all the slaves. Abe might have come from inauspicious beginnings, but he certainly didn’t let anything keep him from getting ahead and doing what was right.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Just because nobody had run for president more than twice didn’t mean jack sh*t to him. He ran a third time. Then a fourth. All from his wheelchair. And all because he felt compelled to help people who were struggling.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Like Lincoln, Eisenhower came from a poor family. Like Lincoln, he didn’t let that hold him back. First, Ike worked two jobs. Why? So he could send his brother to college. His BROTHER. There was no money to pay for his own college education. He went to West Point and the rest is history—and history-making. Ike went on to lead the biggest military attack in history and thus defeated the Nazis. Check and mate.
Christopher Columbus: Okay, so this guy thought he landed in Asia, but he actually landed somewhere in the Bahamas. He also inadvertently (one hopes) ruined the lives of many natives by opening the metaphorical doors of the so-called “New World” to Europe. To be honest, those things make me like him a lot less. But then there’s the whole “I’ll sail in a direction no one has ever sailed in before” idea he had, and I can’t help but be impressed by the dude’s chutzpah. Things may have gone differently than he’d planned, but you’ve gotta admit that his vision and bravery changed the world.
Amerigo Vespucci: Good ol’ Amerigo didn’t actually discover anything new. BUT. He was the one who realized the New World was actually a totally different continent and not eastern Asia. Sometimes it takes someone with a different perspective to help you see what’s right in front of you. We all have our blind spots, and that’s okay. Also, Columbus was totally chill with the new country getting named after Amerigo. They were buds, so he was happy for his friend. That’s what you call a good sport. It’s a pretty great thing to have relationships like that.
Cleopatra: When Cleo’s dad died, Cleo was supposed to co-rule with her 12 year old brother. (And marry him, as was the custom. Ew.) Cleo wasn’t having any of that. She declared herself Pharaoh. She knew she had to fight her brother, that she needed Rome’s help to do it, and that she’d never get anywhere near Caesar’s palace. (The actual palace, not the casino in Vegas, although she might’ve had more fun there.) Anyway, Cleo had people roll her up in a carpet burrito and delivered to the palace. Once she was inside, she unrolled herself and proceeded to seduce/convince Julius to help her. She ultimately took full control of Egypt. Talk about creative problem solving!
Amelia Earhart: As a kid, Amelia collected newspaper clippings of women who worked in traditionally male jobs. So basically, she was a rebel feminist badass from the beginning. Amelia broke all kinds of records—flight paths, flight heights, flight distance, and first to [insert one of many, many firsts here]. When her plane got lost, her husband read a letter she’d left him to read only in case she died. She said “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried.” Preach it, sista!
Florence Nightingale: Florence said God told her to be a nurse. She listened, despite the fact that women of her class didn’t work, despite the fact that nursing schools didn’t even exist, despite the fact that her parents were totally against it. The woman studied in secret for years until daddy dearest finally said, “Fine. Go study nursing.” Once she was a nurse, she went to Turkey during the Crimean War because all the English soldiers kept dying—not in battle, but in the hospital. It was filthy and there was no medicine, but the stubborn, righteous docs wouldn’t let her help. “No worries,” Flo said. “I’ll just tell the biggest newspaper all about it, and once people know how you’re essentially killing our soldiers, they’ll get all outraged, and I’ll get all the support I need, and I’ll fix this place up, and it’ll drop the death rate from 40% to 2%. Oh, and then I’ll go back to England, fight for good healthcare for all, start a fabulous nursing school, and essentially save thousands and thousands and thousands of lives. ‘Cause I’m amazing and you suck.” Okay, I might be paraphrasing. But the accomplishments are all for real. Florence was pretty damn impressive.
All these people inspire me. Some found their purpose early on, some found it when they were older. But when they did find it, they went full steam ahead. They overcame all kinds of obstacles. They figured ways around every “no” they got. They believed in themselves. I’m all for that kind of history repeating itself—over and over again, and I’m all in. Are you?
Top Ten Observations From My Camping/Meteor-Gazing Experience
Wednesday night was the first time I didn’t sleep through peak Perseid meteor shower time. I was also my first night sleeping outside in a tent. When you’re sitting there staring at the sky, stuff just comes up, so, in true life coach/blogger fashion, I decided to share.
Also, due to the fact that “peak Perseid meteor shower time” is between 1-3 a.m. and the whole sleeping in a tent part was only for four hours (max), I reserve the right to edit and update this post as my brain sees fit once it fully recovers.
And now, without further ado, here are the top ten observations I got from my camping/meteor-gazing experience:
1. You’ve gotta keep your eyes open because you never know when or where cool things are gonna show up.
Why not start with my most stereotypical life-coachy observation?
In the beginning, I was keeping my eye on the line of trees to the north, because the ranger said the meteors would be coming from that direction. It worked some of the time, but I kept missing ones that were further overhead or off to the sides.
A little later, I realized that by keeping my eye on Polaris (a.k.a. the North Star) and focusing on my peripheral vision, it was easier to catch way more of them as they quickly streaked across the sky.
In other words, stay open to the bigger picture rather than focusing on where you think things will be coming from. You can make educated guesses, but ultimately you never know exactly where the good stuff’s gonna come from.
Now, speaking of Polaris…
2. You can always find the north star.
(Yes, I realize this is only for us northern hemisphere folks, but the metaphor applies to everyone.)
The man at the next tent over was teaching his young daughter how to find Polaris: “You see the Big Dipper? Use those as an arrow and go straight up. That bright spot there? That’s the North Star, and it’s always there.”
Naturally, this reminded me of Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star, a book that completely shifted the direction of my life. In it, she says:
“The North Star—Stella Polaris—is a fixed point that can always be used to figure out which way you’re headed…I believe that a knowledge of the perfect life sits inside you just as the North Star sits in its unaltering spot.”
The good news is that, on the spiritual level at least, you’re never truly lost. Of course, it can certainly feel that way sometimes, like when you can’t for the life of you figure out a major or a career path. But deep down, you know what’s right for you. The trick is letting yourself hear it.
So take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What next step will keep me following my North Star?” How does your heart answer?
3. People ooh, ah, and clap at meteors, just like at fireworks.
I get the oohs and ahs. You’ve got rocks streaking through the sky at high velocities, the resistance from Earth’s atmosphere making them so hot that the air glows, leaving temporary trails of light behind. It’s pretty. And there’s an element of surprise, since you never know when or where you’ll see one.
It was the clapping that I wasn’t expecting. At least at the end of fireworks, you presume someone who was involved in creating the show is around to hear.
Then I realized it’s really all about gratitude—thanking the universe for providing the beautiful show.
It doesn’t matter if anyone’s listening. Gratitude is always a good thing.
4. I had favorite stars.
There were certain stars my eyes gravitated towards, but I couldn’t tell you why. Just like I can’t tell you why I prefer the color teal or Tostitos bite size tortilla chips or rustic modern interior design.
People just like what they like—without explanation, without control, without shame. And the more we let ourselves like what we like, the more enjoyable life gets.
5. There are way more airplanes in the sky than I realized.
I can’t tell you how many times I went “Oooh—a shooting star! Nevermind. Another plane.”
They’re everywhere. And knowing how big they seem up close, then seeing how small they are up in the air helped give me some size perspective—just how big the sky is, (not to mention the universe), and how teensy-weensy tiny we as humans are in comparison.
Just don’t mistake smallness for insignificance. We’re all an important part of this crazy place!
Also, it kept making me think of Louis C.K.’s famous appearance on Conan. Everything really is amazing.
6. We’re all superstars.
Equally as mind-blowing as #5 was remembering what I learned in astronomy class—we are all made up of stars. We literally owe our lives to dust from stars so far away that we could never reach them, even if the technology could travel that far and keep us from getting burned up as we approached their tremendous heat. The fact that there are more stars out there than we can possibly comprehend just makes all this even more amazing to me.
Check out this vid of astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson brilliantly explaining this whole concept, which he believes is the most astounding fact about the universe:
7. As I suspected, I’m really more of a glamper.
Shortly after I got my home-for-the-night set up, I crawled inside my tent and curled up on my sleeping bag for a short nap. It was surprisingly cozy.
But as the night went on, the humidity in the air clung to everything—my hair, the tent walls, my sweatpants. The temps dropped to the low 50s, which seemed kind of ridiculous for the middle of August in the Midwest. It took 5 layers for me to finally feel warm enough.
At one point I woke up to discover my usual sleeping position doesn’t work as well on the hard ground. Also, I had to pee, and the toilets were a two minute walk in the dark (and we’re talking DARK, since I was at a dark park). Oh, and they’d run out of toilet paper several hours earlier that night…
I’d wanted to see the meteor showers at Observatory Park for years, but I just hadn’t been able to; it was an all-night (or at least very-late-night) thing, the park is a decent distance from home, and my office job was always calling the next day. This year, I finally had the chance, and I decided to sleep out to get the full experience.
I’m glad I did it, but it also showed me that camping, even this relatively simplified version, was definitely one of those things I didn’t need to try to see if I liked it or not.
8. Always bring your own toilet paper.
Yes, the park knew they were going to get a big crowd. Yes, they knew they were going to have people there all night. Yes, they ran out of toilet paper a mere few hours into the evening.
Again, this one’s a metaphor. I’m not suggesting you bring your own toilet paper everywhere. You’d probably get some weird looks if you brought it to, say, parties or job interviews.
It’s more about relying on yourself and letting go of expectations you have for others. Whether it’s their fault or something beyond their control, sometimes people just don’t follow through. The good news is you get to choose how you react.
In this case, I spent a fair amount of time looking for someone who worked there who was available to help. (This is hard when you’re in a big park, there are no lights, and you’re not supposed to use a bright flashlight…) I finally found a volunteer, but either he forgot or they were truly out of TP. Either way, it was never replenished. Thankfully, I’d brought plenty of tissue and there was a nice little breeze in the surprisingly non-smelly composting toilets, so I was fine. I figured it just helped make my whole camping experience a little more authentic.
9. Stop managing your expectations.
I’d expected the meteor-gazing to be a spectacular event—shooting stars constantly, at times even almost filling the sky. I’m not sure why, as I’m guessing I’d read articles that said about one/minute during peak hours, but apparently I blocked that part out.
Honestly, it was disappointing to discover that, even at its peak, the whole thing was a waiting game. Only once did I see more than one shooting star at the same time—there were two instead.
But the anticipatory excitement I felt was totally worth the disappointment. It’s the same thing as the psychological boost we get from planning vacations.
So let yourself get excited about things you’re looking forward to. Let yourself fantasize about the ideal situation. It does a body (and a soul) good.
Sometimes experiences will exceed your expectations—how awesome is that?! But if you end up disappointed by how things turn out, you’ll survive, and at least you’ll have had fun while you planned. And if really ends up sucking, at least you’ll get some good stories to share later on.
10. It helps when you REALLY love your job.
The ranger on duty was really excited. Like a Disney-obsessed kid at Disneyland for the first time excited. To be honest, I thought it might get annoying, but ultimately his energy just made the whole experience better. He was having a blast not just sharing his knowledge, but also helping people on an off the ladder that led to the giant telescope pointing at Saturn.
There really is no way to overstate how big a difference it makes when you love what you’re doing. Your energy and excitement is magnetic and contagious.
That’s why, to me, the secret to life is simple (though not always easy): just find out what makes you happy, and do it!
* * *
One last thing: You don’t have to spend the night watching astronomical phenomenon to get insights. You just have to give yourself the space and time to get quiet. Relax on your couch with a journal. Clear your mind every time you get to a red light. You’re your phone in your pocket when you’re on the toilet. Open up your heart to guidance before you go to sleep.
When and where don’t matter—as long as the intention and the desire are there (and yes, sometimes, the patience), whatever you need will come in exactly as it should.