March 27th, 2012
Motivation, where are you?
New Years' resolutions have come and gone, and I am curious to know how many people have stuck to their resolutions for 2012. According to the University of Scranton, only 46% of people who make New Years' resolutions have maintained their goal after 6 months. It seems to me that resolutions are often not successful due to issues of motivation, or lack thereof.
So, how does one get motivated?
Enter SOLE sponsored athlete, Trevor Thomas. At the age of 35, Thomas was diagnosed with a rare eye disease that caused him to go blind over a period of 6 months. Each day he woke up, he could see less and less. You may be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with New Years' resolutions?" Nothing, really; however, it does have everything to do with motivation. While one might think that Thomas would let his blindness stop him from achieving his goals, it couldn't be further from the truth.
I had the opportunity to chat with Thomas not too long ago, and I must confess that I walked away from our conversation feeling far more motivated, and deeply humbled.
SOLE: How did you process and then cope with [going blind and having to re-learn how to do everything]?
TT: The ironic thing was the one thing that got me through it - that got me over it - was a friend of mine, right after I became blind, called me up and said, "I've got tickets to see a speaker." I said, "Okay, tell me about it." He said, "No... I'll just tell you it's a blind guy." I'm like, "That's the last thing I want to do is go listen to somebody whine and moan about being blind." Which is where I was.
It turned out the speaker is my now friend, Erik Weihenmayer. It turned out we went blind through very similar ways, went through a lot of the same things... I was always active before going blind, and he said, "You can't run on the streets anymore- go out on the trail. It's safer..."... Luckily, he was the first blind person I had ever met. I went out and said, "I'm gonna hike." Once I learnt how to hike, it opened up my world. I could go places, I was mobile again.
SOLE: Which was harder to overcome: the physical disability, or the mental barriers associated with being blind?
TT: Mental barriers. 100%. Not only internal, but what I would consider the lessened societal expectations of a blind person, which I still get to this day... We're just different, and there aren't a lot of us comparatively to other disabilities. But yeah, the mental side is so much harder to overcome. One of the things I want to do and continue to do is yes, show the sighted world that blind people can do anything that they put their mind to with enough planning. But, [I] also hope to inspire some of the people I know that are blind and, like you said earlier, that won't "get off the couch," that are too scared to go to the mailbox, that would never dream to go to the store by themselves.
...the best thing that happens to me is when I check my email inbox and somebody has sent me an email saying, "Thanks. You've inspired me to do something, like get up and go for a walk around the park or the neighbourhood."
Just to hear that people are getting up and being mobile is the greatest thing that I take away from what I do.
SOLE: Very cool. How long did it take you to adjust to counting steps and kilometers, and developing that awareness that other people have when relying on their sight to figure it out?
TT: I was pretty fortunate. There was a wonderful organization here in Charlotte called the Mertolina Association for the Blind. They gave me an instructor for just about everything you can imagine....
It's an on-going process. I think it was a year and a half ago that I finally became comfortable navigating through airports by myself... I think that's one of the best things I do now- being put into new situations where the comfort zone is violated, and I have to push and challenge myself that much more... I've set and achieved another goal, and now it's time to find something else that maybe I didn't think I was able to do before. It's an ever evolving set of skills.
SOLE: I think it's naive to assume that you still don't encounter those challenges and that you don't get frustrated at times. Is that a safe assumption?
TT: Yeah, it's a very safe assumption... People [have] asked me a couple of things (especially when I got off the Appalachian Trail). They asked me, "What was the hardest thing about through-hiking the A.T.? Was it finding water or avoiding bears or finding shelters...?" And I am like, "No, none of that." [They continue,] "Well what was it then?" I say,"When I got to town, walked into a grocery store, and without any help, I tried to re-supply. I can't read packaging... That's always a humbling experience."
When I got off the A.T., I took a bus from middle-of-nowhere Maine back here to Charlotte, NC. I had to transfer buses in the New York Port Authority bus terminal. I don't know if you've been there or not...
SOLE: I haven't, but I can imagine.
TT: It was utterly horrific. I was one day off the A.T., and I had just done the most amazing thing I'd ever done in my life- I was the master of my own universe. I literally got to the NY Port Authority bus terminal, and got taken to the information booth so I could transfer to my new bus. The woman wouldn't help me- she wouldn't leave her booth to take me to my bus... This was probably the biggest dichotomy and the most frustrating thing I have encountered that would put it into perspective. On one side, I can do just about anything in the world, and then I can't do the most mundane activity -- what 99% of the population could do -- like change a bus. That's one of the hardest things for me.
SOLE: Wow. How do you keep yourself motivated to go to the grocery store by yourself and be independent in those mundane tasks?
TT: That's a good question. Depending on the day, it's tough to get motivated. I stay motivated doing it because I have had so many good experiences. Yeah, the situation at the Port Authority was humbling and everything like that, but I've had thousands of [better] experiences... You can always find more goodness in people than, well, evil. Even in some of the worst places that you could never imagine [you can] find decency.
SOLE: It's good to hear that not all is lost in humanity! [laughter]
TT: If it weren't for being out there and hiking and meeting so many different people, I don't know if I would have that same attitude.
SOLE: As if your story isn't motivation enough, I still have to ask: If there is one thing that you could leave our readers with in terms of trying to achieve goals and do something bigger than themselves, what would you say has inspired you the most that you can pass on?
TT: Oh wow. That is the million dollar question... I've always considered myself having 2 lives: my sighted life and now, my unsighted life. In my sighted life, my theme was 'failure is not an option,' you find a goal, you have a goal, and [then] you achieve it; but the biggest thing I have learnt from my new life -- having a special need -- is that I set goals and I achieve goals. I set goals that aren't too high, where there is no expectation that I'll not be able to achieve it, or else I'll be marred in failure. But, the goal has to be challenging- it has to push you to the limits of what you can do and a little bit beyond. Then I plan and establish a system of how I need to get there, and I put 100% -- 110% -- of my effort into it so that I can achieve it.
SOLE: That sounds like a formula that almost anybody could adopt.
TT: I would say so. What I do can work for anybody. You can't have a goal that is so low you can achieve it easily, because that's not a goal. You've got to work, you've got to work hard, because then you'll value it.
For the full interview with Trevor Thomas, click here (PDF).
— Brandi Weston
Comments are now closed for this Entry.