Greg Smith Keynote Speaker

Leadership Expert on Resiliency and Inner Strength – Greg helps leaders and teams “Go Full-Strength!” for maximum productivity.

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Inner Strength insights from the world of sports, disability, entertainment, business, politics and everything else I’d like to share with you.

Category Archives: Disability

Kicking Off a Busy Speaking Schedule!

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Five keynotes and two workshops in three weeks!

By Greg Smith

The next 30 days will be the busiest I’ve ever had as a speaker… 5 keynote presentations in 3 weeks!  I’m very excited to debut my new keynote address, “Silencing the Negative Voice Within!” This speech really examines the greatest limitation in my life.  It reveals how I identified it, planned for it’s demise, implemented the plan and succeeded.  “The Negative Voice Within” is something that we all hear and need to deal with.

    • My marathon begins October 22, when I will deliver the speech for the first time at the Knight Non-Profit Center, 11975 Seaway Rd., Gulfport Mississippi.  That event is free and open to the general public.  Arrive at 12:45 and enjoy Subway Half-subs, courtesy of Subway Edgewater Village.
    • On Friday, November 1, I will be presenting two workshops and my keynote at the Diversity Leadership Alliance annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona.  My keynote is at noon.  You can register for this free event on the conference web site.
    • On Saturday, November 2, I will be teaming up with my National Speakers Association buddy Deborah Gardner for “Finding Strength to Compete,” a motivational event free to the general public.  That event starts at 10:00 am.  It will be held at the Disability Empowerment Center, 5025 East Washington, Phoenix, AZ 85034.
    • On Monday, November 5, I will be returning to my alma-mater to speak to students!  You’ll find me in the oldest building on the campus of Arizona State University, “Old Main” at 4:00 pm.  That event is sponsored by ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government.
    • On November 14, I travel all the way across the country, after stopping back home to change my suitcase.  I will be in Williamsburg Virginia for the The Division on Career Development & Transition’s International Conference.

Thanks in advance for helping me get the word out about these events!  Let’s keep it going. Let me know if you want me to come to your city and you’re willing to help make it happen!

 

Here is the flyer for the Gulfport event on Oct 22, 12:45 pm at the Knight Non Profit Center.

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Here is the flyer for the Phoenix event, Nov 2, 10:00 am at the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living:

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Guinness Wheelchair Basketball TV Spot OK with Me

Guinness Brand Manager Speaks about TV Spot

By Greg Smith

Getting it “right” when presenting disability in the mainstream media has always been a moving target:  A non-disabled actor is cast in a disabled role.  An “inspirational disabled person” who has done nothing exceptional other than being or becoming disabled is anointed and celebrated.  A screenplay in which the disabled person would rather be dead than accept his or her new life is turned into a film.  Or an evil villain whose hostility is sparked by anger after the onset of a disability hits the box office.

Moreover, motion pictures and television seem to only have tolerance for those with less visible disabilities.  You won’t find any skinny, bodily contracted rolling skeletons like me on the big screen or the flat screen. There has never been a place for a person like me in the mainstream mass media.  That’s why I created my own. Depicting a proper reflection of society in the mainstream media is a vision people with disabilities share. And experiencing more of the same media blunders is frustrating.

But every now and then, baby steps in the right direction reveal that hope emerges.  The recent Guinness television spot, featuring wheelchair basketball players on the court, popping 3 pointers, smashing into each other and falling out of chairs is the newest major media offering to be evaluated.  At the end of the spot, all but one of the players rises to their feet and walks out of the gym.  Cut to a popular pub.  The group of friends is sitting down at a low table in a popular bar, enjoying a Guinness.  “Hot girls” arrive on the scene.  It’s a wheelchair dude’s heaven!  The spot is about friendship.  I approve.  It is not perfect, but it is a major step in the right direction.

There are plenty of my colleagues who disagree.  They have a problem with it being more about celebrating the “character” of the non-disabled friends who are kind enough to go through the trouble of getting in wheelchairs to hoop, and taking their poor disabled friend out for a beer.

“Context is important b/c the “got’cha” is central to the ad itself,” says Lawrence Carter Long, media enthusiast and co-host of “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film” which showcased 21 socially and culturally significant cinematic depictions of the disability experience to over 87 million households on Turner Classic Movies last October.  “If the spot was all about friendship there would be no need to trick audiences with the big surprise. But the twist is there and, if we’re serious about changing the perception of disabled people in society we would be foolish to ignore it.”

Lawrence Carter Long

I decided to go to the source and talk to Guinness Brand Director, Doug Campbell.  How did the spot develop?  How was the disability community involved in the concept?  What was the intended message?

What did you think of the spot?  Do you think it is about friendship?  Or is it about the character of the non-disabled friends who choose to involve their friend, the “victim” of unfortunate events?  I think it is a step in the right direction.  I think Guinness should be rewarded, rather than criticized.  If we continue to criticize every effort to include us, we will never be welcomed back and progress will never happen.

Please comment in the section below, rather than on my Facebook page.  Thank you!  Looking forward to your reaction.

The Fillin’ Station Blues

Gettin’ Gas is a Pain in the A_ _!

Up until about 1995, there used to be this thing called “full-service” at gas stations.  You could just pull up to the pump and somebody would come out of the gas station, pump your gas, check your oil and clean your windshield.  You had to pay a little bit more for it but it was available.  It was a mixed bag for those of us with disabilities, because we needed help getting gas, but didn’t want to have to pay more each time we filled up.  That’s where the Americans with Disabilities Act came to the rescue.  It said, basically, if you have a disabled placard or license plate and you need “full-service,” you can get it at “self-service” prices.  All you gotta do is blow your horn and somebody will come out.

That inspired one of two “On A Roll Radio” radio blues song hits, “The Fillin’ Station Blues.”   (Tragedy these tapes were lost in Katrina!)

 You pull up to the fillin’ station

Cause your tank is gettin’ kinda low

Yeah you pull up to the fillin’ station

Yeah you gettin mighty low.

You need full service in the self serve

So you give ya horn a blow!

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Folks look at you like ya crazy

Like “Mister, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Yeah they look at you like you crazy

Like “Mister what you want me to do?”

“I’m just tryin’ to fill my gas tank up

Just get some gas so I can go!”

 

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Well fast forward to 2013.  There are no more full-service pumps at gas stations.  But we in wheelchairs still have to blow our horns to get help with gas.  I don’t do it.  Too embarrassing.  I just get out of the van and ask a stranger, or roll into the store and ask someone working behind the counter to come out.  But if there is only one person working in the store, they can’t come out to help you.

My buddy Dr. JR Harding is working on solving this issue down in Florida.  Listen to this radio segment on WFSU about his efforts in Tallahassee.  I wish him the best.  I’m tired of the fillin’ station blues!  Here’s a link to the article.

 

More Information:

National Spinal Cord Injury Association

http://www.spinalcord.org/self-serve-advocacy-fighting-to-improve-gas-station-access/

What do you do when it’s time to fill your tank?  Have you ever been asked by a person in a wheelchair to pump gas? What’s the solution to this problem?

“Ready, Break!”

Borrowing a football chant of unity and inspiration for the real world.

By Greg Smith

As we kick off the 2013 football season, I am throwing some appreciative love back in time over 100 years to men named Paul Hubbard and Amos Alonzo Stagg. Hubbard was a deaf quarterback at Gallaudet University. Stagg was a visionary player and coach who is credited for innovations such as the padded goalpost, hip pads, the position of linebacker, the forward pass, the lateral pass and many others. But in my opinion, players today can be most appreciative to Hubbard and Stagg for one of the most important developments in the game: The Huddle:

Some say Stagg invented the huddle. But don’t let that be read off your lips by anybody in the Gallaudet family or you will have a fight on your hands! They say Hubbard realized that sign language signals could be intercepted by the opposing team, so they gathered in a tight circle to block the signs from view.

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You don’t have to be a football fan to recognize a huddle. It’s when players get together for communication about the next play, and to hear words of inspiration before the next snap of the football. The huddle started in football but has spread to every sport. At the end of the huddle, after instructions have been given, teams will “break the huddle” by shouting something useful in loud unison.

“Ready, team!” Or “Ready, teamwork!”

Or maybe it’s a simple team motto like like “Ready, All In!” And sometimes, teams take it all the way old-school and say what Stagg’s teams used to say: “Ready, break!”

Last Thursday, I was on the phone with my friend and associate Dr. JR Harding. We had scheduled this meeting to share resources and to support each other in the pursuit of our career goals. Dr. Harding is seeking to further his speaking and consulting career. And I wanted to tap into his vast contact database for possible speaking engagements.

The meeting was productive and inspirational. I gave him some great feedback and introduced him to some people that can help immediately. And he gave me introductions to contacts that are very likely to become new clients.

Not only did we share resources, but we also got each other fired up! Both of us filled our role to inspire the other and make each other visualize successful outcomes of what we had planned. We scheduled a follow-up meeting and then it was time to get off the phone.

“As soon as we hang up the phone, I’m going to do this…”

“Okay, man and I am going to do this…”

“Alright dude, let’s push each other. Let’s make sure we see this stuff happen for real!”

“I’m with you brother!”

Then the words jumped right out of my mouth without any planning: “Ready, Break!” And before I could finish saying the second word, JR spontaneously responded on cue: “Break!” And we just hung up the phone!

I was so fired up after that conversation that I went on to have one of the most productive days in recent memory. I kept all of my commitments to JR, and he kept all of his to me.

Dr. JR Harding – My Teammate!

I think Dr. Harding understood exactly where I was coming from because before he was quadriplegic, he was offensive lineman. His neck was broken when he turned to walk away from a fight and a young man attacked him from behind, throwing his head into the ground. 15 years later, he broke his neck again in a vehicle accident. But since then, he has enjoyed a successful career, earned his doctorate degree, and found the love of his life. His complete story is told in his autobiography, “Now What?” You will learn more about JR in his guest blog on this site coming soon. JR is one member of a tight network of people that I consider to be my teammates. They care about me. They push me. I care about them, I push them back. And we all have enjoyed success.

From now on, every time I get off the phone with a teammate, I’m going to end the conversation the same way I’m going to end this article. We’ll see if it catches on. If it becomes a national trend, just remember where you learned it.

“Now get out there and give it 110%!”

“Ready, Break!”

New documentary explores disability in film.

Jamie Foxx headlines all-star cast.

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Jamie Foxx with “Cinemability” filmmaker Jenni Gold

Recently, I blogged about the new NBC television show “Ironside,” which will debut this fall. The show’s main character is a paraplegic, but the actor that portrays him is the non disabled actor Blair Underwood.  I am used to nondisabled people pretending to be disabled for the big screen.  But a character on what could probably be a hit TV series that airs weekly crosses a different line. Unfortunately, it is just one of many lines that are constantly crossed in Hollywood when it comes to the portrayal and presentation of my brothers and sisters with disabilities.

A new documentary film, “Cinemability” explores the history of film’s questionable presentation of disability.  It started with the old silent films and continues to this day.  The most recent example is the evil antagonist in the movie “The Lone Ranger.”

In “Cinemability,” Jenni Gold, a disabled filmmaker, uses clips from movies, combined with commentary about the issue from Hollywood heavyweights, to weave a detailed thorough examination of the subject of disability representation in film.  Among the names of the people featured: Jamie Fox, Ben Affleck, Jane Seymour, William H. Macy.

It is very important that you see this film! Go to the film’s website and find a screening near you. If you can’t find one, think about hosting one!  http://www.cinemability.com

What do you think about Hollywood’s representation of people with disabilities? Do you think movies document society’s perception of us? Or do they shape society’s perception of us?  Leave your comments by clicking the yellow button below.

Making LIFE Better

Community Responds to Need

Remember back in June when I reported to you the theft of over $3,000 worth of computer equipment from the Biloxi Independent living Center, LIFE?  If you will remember, the thief or thieves cut a hole in the ceiling tile and dropped in to the offices to make their heist.

Not only did I report it to you.  It made me so mad that I also reported it to my friends at WLOX-TV who aired a segment about the theft on the news.  Now, things are looking much better at LIFE!  New computer equipment and financial contributions have put the important non-profit in a better place.

“We have been greatly blessed,” says Cindy Singletary, LIFE’s Independent Living Specialist.  “We have had donations of a few computers and monetary donations from generous companies and individuals.  We also have a few donations in the works that would allow us to be fully recovered.  The generosity has been amazing, and we cannot fully express our gratitude.  It is amazing how a select individual/group’s selfish act can spur the community’s nature of giving and support.”

Huntington Ingalls Industries, Gulf Coast Yellow Cab and multiple private donors have come to LIFE’s aid.  If you meant to give but haven’t gotten around to it, mail or take a check, money order or cash to LIFE of Mississippi, 2030 Pass Road, Suite C, Biloxi, MS 39531.

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Greg, an AmeriCorp Member whose personal laptop was stolen in the incident is back at work on his new computer.

Race in America: Moving Through H.A.T.E. to GREAT!

Hate, Accept, Tolerate, Embrace: 4 steps to our Groove!

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By Greg Smith

As a child, I hated the entire concept of disability.  To hate something so much means that a person must separate himself from it.  I did not want to have anything to do with it.  There were healthy, able-bodied people seemingly everywhere… on television, at school, at church.  And there were those disabled people that I would see every now and then in public.  They made me feel awkward and uneasy.  I didn’t want to be around them.  Later in my childhood, I would see more of them in the summers when I went to camp.  But I wasn’t like those people. I did not think of myself in any way as disabled. I was better than that.

As much as I hated my association with the concept of disability, I had no choice but to accept it.  I walked slower.  I could not run.  I could not lift heavy objects.  I could not ride a bike or play sports.  Even though I didn’t consider myself disabled, I had to accept the fact that I was, at the very least limited.

When I reached high school, fate led me to meet a few people with disabilities who were impressive, personable and productive.  That trend continued in college and a slow maturation process began, to the point where I began to tolerate the thought of disability.  I recognized that no matter how hard I tried to fight it, disability was part of my identity. It was as if I had lived my entire life without having the courage to look in a mirror.  And after a long stare, I realized I was in part defined by the “D” word. I still hated that part of my identity and refused to allow it to dominate my focus.  I simply tolerated it.

Over time, my newfound tolerance removed barriers that led to learning about disability history, meeting more great people with disabilities and actually starting to embrace it and finally owning it as a part of my identity!  I went from hatred, to acceptance, to tolerance, to embracing.  It was when I finally reached the stage of embracing that I started to grow leaps and bounds in every area of life.  When I became ONE with my disability and viewed it as a beautiful natural part of human diversity, the world opened up to me and my path through “On A Roll Radio” to “The Strength Coach” was paved.  I was then able to move into my groove!

Racial H.A.T.E

Race relations in America can be compared to my experience with disability.  I was born in March 1964 in rural Bay Springs, Mississippi into a world of hate.  Three months after I was born, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi out of hate.  A month later hate was in the air when 341 were injured and 774 were arrested in race riots in the same town.  These were the headlines but the underlying theme was the same across the land.  We hated each other.

And then came July 2 when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Hate started to yield to the fact that America was changing and like it or not, it was time to accept.

It seems that in the 50 years since the volatile civil rights movement, Americans have been stuck in the mode where racial diversity is something that we tolerate.  That’s kind of a good thing.  Tolerance has led to great accomplishments.  The end of a segregationist philosophy.  The beginning of a shared experience of Americans who started to realize that we had more in common than in conflict.  The emergence of a “middle class” of African Americans and all minorities.  Some of the resistance to the pursuit of the American Dream has eroded, although much of it still exists.  But tolerance has led to a healing path.

We have come a long way, but the recent headlines reveal to me that we are still tolerating racial diversity.  The fact that race is such a hot topic reveals that we are not at a point of embracing that part of our identity yet.

I could not become complete until I embraced my disability as a part of who I am.  That embracing made me complete.  The conflict within myself ended, and using my entire being in congruence, I was able to step into my groove!

In much the same way, America needs to take that last step and embrace ethnic diversity before she can become all that she is capable of.  America is better than she was, but she is still tolerating.  She needs to take that next step and get out of her own way to realize her destiny.  It is about time that tolerance leads to embracing diversity and when that happens, we as a society can finally reach our potential to become one nation, under a groove!

Low Life Scum Robs Disability Non-Profit

By Greg Smith

Image of hole in the ceiling over Cindy Singletary's desk at LIFE.  Where the robbers entered.

Yeah you are a real gangsta!  You planned the perfect heist.

You arranged for an open window in an adjacent building, came in through the attic, cut a hole in the ceiling, and climbed out with 5 laptops valued at about $3,000.  Big score.  Congratulations.  They should make a movie about you.

Except they don’t make movies about low life scum who steal from independent living centers.  You don’t get a theme song.  No big-name star would take your role.

Do you even know what an independent living center is?  I’ll tell you what it is.  It is a non-profit organization, run mostly by people with disabilities that provides independent living skills training, information and referral, peer support and advocacy for people with disabilities.

A quadriplegic named Ed Roberts started the first one in the 1960′s in Berkeley, California and there are now over 400 of them across the country, providing the services that give people with disabilities a fighting chance to maintain full inclusion in the mainstream of community life.  They range in size from the one in Phoenix with an annual budget of over $25 million to very small organizations like the one you hit in Biloxi, Mississippi.

But to answer my own question, yes, you do know what an independent living center is because you could see the posters on the walls.  You could read the names on the certificates and degrees as you were carefully unplugging and stealing computers and cables from people’s desks.

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Cindy Singletary, Independent Living Specialist, LIFE

One of the names is Cindy Singletary, Independent Living Specialist at LIFE (Living Independently for Everyone). I noticed you were careful to not knock her Southern Miss degree on the floor when you pulled her desk away from the wall to access her laptop cables.

“We went into the office and there was a pile of plaster on the floor and sheetrock hanging from the ceiling,” says Cindy.  “We looked around and noticed the laptops were missing.  We lost the whole network.  All the info about what we’ve been doing with each and every individual.  That’s 300 records and includes years of history for each client.”

Thank heavens, Cindy is one of those people who backs up everything so the records are recoverable.  But your actions brought important work to a grinding halt.

“All of our work with Social Security assistance is on hold.  All appointments had to be rescheduled, slowing down an already lengthy process,” says Cindy.  “Today, all we could do is provide information using our own personal computers.”

LIFE will survive.  Readers of this blog and those who see the media coverage of your stupidity will come to the rescue and help replace what was lost. People can donate by mailing or taking a check, money order or cash to LIFE of Mississippi, 2030 Pass Road, Suite C, Biloxi, MS 39531

“It had to be somebody who knew what we had in here and knew a little bit about the construction and layout of our building,” says Cindy. “If it was a client, that’s really sad.  I feel bad for the persons who did this most of all.”

Nice lady.  I don’t feel bad for you.  I hope they catch you!  You messed with the wrong “crips.”  Maybe someone will offer a reward for information leading to your arrest.   Oh, and look for TV news coverage of your “heist” on Wednesday.  You’re going down!

 

What I Learned in Bed Last Night

Learning new tricks in bed

Every night, I sleep with the remote to my television, the remote to my Amish heater, and my cell phone. I figured out a while back that I should also sleep without covers under the ceiling fan, and adjust the temperature in my room with the heater. This way, I am not limited by the weight of the covers, which allows me to turn over much more easily.

This simple adjustment allows me to get much better sleep. Previously, every time I needed to turn over, I would have to wake up completely and figure out how to position the covers that were preventing me from rolling. I would have to struggle to get them out of my way.

In the past, I would frequently just pick up my cell phone and call for help in order turn at night. But since I have discovered the freedom that resulted from absence of covers, I have been doing this independently for the most part.

Moments ago, I woke up with the need to turn over. After working through the five minute process of posturing my body and gaining the leverage to make the turn, it was time to nestle back into the rest of my night’s sleep.

But the room was getting warm, and I needed to turn the heater off for a while. I put my hand behind my back to feel around for the remote. I tried every position of my arms I could think of to increase the area of my search. I felt the remote to the television. I found my phone. But I could not find the small remote for that heater!

The temperature in the room swelled. I bent my arms backwards and folded them using all kinds of leverage tricks to try to increase the areas that I could feel around for it. Nothing seemed to work.

My options were to call for help, endure the hot temperature of the room, or dig deeper and find a way to locate the remote.

What I love about having muscular dystrophy is that it constantly challenges me to use my mind to compensate for what my body can’t do. I always find a way. I love the feeling of victory over the challenge.

I could not feel the remote. I needed to see where it was. How could I see it? I turned my cell phone on and put it in “video camera mode.” I turned the flash on and started to record. Pointing the camera behind my back, I moved it slowly up-and-down facing the mattress behind me to try to locate the remote! After recording for about 20 seconds, I turned the camera off and looked at my “film.”

Nothing… nothing… There it is! Right next to the TV remote only about an inch closer to my body that I had felt. How did I miss it when I was feeling around?

But now I knew exactly where it was. I easily grabbed it, turned the temperature down in the room and began writing this story, because I felt proud of my creative solution to the problem. Another little victory in the game of life! Now back to sleep.

Would you have thought of that solution? I am learning that the answers to all of our problems are within reach. It’s just a matter of focusing on the solutions and bringing them out of the darkness using new sources of light.

Monetized Motivation!

By Greg Smith

Putting a Price Tag on Your Productivity

There’s a display panel on my wheelchair that lets me know what “gear” I’m in and when it’s time to recharge the battery. Most people mount it using a long metal adjustable arm. But that arm doesn’t fit my lifestyle. It gets in the way. So since I got the chair, I just let mine hang on my armrest. I don’t need to see it. I can feel the on-off switch, and it beeps 4 times to let me know I’m in maximum speed mode.

A couple of weeks ago, the display found itself on the wrong side of the seat belt in my van. When I reversed my chair away from the van’s steering wheel, the seat belt yanked the cord leading to the display which exposed colorful wires and immediately, my chair stopped working completely. I jiggled the wires for a minute and quickly got the right response: “Beep beep!”

Photo of broken display panel

Cool. I exited the van and went about my business for about 10 minutes before I engaged the joystick and felt no response. I jiggled the cords again for about 5 minutes. “Beep beep!” I struggled through the day like this, but each time I jiggled the cords, it seemed like it took longer to get the “Beep beep!”

I called Joey, the guy who fixes my chair. He ordered a replacement display panel. So for the next week, I was jiggling and waiting. Each time, I wondered whether there was going to BE a “Beep beep!”

Finally, the part arrived.

“It’s going to be $800.”

“WHAT????”

Things suddenly happened in my brain. I Googled “Electrician in Ocean Springs, Mississippi” and AG Electronics popped up.

“We don’t do medical equipment. We do mostly construction,” the dude said. I worked him like a sales rep gunning for a big commission, telling him not to worry if he did further damage because it’s already broken.

“At least come take a look at it!” I emailed him some photos of the part and he agreed to come give it a try.

I was confident when I saw him arrive wearing the little flashlight headband. His name was Gilbert. After getting the proper tools, he removed six screws holding the box together. Carefully, he gently pulled the box apart to take a peek inside. He was slow and steady in his movements so as not allow any of the many parts inside to fall out.

Now, was it the pink wire? The blue wire? The red? The yellow? Which one needed to be reattached? Did Gilbert have the steady hands to do the job?

All of the wires led to a white plastic plug that had simply been pulled apart! He plugged the two pieces back together! Job done. Beep beep!

I did my Strength Coach “fist pump” and happily gave him my credit card, which was billed $75! We talked about business and compared our receding hairlines. I made a new friend. The next day, Joey sent the replacement part back to the manufacturer. My savings? $725!

Moral of the story? I guess if you’re properly motivated, you can get creative and think outside the box. (Sorry, not an intentional pun but it survived the edit!) The $800 price tag on the replacement box is what motivated me to seek another solution.

How can I use this lesson going forward? I think there is a price tag on not fully thinking things through to the best solution. We also pay for the calls we don’t make and the projects we don’t finish. There is a price tag on the steps to success we have identified but not taken action on. Maybe that $750 I saved by making that call is just a drop in the bucket compared to the value of following through with the plans that lead to my dream come true. Maybe it is time to start monetizing my motivation.

Your thoughts?