Tribute: What My Dad Taught Me About Achieving Potential

I called him the minute I got to my car.

“Dad, you know the project I told you about – the one where my teacher gave me permission to test your theory and tool with some kids around here and report the results?”

“Yes.” I could hear him smiling, trying to contain his excitement at the idea that a university professor would see his theory and give his daughter permission to see what results we could facilitate.

“Well, I’m talking to a few possible project candidates, you know. And I met this girl… I have a sense I can help her, but I’m wondering if I’m crazy.”

“Tell me about her…” His interest was piqued. Man, he loved seeing the possibilities of applying his theory and tool to difficult cases.

“Well, she was deprived of oxygen for too long at birth, and the results were pretty devastating to her nervous and muscular systems. Her mind is fully intact – she’s actually a smart cookie –but her body has some real limitations. It’s palsy-like. She’s in a wheelchair, and only has large motor muscle control. Fine motor is really difficult for her – writing, typing, etc.”

I heard him take a deep breath but couldn’t tell
if it was excitement or hesitation.

“The thing is. I was watching her in the cafeteria today, and I noticed something. There were times where she moved very differently, smoothly even, and I wondered: Is it possible that she’s not as physically incapacitated as she thinks she is? Like…” Now I took a breath, kinda surprised this was even coming out of my mouth. “Like…maybe her current self-image is limiting her actual physical capacity?”

“Oh yeah, that’s possible. Look at what I just did with my buddy’s daughter. She was afraid to leave her house. Couldn’t shop, travel, or experience life outside of her house. And after a few sessions and some practice, she’s living a normal life. She felt like it was a literal physical limitation because the symptoms showed up in her body, but the limitation was really in her mind. Once we shifted that, her physical ‘limit’ disappeared.”

“So you think I should go for it?” I asked, still shocked that I would even consider this.

Is the tool this powerful?
Am I savvy enough with it to get these types of results?

“If you feel you can help her, and she’s willing to participate, I don’t see what the harm would be. The only thing I’d recommend is that you withhold this idea that her mind is limiting her physically. That concept might be too hard for her to grasp up front. Let’s work on an approach that will lead her into this realization…”

And we went to work.

We decided to focus more on some of the mental performance goals she had – memorization, speed-reading, etc. – and then tap that success as leverage to work on the physical limitations. And of course, we’d do that through fun activities, like playing the little kid basketball game at Chuck E Cheese.

I decided to work with her for a full semester, and it wasn’t long before I saw that I was right.

It was the first time we met in front of the university cafeteria for lunch. When we got to the first counter, I waited for her to grab her tray. I didn’t think anything of it, until several moments had passed. I looked at her, and she was looking around, just waiting…

Wait? Is she waiting for me to get her tray?

And then I remembered that’s what I had seen other people do for her repeatedly in the café.

Hmmmmm…I’m pretty sure she’s completely capable of grabbing the tray and plating her food. She could probably even get it onto her lap and to a table with her motor skills.

“Hey, Jamie. Are you hungry? You gonna grab a tray?”

She looked up at me, wide-eyed, stunned that I wasn’t offering help.

“Um… yeah, sure. I can do that…” And she did. She reached up and grabbed the tray, plated her food, and carried it to the table.

By the time we got to the table,
Jamie’s posture and countenance had changed.

As we talked about her life, I saw exactly why she had waited for me to grab the tray and transformed by the time she got her tray to the table.

Like any parent who has been through such a traumatizing experience, witnessing their healthy baby transform into a physically challenged infant and child, her parents did what they thought was best. They took care of her every need. They did everything for her. They tried to make her as comfortable and happy as possible.

And that was wonderful…until it began to create more limitation than confidence…

Instead of helping her see how much she was capable of, they did everything for her.

It’s true. My sense was right.
She doesn’t even know what she’s capable of physically.

That was the last time Jamie waited for anyone to grab a tray, plate her food, and carry it to the table. She had a completely different energy and posture in the cafeteria now. Even when I wasn’t with her, I watched her, dumbfounded at how such a simple act could increase her self-confidence so quickly.

Throughout the rest of our work together, I held the space of believing she could do more and challenged her one activity at a time. She did all of the mental exercises required, and we enjoyed our trips to Chuck E Cheese to make the exercises more physical (while I quietly tracked the impact it was having on her physical motor ability).

I’ll never forget our last day at Chuck E Cheese.

I watched her sink 75% of the shots and miss the others by a sliver. But that wasn’t what struck me the most.

It wasn’t her strength or new skills; it was her posture, her confidence, her energy.

It was the way she grabbed the ball and shot it, with the belief that she could make the shot.

It was the now un-stuttered movement of her arms and hands as she threw the ball.

It was the beaming smile she sent in my direction when she sunk one.

This girl was forever changed.

Because one person stepped into her life and said, “I see you. I believe in you. I think you’re capable of even more. I will help you see just how far you can take this,” and then showed up to challenge every limiting belief she had and give her a tool she could practice to make it happen. And she did it. She stayed with it, even through the challenges and upside-downs.

For my dad, the question was always, “How can I help this person create a new, expanded self-image that will allow them to perform better?”

And his answer was always, “Well, if they can see it in their mind, they can eventually believe it and step into it. All it takes is a certain kind of practice.”

What’s amazing is that I didn’t know my dad was
using this tool with me my whole life until I got to college.

As he shared the theory and the tool with me, I was amazed that he had literally turned my mind into a powerful achieving machine, and modeled how to help others and watch the theory and tool free them from limitations they never thought they’d get out from under.

By the time I finished college, I had a whole new belief in human potential and all I wanted to do was help people see how powerful they really are.

First, it was Teens. I trained to be a high school teacher who would show them how powerful they were, how they could expand beyond any expectations or limits that had been placed on them by parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives.

Then, it was my own kid and eventually other children. I was inspired to write a series of books that would show parents how to nurture and grow their children’s self-image, skill-base, and confidence without limiting them.

And now, it’s Messengers. Reflecting back who they are. Challenging them to think beyond their limits. Walking alongside them as they rewrite the old stories and lies that keep them feeling and playing small. Modeling a new way of facilitating transformation in others.

Yep, his message and work is truly an integral part of the work I do in the world today…

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