A few years ago, I worked with clients at a hospital in Chicago, IL. We had a few physically disabled clients who did not have the use of their legs. In order to get into the van, the van driver would secure them to the a hydraulic lift. The hydraulic lift smoothly lifted them on to the van. Thus mobility and transportation is available to every person without the use of their legs.
It wasn’t always this way. Over 30 years ago, a gentleman named Ralph Braun (Rise Above: How One Man’s Search for Mobility Helped the World Get Moving, by Ralph Braun, is his autobiography) was born with spinal muscular dystrophy. At the age of 14, he discovered he’d have to spend his life in a wheelchair. To this young man, it was a traumatic event. However, this event also inspired his life work.
The only way around is through. – Robert Frost
Success Factor # 1: It’s OK to be a Sunflower Amongst the Daisies! or, Accept Yourself and Your Life.
The first step for your personal growth plan is to accept and persevere with exactly who you are, the circumstances that you are in, the assets you have, and the seeming limitations that you have. As Ralph himself stated, he had a difficult time coming to terms with his disability. But his parents did not give up on him, and they would not let him give up on himself.
If you are having difficulty accepting, then seek out an encouraging coach, friend, or therapist whom you can work this acceptance out with. Surround yourself with a team of cheerleaders, not naysayers. After all, it’s the company you keep that will propel you forward or hold you back.
Success Factor #2: Bloom Where You are Planted, or at Least Change Gardens!
Ralph Braun went to college for less than a year, then dropped out when he realized he could not get around campus. After dropping out, he decided to make lemonade out of lemons: he decided to design a battery-powered scooter that would get him around better. He sought out and hung around with his uncles, all of whom were great mechanics. And he found out that his mechanical aptitude, coupled with his mentoring under his uncles, blossomed. People told him it would never work: but he had belief in himself and in his abilities. Other people’s negative opinions never held him back.
Personal Life Plan Lesson:
Put a plan for personal growth into motion. Determine that you are going to suck everything you can out of life every day with the current opportunities, circumstances, and abilities that you have. For those of you who work at a corporate job, have you taken advantage of the often fantastic and varied training courses and programs that they have available to you, often free of charge? Are you seeking out influential people in your department or in other departments and getting to know them, asking them how they got to where they are, and what they would recommend you to read, or what further skills to develop?
For those of you who are in a small business, have you taken advantage of community college courses, of workshops, of Toastmasters, of business networking information groups, or of you chamber of commerce. Have you taken the opportunity to serve your way into recognition in any of these groups? Are you nurturing and adding value to your friends, acquaintances, and customers in the business community?
Success Factor #3: There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat While You’re Being Chased by a Bear
Ralph showed a certain savvy, grit, and perseverance on his way to success. He started working in a factory as a quality control technician. As the factory control workers saw him zip around on his new scooter, they started coming to him and asking him to design scooters for friends of theirs who had similar disabilities. When he moved farther away from the factory, he had to find more reliable transportation, so he bought a conversion van. Soon, he realized that he needed a way to get into the van. So, utilizing the aptitude and knowledge he had acquired from building his scooter, he designed the lift that you see in the photo in this blog.
It wasn’t long before word got around in the same way that his scooter had, via word of mouth, and he was soon designing those lifts for co-worker’s friends and families.
At this point, he was busy enough that he could have quit his job. But he was realistic enough to realize that to support his wife and three children, he would need to continue to work at the factory. (Hint, Hint: You don’t have to immediately quit your day job to start a business. In fact, you may never quit your job to start a business. Remember that there are all sorts of combinations that can work: internet info products you develop or sell as an affiliate; your own web sites that you monetize, freelancing, consulting, moving into higher positions of responsibility within your own company).
But I digress. After working at the factory for…….9 years….he had gotten so busy designing lifts and scooters, that he decided it was time to launch his own business, devoting all his focus to that. (Hint, Hint: There may come a time where you have to take the leap, and devote the time you need to FOCUS).
Well, things were looking good when he bought his own building, and was pumping out those highly desired scooters and lifts. However, there was this Bear called Fire, and the fire wiped out almost everything he had put into the business. Life was rough, really rough. But his employees were loyal and committed, and they worked extra hard, along with him, to meet the customer demands, and they turned the disaster around. To this day, Ralph Braun states, 2/3 of his original employees are still with the company, after almost 30 years!
As time went on, particularly after the Vietnam War, Mr. Braun noticed two trends. First, the making of scooters was becoming something that was easier and easier for other companies to carry out, and a lot of the parts and labor were cheaper overseas. Second, the demand for his lifts was becoming greater and greater, with disabled veterans coming back from overseas. In addition, he envisioned setting up dealerships to sell his lifts. Seeing those trends, he decided to stop making the scooters, and to focus instead on his lifts. And the rest is history. Wherever you see a wheelchair lift, in the United States or around the world, it is likely a Braun product.
Life Lessons We Can Learn:
- By taking advantages of all the opportunities around us, and by developing our abilities daily, we can progress to more and greater things.
- When disaster strikes, dig in and work hard.
- Cultivate your people skills. (Read How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie) Learn to listen first, then respond. Seek to understand, then to be understood. Treat people over, across from, and under you with the greatest fairness and respect. Because in the end, no one person can carry out great things alone. It takes a team.
And I will end a quote from Mr. Ralph Braun himself, which sums up his personal success:
“When I was growing this business, I had two strikes against me. I was young, and I was what the population calls disabled. I never let that stand in my way. I just had to walk the extra mile, or roll the extra mile in my case.”
May we learn and change and grow to be as impactful and successful as Mr. Braun. Because there was only one of him, and there is only one of you!
Disclosure: I borrowed much of this material from an interview of Ralph Braun in Inc Magazine.photo credit: Saulo Cruz