Experience Life By Yourself

When I look back to some of the greatest experiences of my life, many of them have one thing in common… they happened because I was alone. I wasn’t surrounded by a big group of people.

To most people, the thought of going out to eat alone, going to a theme park alone, traveling and exploring new places alone, etc. doesn’t sound very appealing. Believe me, I used to be the same way. But, over time, I learned that going solo allows you to experience things you likely would not get to experience if you were with a large group. When you decide to experience life by yourself, you are giving yourself freedom. You have freedom to do whatever you want to do. You have freedom to go wherever you want to go. You have freedom to eat and drink whatever and wherever you choose, without having to worry about anybody else’s preferences. You have the freedom to suddenly make a split-second decision and completely change your plans, and you don’t have to worry about upsetting or inconveniencing anybody else.

My life today is very different from the way I grew up and the way I lived most of my life. When I look back to the turning point in my life, Chicago stands out for me. For those of you who have read my previous posts, this is repetitive, but for those who haven’t read my previous posts, I traveled with a band for six incredible years. It was a dream come true, and I got to spend about 180 days a year on the road. During that time, places like Cincinnati and Chicago became almost like a second home for us. I remember a few times in Chicago when we had a day off, or even just a few hours to kill before a show, and the rest of the guys either had other plans or just wanted to rest, so I started going out on my own and explored downtown Chicago by myself. I spent hours wandering around Grant Park. I found random, small restaurants and decided to stop in and eat by myself. These experiences taught me to live in the moment and just enjoy everything going on around me. People watching quickly became a favorite hobby for me. You can learn a lot about the world around you when you sit by yourself at a table that is out of the way of the crowd around you and just watch people interact with each other.

I specifically remember randomly running across a small NY style pizzeria in downtown Chicago. It was the kind of place that you could easily pass by and never notice it. The sign happened to catch my eye, so I decided to check it out. I ordered two slices and a beer, then grabbed a corner table that was as far out of the way as possible. After my first couple of bites, the owner walked up to my table and introduced himself. He asked if I was enjoying the pizza (it was amazing!!), and then asked how I found the place. I told him I was in town for the weekend, and just happened to be passing by. I told him it was my first time eating there, and would definitely not be my last. He told me to wait for a minute, and walked away. When he returned, he brought me an additional slice and another beer, on the house. I thanked him, shook his hand, and told him I couldn’t wait to come back to Chicago and eat there again. This was definitely an experience that never would have happened if I had been with a large group. Years later, I still haven’t forgotten that experience, and I can’t wait to get back to Chicago again someday and eat there again. I have only eaten there twice, but both times were fantastic!!

Another perfect example of benefitting from being alone was last October at a Garth Brooks concert here in Orlando. Ticketmaster sold me a seat that was supposed to be in a wheelchair accessible section. The seat they sold me was actually in the middle of the floor at the Amway Center. When the usher showed me to my seat, he said, “Obviously, people will be standing in front of you during the entire concert, and you won’t be able to see anything. You should not have been sold this seat. Please wait here, and I will be back to help you.” About 45 minutes later, the usher came back and said, “I spoke with Garth’s people and told them about your seat. I explained that you are in a wheelchair and are here by yourself. They have given me permission to fix this situation. Please come with me.” The usher proceeded to bring me to a spot on the side of the floor next to the fifth row!!!! It was one of the most incredible concert experiences of my life, and I got to see my idol, Garth Brooks, from five rows away!!

Experiencing things solo puts you in a position to meet new people more easily. When you are by yourself, strangers are more likely to approach you and introduce themselves than if you are with a group of people. I find this to be true everywhere I go. You can meet some of the most incredible people just by simply being there. You don’t have to put in any effort at all. If you are in a busy place by yourself, people tend to notice.

Back in May, I went to the Jimmy Buffett concert in Orlando by myself. The guy sitting next to me introduced himself and said he had been to over 20 Jimmy Buffett shows. He asked where I’m from and how I became a Parrothead (there will likely be another post about that in the near future… stay tuned!!). The guy was a jazz musician in New York City for many years, before he got sick of the cold winters and decided to move to a warmer climate. This guy had a lot of great stories to tell, and it seems he has lived a pretty amazing life. Once again, he said he noticed that I was by myself, and he wanted to keep me company. That conversation was one of many great memories from that night.

Earlier tonight, I met some really wonderful people while waiting for the fireworks to start at Magic Kingdom. I was there and was by myself. They introduced themselves and joined me. This happens to me all of the time at Disney World. Last time I was there, I met a nice family from Ireland. The time before that, I met people from Connecticut and New York. The people I met tonight were from New Jersey and Australia. In all of those situations, if I had been surrounded by a big group of friends or family, I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t have met any of these people I have met. When you’re with a group of people, you tend to focus more on your group and less on the people around you.

While you should never ask for it or expect it, people are more likely to go out of their way to do something special for you if they see that you’re by yourself. Just by being by yourself in the right place at the right time, you can have an experience that most people only dream of having. The difference between you and them is that you dare to step out of your comfort zone and experience life by yourself. You don’t need a group with you to have a good time. You can always create your own fun and your own memories. As a result, you will have stories to tell to people who say they just can’t imagine going out without a group surrounding them. Life is too short to waste time waiting for others to make up their minds. If your friends or family can’t agree on somewhere to go or something to do, don’t be afraid to make your own plans and go solo. You just might end up having an experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

 

GarthGBLights and SpeakersChicago statue

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Time Flies!!

Time flies. It really does. The older you get, the more quickly the time seems to pass by. The phrase “time flies” is something I think I have said more than any other words over the past few years. Life can get extremely hectic, and it’s very easy to get so wrapped up in trying to keep up with everything that is currently going on in your life that you forget to take a little timeout every once in a while to reflect on the things you’ve done, the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, etc. up to this point. Your past is what has led you to the present, so taking time to pause and look back every once in a while is important. Knowing how you got to your current life situation can help guide your future decisions. You can reflect on your successes while also learning from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them.

As I’m sitting here right now writing this, the thought that is on my mind more than anything else is two years ago. It was two years ago today that I packed my last few remaining items into my car and began the nearly 2,000 mile drive to Orlando. I left behind my family, my friends, and the only life I had ever known. The only plan I had was to earn a college degree, and then figure out the rest. I had no idea what to expect in my new life in Florida. I had no friends down here. And, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do with my future. Because of the person that I am and because of the way I have always lived my life, looking back, I honestly can’t believe I actually left North Dakota. It is absolutely crazy to move to a place thousands of miles from home with no job, no real plan, and hardly any money, yet convince yourself that there is nothing to worry about, because “I’ll figure it out.”

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love life in Florida. Being the kind of person who can’t stand snow and cold weather, North Dakota was never a place where I would willingly spend the rest of my life. As a golfer and a Parrothead, Florida just makes sense for me. “Never say never” is another phrase I’ve learned to be very true. I can’t say I would never move back home again, but I would have to be dragged back kicking and screaming.

When I look back at the past two years, it has been a pretty ridiculous rollercoaster ride. Most of my close friends and even a lot of my family don’t know most of this, so buckle up, hang on, and enjoy the ride.

My first weekend in Florida, there was a hurricane forecast to make landfall. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. That same week, I started school at Golf Academy of America’s Orlando campus, and played my first round of golf in the Florida heat… in summer. I found out pretty quickly what can happen when you aren’t prepared for the extreme heat and humidity in Florida. I almost collapsed on the golf course from heat exhaustion, and my day ended after only nine holes.

After that adjustment period of getting used to a new climate and a new state, school started off extremely well. I decided immediately that I had chosen the perfect school for me.

Less than three weeks later, I was involved in a car accident and my car was totaled. Since I need hand controls installed in my car to be able to drive, this meant the process of finding a new car and having hand controls installed was a long, frustrating process.

For three weeks, I had to rely on Uber to get to and from class. I live 25 miles from the school, so you can probably imagine how expensive that commute was 5 days a week. When I finally got a new car with hand controls installed, I was relieved, to say the least. Life finally started getting back to normal for me a little bit after that.

At the beginning of January 2016, I became a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder. After a stressful end to 2015, having the option of going to Disney was a nice perk of living where I live. It was nice to escape reality for a bit and just have fun after a busy day at school. As I became more familiar with the parks, I began to visit more frequently. Telling myself, “You get to go to Disney World after your homework is done” was great motivation to work harder and get things done as quickly as possible. That motivation to get things done right away, instead of procrastinating like I had always done in the past, resulted in me consistently finishing each semester at Golf Academy with the highest GPA I’d ever achieved in any previous level of school.

The next several months were filled with lots of school work, volunteer work, Disney visits, and a lot of opportunities I never thought would be possible for me to experience. I got to volunteer at the PGA Merchandise Show Demo Day here in Orlando, and then attend the merchandise show for the rest of the week as a guest. I had always seen the PGA show on Golf Channel, but never thought I would have the opportunity to experience it.

Two months later, was another dream come true for me when I not only got to attend the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, but I also had the opportunity to help set up the merchandise tent before the tournament started.

Not much changed for the next few months. I was busy every day between completing schoolwork, and trying to enjoy Disney as often as possible.

Summer of 2016 is when things started to change for me. The realization that graduation was only months away and I still had no real plan for the future started to sink in a bit. I became stressed out and terrified.

One of my greatest fears in life is the unknown. I hate not knowing what to expect in a situation. You can’t control what other people do, but I like having full control in my life, and I felt like most of 2016 was a mystery. I just kept moving forward and hoping for the best without being able to control much. At this point, I started to feel like whenever I was down, life would walk up to me and kick me in the ribs for no apparent reason.

Over the past two years, there have been probably 10-15 times that stand out to me as being times when anybody with any common sense would have packed up and gone running back to the safety and comfort of home. Over half of those times occurred during the summer of 2016.

When things seemed to finally start to settle down in August of 2016, I thought maybe my luck was about to change. I got to live one of my lifelong dreams when I had the amazing opportunity to play a round of golf at Bay Hill. It was well worth the decades of waiting for the experience. One week later, to the day, my doorbell rang. I was served with a lawsuit from my car accident from nearly a year earlier. One of the passengers who was perfectly fine after the accident, decided to sue me, claiming he was injured in the accident.

For those of you don’t know me, I am the kind of person who worries a lot about how the things I do and say might impact those around me. I would never intentionally do anything to harm another person in any way, and tend to over-think and obsess over certain things. The thought of that accident, which I thought was behind me, causing someone to be injured is something that honestly brought me a lot of anxiety. The lawsuit dragged on for nine months before it was settled.

In that time, my emotions from day-to-day seemed to bounce back and forth between relief and near depression. Attorneys told me I couldn’t control anything, so I didn’t need to worry. The thought of me not being able to control the situation made me worry even more. There were many sleepless nights over that nine month period for me. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I found out the lawsuit had been settled. Most people maybe wouldn’t have worried about it as much, but it was on my mind almost constantly for nine months.

One night I will never forget occurred in late September 2016. It was a Sunday night, and I needed to buy golf balls for my tournament the next morning. I was driving into Winter Garden, FL to buy golf balls when I received 3 text messages from different friends within just seconds of each other. My phone was sitting next to me and I saw them as they popped up on my phone. One read, “Oh no!! Arnie!!”. One read, “Oh my God, no!!” The last one read, “Arnie!! What the hell?” Without hearing any news, I knew what they meant. I was stunned and almost swerved off the road and into a tree. When I arrived at the store in Winter Garden, I went inside and everyone was crying. Strangers were hugging and sharing stories of a truly incredible man. Arnold Palmer had passed away. Those of you who don’t live in the Orlando area will likely never understand the impact that great man had on this city. Although I had been around him, I never had the opportunity to actually meet him. That didn’t matter though. Arnold Palmer is the person and the role model that people in the golf industry strive to be like. It felt as though a good friend was gone. I went out of my way to drive by Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge on the way home that night. Media vans and helicopters had already begun to swarm the area. Although I didn’t know Mr. Palmer personally, I went home that night and cried. The next morning, I wore a Bay Hill shirt and hat for my golf tournament and decided I was playing that day in Mr. Palmer’s honor. I ended up playing one of the best rounds of golf of my life.

As graduation approached, I was able to get a little break from every day life when my best friend since birth (we were born five days apart), his wife, and her sister came to visit me for a few days. I hadn’t seen them in over a year, so it was nice to have fun for a few days and show them my new home and my new life.

After that visit, the rest of 2016 was nearly a blur for me. Halloween and Thanksgiving seemed to be about 4 days apart, because my life was in fast forward at that point. Right after Thanksgiving, my dad flew down here and spent three weeks with me.

On my dad’s birthday, I ended up staying at school five hours later than normal to finish a final project, which would allow me to graduate. When I got home, I picked up my dad and we needed to make one quick stop before heading to a restaurant for his birthday dinner. As I was putting my wheelchair into my car to head out for the evening, my wheelchair broke. A metal bar on the side of the seat just snapped randomly. Since nothing in my time in Florida had ever seemed to go as planned, I figured it was fitting that my wheelchair would break as I was in the middle of finishing final projects and preparing for final exams.

As always, life threw me a curveball and I found a way to adjust. It wasn’t convenient and it wasn’t easy, but I did what I needed to do, and I finished school. I ordered a new wheelchair, which thankfully happened to arrive the night before my graduation. What had been a stressful, confusing, frustrating, thrilling, depressing, amazing, fantastic, horrible, ridiculous year ended with me walking across a stage to receive my diploma. Nothing in my life ever works out the easy way, so 2016 was really not a surprising year for me. You just have to take the hand you’re dealt in life and make the best of it.

2017 started out with a lot of promise. I was done with school and ready to get started in my career in the golf industry. There was just one problem. I had interviewed for multiple jobs, and was turned down every time. I have learned quickly that, as somebody in a wheelchair who is new to the golf industry, very few people are willing to take a chance on me. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for me or make excuses, but it’s the truth. There were interviews where I arrived and the person interviewing me said, “Oh…” when we first met, as they looked at my wheelchair.

The most important thing I learned in school is that your success in your career relies more on who you know than what you know. You have to network and make great friends if you want to succeed. Between my unique situation (being the only Golf Academy student in a wheelchair), my background in coaching youth baseball, my perseverance, and my willingness to volunteer as frequently as possible, I quickly became good friends with one of my instructors at Golf Academy.

Soon after graduation, he offered me a position as the director of a special needs junior golf program. He founded the junior golf program in 2008, and added the special needs program a couple of years later. 2017, for me, has been all about learning how to teach and grow a junior golf program for kids with special needs. I still have a lot to learn and need to keep getting better, but I am excited about the possibilities for the future. I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I finally feel like I am on the right path in life. I feel like I am doing something meaningful. Being able to be a positive role model and to help kids achieve their goals is something that brings me great joy. I absolutely love what I do!!

Now that it has been two years since I left home, life isn’t perfect. I love my life, but there is always room for improvement. Every day, I try to find ways to make my life a little better. My days are filled with golf and Disney, for the most part. Some people would say that’s a pretty great life. I have to agree. I started blogging a little over a month ago now.

For years, people told me to start blogging. I was hesitant, but here I am, sharing my thoughts and my life story with the world. I realize that many of you who are reading this don’t know me. I appreciate you taking the time to read it, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please like, comment, and follow if you enjoyed this and want to read more. I have lots to say, and I hope everyone gets something out of it. Life is a crazy journey that can bring a wide range of emotions, but I always choose to focus on the positives in every situation. Life isn’t always perfect, but no one can stop you from following your dreams except yourself. Keep pushing, and keep moving forward. As many times as I should have thrown in the towel and gone running back to my comfort zone, here I am positively rolling through life.

Me at Legacy ClubCastle closeupMe at Beach

Do What You Love, and Be Genuinely Thankful For It

How many people settle for just doing whatever they need to do to get by in life? And, how many people actually put in the time and effort to discover their true passion and make it their every day life? Every day, I hear people say they are just going through life. They don’t know what they want. They have found something in which they have no interest that provides them with money to pay their bills, so they settle. They dread waking up to do something they don’t care about. But, they do it, because it allows them to keep living. Far too few people focus on the things in life that they truly love. It’s not crazy at all to turn your passion into your career. People just need to realize that it is possible, and they need to step out of their comfort zone to make it happen. Is it easy? No. Is it doable? Absolutely!

In my life, I have been very fortunate, because I have never had to do something I despised just to get by. I have always found ways to go through life doing the things I love. I am not wealthy. Believe me, I am far from it. But, I am happy. That is something not everyone can say. I’m sure everyone has heard the saying, “Money doesn’t bring you happiness.” While money does provide you with opportunities and does allow you the freedom to try things, it can also cause a lot of problems. I have never been in a situation where happiness has caused problems. I’m sure it happens, but it has never happened to me.

This past weekend, I was talking with some peers about how lucky we are to get to do what we do. We all are passionate about golf, and have decided to make it our career, in one way or another. How many of you who are reading this right now have woken up to your alarm clock ringing early in the morning, and have hated the thought of getting out of bed to go to work? Many of you likely have. During this conversation with my peers, I pointed out that I am a night owl, and always have been. I’ve never been a fan of mornings. When I made the decision to attend a golf school, and eventually begin a career in the golf industry, I knew two things: 1. I would be turning my favorite hobby into my career. 2. I would need to learn to wake up early. Several times over the past couple of years, my alarm has woken me up early in the morning, after not falling asleep until the middle of the night. Every time, I have reminded myself that I was either waking up to play golf, to learn about the golf industry, or to teach golf. When you are waking up extremely early and are exhausted, it is easy to lack motivation. But, when you are waking up to go do something you love, how can you honestly complain? If you complain, then you aren’t doing what you are meant to do in life. Not every day is perfect. Not every day goes as planned. But, when you do what you love, you really can’t complain. Take a moment and consider what else you could be doing with your life.

This past weekend, I ran myself to my breaking point, physically. I was so exhausted and so dehydrated that I ended up getting sick. Looking back at the weekend, the only things I can think of are how much fun I had, how many things were accomplished, and how many potentially positive things could come out of these past few days. Getting sick was just an annoying, minor distraction in the middle of a really fantastic weekend. The reason I got sick was because I was so focused on what I was doing in that moment that I forgot about the obvious… August in Florida is ridiculously hot! You need to drink an excessive amount of water every day. When you feel like you can’t drink any more water, you force yourself to drink more. It’s just necessary for your health.

When I think back to conversations I’ve had in the past with people who were unhappy with life and were just doing something to get by, I have to wonder if they will ever decide to make a change and start living a life that they love. We only get one chance to go through this journey of life. Why not do what you love, and enjoy it? The idea of settling has just never appealed to me. I always want the best that I can find for myself, in every situation. That probably explains why I am finally deciding on a career after all of these years. That probably explains why I’m 32 years old and have been single for most of my life. That probably explains a lot of things, to be honest. I just believe it will all be worth it in the end. I have no problem with holding off and waiting for quality. I am an incredibly patient person. As I have said in previous posts, I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason. You have to just keep living, focus on the things you love, and everything will eventually fall into place.

When I had this conversation with my peers this weekend, I couldn’t help but smile the whole time. I already knew that I was doing what I love, but I was happy to hear other people say the same thing. That made me realize that I am surrounded by people who share a similar mindset. Maybe I’m not totally crazy. Maybe we are some of the few who dare to be different and live life in a way that most others only dream of living. If you are someone who is just going through life getting by and wish you were happier, take some time to focus on yourself. Think about what you really enjoy in this world. I guarantee you can find a way to make money doing something you love. I guarantee you can find happiness in this world. The most important thing you can ever be in this world is happy.

Use today as your opportunity to begin a life of happiness. Why would you wait until tomorrow to be happy when you can be happy today? Take some time for yourself today and think about the things in life you love most. Make those things your top priorities. Focus on those things every day. Life isn’t always perfect, but it’s a lot better when you know that you are waking up every day to do what you love to do. Do what you love to do, and be genuinely thankful for it every day. Not every is quite as fortunate.

LL 1LL 2LL 3Graduation

I Challenge You- Yes, YOU!!

Let’s be honest, there is WAY too much negativity and hate in this world. As beautiful and wonderful as this world can be, the opposite can be, and is, very much true far too often. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. We can all make a positive difference in this world. We can all do our part to make this world a better place. We must. I know that I’m not alone in believing that spreading peace, love, and positivity throughout the world is possible. It takes ALL of us stepping up and doing something for others for change to take place. You don’t have to spend money or much time or effort at all to have a positive impact on the world. Never underestimate the importance of the little things in life. Small, simple gestures can sometimes have the biggest impact.

This is something I have done personally for a long time now, and is something I have challenged family and friends to do in the past, but I am now going to challenge everyone around the world here on Positively Rolling Through Life. I challenge you (every person who reads this) to do something nice for somebody else this week. But, don’t let it stop this week. Take time at least once every week to do something nice for somebody. You can give money to someone in need, you can pay for somebody’s food, you can donate items to those without. But, you don’t need to spend money to have a positive impact. Walk up to a random stranger and say “hello”. Ask how their day is going. Tell them they have a nice smile. Compliment them in some way. However you choose to accept this challenge doesn’t matter. The goal is to put a smile on someone’s face and make their day a little better. You never know what the people around you are going through. Something as simple as saying “hello” to someone and asking how their day is going could make their day. Knowing that somebody in the world cared enough to ask them how they’re doing could leave a lasting impression on them.

The other part of this challenge is selflessness. We all hear stories in the news all the time about people doing good deeds. While many of those deeds are genuine, many of them are also done for attention and personal gain. I ask that you all go out and do something nice for somebody, but I also ask that you do it as selflessly as possible. Knowing that you had a positive impact on somebody and feeling good about yourself should be reward enough. Don’t ask for anything in return. Don’t expect to be praised or to receive any recognition. Whenever I try to do something nice for somebody, I try to find a way to do it quietly. I don’t want to draw a lot of attention to myself. I just hope that the other person appreciates the gesture enough to pass it along to others. Whether they do or not, I will likely never know.

The only way we can change the world is if we stop pointing fingers and passing the blame along to each other, and instead start to love each other. Hate won’t magically disappear. We have to kill it with love.

Positivity has to start somewhere. Let it start with you!! I hope you all accept this challenge. Go out and do something nice for somebody! Together, we can change the world!

Sailboat Sunset

Don’t Be Perfect, Be Great

“Perfect” is a word that I hear and see every day. “That is perfect.” “You are perfect.” “Life is perfect.” There is just one little problem though… perfection doesn’t exist. Nobody is perfect. Nothing is perfect. As great as somebody or something may be, there is ALWAYS room for improvement. People want so badly to believe in perfection that they convince themselves to overlook certain flaws. As microscopic as those flaws may be, they do still exist.

I, like everybody else, see things that are truly amazing, and think to myself, “That is perfect.” Somebody else could look at the exact same thing and point out a flaw that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.

Nowadays, people are so quick to judge other people and other things that there is a constant desire to appear flawless. When you know that somebody is watching you and judging you, it is a natural reaction to try as hard as possible to seem flawless. Nobody likes to be judged negatively. The truth is, you can never please everybody though. There is no point in trying to please everybody. All you can do is try your best to please yourself and do things the way that makes the most sense to you. Don’t worry about what others may say or think. You can’t control their reactions. The only person you can control is yourself.

If you try to be perfect, you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. When the time comes that you find out your best effort wasn’t good enough for somebody, will you consider your effort to be a failure? Unfortunately, too many people would say “yes”. Don’t allow somebody else to drag you down. Don’t get caught up in the trap of striving to be perfect. We all have our flaws, and that will never change. When you stop trying to be perfect, and, instead, focus on being great, you are putting yourself in a position to succeed. You are putting yourself in a position to be happy and full of pride. We may not all be naturally gifted athletes, we may not all be born with incredible musical talents, etc., but we all are born with potential. Every single person on the planet has the potential to be great!! The way you are raised, the choices you make in life, the influences you have in your life, and the path you choose to take through this journey of life will ultimately determine how your life will turn out. But, there is potential within all of us to do truly great things in this world.

In the short time that I have been involved in the golf industry, I have had the opportunity to experience things I never imagined were possible for me. I have worked as a volunteer each of the past two years at the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill here in Orlando. In 2016, I had the incredible opportunity to spend some time in the presence of Arnold Palmer himself. Although I never got to officially meet him and shake his hand, being in the same room as Mr. Palmer was an experience I will never forget. Mr. Palmer was not perfect. He didn’t win every tournament, he didn’t break every record, and he was not a flawless human being. He was, however, truly great in countless ways. He was the person that everybody in the golf industry should strive to be. In my opinion, he was the kind of person that everyone in the world, in general, should strive to be. When you are in the presence of somebody who is truly great, everything has a different feel. The situation you are in has an indescribable feeling, and you just know that you are experiencing something special.

For me, being in the same room as Mr. Palmer, and the feeling that I had knowing how proud he was of all of the hard work we volunteers were doing to help make his event run as smoothly as possible is something I will never forget. I will never forget seeing the smile on Mr. Palmer’s face as he looked around the room and watched all of us work. I will never forget the 3 seconds of my life when Mr. Palmer and I made eye contact, and he gave a thumbs up with a smile on his face. It gives me chills and is honestly bringing a few tears to my eyes right now just thinking about it. THAT is the impact greatness can have on the world. Perfection may not exist, but greatness can leave an impact on the world that will live on long after our lives end. Any time that I have the opportunity to go back to Bay Hill now, I can still see Mr. Palmer. His presence is still felt there every day. He was a truly great man, and his contributions to the world will live on for a very long time.

Whether or not you have any interest at all in golf is not the point of this post. Whatever your interests and passions are in this world, and however you choose to contribute to this world, forget about trying to be perfect. Don’t strive for perfection. Don’t be perfect, be great!! People who try to be perfect will end up being disappointed and frustrated in the end. People who try their absolute best every single day to be great, have the potential to leave an impact on this world that could live on forever. Don’t forget that even things that seem small can have an enormous impact on the people around you. Be happy, be proud, work hard, stay positive, keep moving forward, and strive for greatness!!

 

#18 Bay HillAP QuoteAP statue

Keep Moving Forward

The past week or two has been filled with a lot of flashbacks for me. The end of July and beginning of August is a busy time of the year for birthdays in my family. I always looked forward to celebrating birthdays with my family, because, no matter how busy we all were, those were guaranteed dates that we would all get together and catch up and have fun.

With all of those great birthday flashbacks running through my mind, I also started having flashbacks to other really great memories created with friends growing up. Growing up in North Dakota, you basically have two options: you learn to love the cold weather and snow, or you suffer for over half of the year. Since I use a wheelchair everywhere I go, learning to love the cold and snow was never an option for me. Wheelchairs and several feet of snow on the ground don’t mix well. haha I do have fun memories from the winters when I was young, but the older I got, the more I grew to hate the cold. Looking back at my favorite childhood memories, nearly all of them are summertime memories. Summer always has been and always will be my favorite season. I love sunshine, and I love the heat… even though it can get a bit out of hand at times here in Florida. haha

This week, there is a fireworks competition going on at the fairgrounds back in my hometown. Every night, there are several fireworks displays as part of the competition. This is something that is held every year in different locations across the U.S., but the memories of the years this competition was held in my hometown while growing up ended up being some of my favorite memories. I remember getting a big group of friends together every night and sitting in the open field behind our old elementary school to watch the fireworks. Those memories will stick with me forever.

In some ways, it feels like just yesterday. Yet, in some ways, it feels like forever ago. Life changes. People change. The world changes. This was back in a time when a group of kids could wander off on their own and have fun without parents watching everything they did, or having any other kind of supervision. This was back before everyone had a cell phone or some other form of technological device superglued to their hand. We could just go off and do whatever we wanted to do, and our parents knew we would be home when we were supposed to be home.

As is usually the case with me, the thing that stands out the most about those memories is the people. These are memories that were created with friends from my neighborhood. We had known each other, in some cases, since birth. I have forgotten more memories I had with those people than I will ever create with most people I’ve met since then. The sad thing, looking back at those memories now, is realizing that I only keep in touch with two of those people now. I don’t recall a time in my life where I’ve ever ended a friendship with someone because of a fight. Sometimes people just grow apart over time. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

I often wonder what life would be like if I could go back in time to when those memories were created and relive them. I wonder if those memories were really as great as I remember. I also wonder how my younger self and my friends’ younger selves would react if they knew the things I/we know now about how life would turn out, and how most of us would rarely, if ever, keep in touch just a few short years down the road.

Anyone who knows me well, or anyone who has read my previous posts, knows that I am big believer that everything happens for a reason. In a lot of cases, I still don’t understand how a lot of my friends and I drifted apart. Some of the people I lost touch with became increasingly negative as we grew older and were not much fun to be around anymore. Others, I have no clue. It seems like none of us changed much, yet we gradually started spending less and less time together, for no real reason. I would love to get together with those people and catch up one of these days. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I would love to regain those friendships. But, maybe things worked out for the best for all of us. I don’t know. As for the others, sometimes things are better just left in the past. We shared some really great memories years ago, and that is how it should remain.

I have been reminded several times in my life that life really is short. You have to spend as much time as possible being happy. You have to spend time in places that make you happy. You have to do things that make you happy. And you have to spend your time and effort on the people that make you happy. When you have wonderful memories with an old friend who now spends all day every day talking about how much life sucks and how much they hate everything, that is not the kind of person that anybody wants to be around. They are toxic friends, and will drag everyone around them down. I have had a few of those friends, and I really did try to help them to look at life in a more positive way, but you can’t help somebody who doesn’t want to be helped. It’s hard to love people who don’t love themselves. You have to let those people go and move on with your life, as sad as it may be at the time. Learning to love yourself is something I will discuss in a future post. (Spoiler alert: It is important! You can’t be afraid to love yourself! It’s not selfish, it’s necessary!!)

As we get older, things seem to start to fall into place. The things that happened when you were younger start to make more sense. You realize why they happened the way they did. As I started to quietly and politely phase certain people out of my life, I started to realize how much more time and effort I was able to focus on the right people. People who enhance my life. I made new friends who have brought a great deal of happiness and positivity to my life. These people are out there in the world. I hope you’ve all been fortunate enough to meet some of these people, but there are more out there who will eventually come into your life when the time is right. But, in my experience, you have to let go of the things and the people who are dragging you down first. Let go of the negativity in your life, focus on the things that make you happy, and keep moving forward!!

Epcot sunsetWheat field

Life Happens- Everything Happens For a Reason

This post took a lot of convincing before I started writing it. There is a chance that a lot of people I don’t know could end up reading it, so I had a hard time convincing myself to write it. When I decided to start blogging, I said I wanted to write about real life, so here it is. This is real life. This is as real as it gets…

Today would have been my mom’s 63rd birthday. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a mama’s boy, and I’m proud of it. My mom was a really amazing person who touched so many lives. She taught pre-school for 20 years, and was loved by everyone who knew her. She lost her nearly 19 month battle with colon cancer in January 2008, but, as is always the case, life happened, because life happened. That may sound confusing, but stick with me.

I am a huge believer that everything happens for a reason. It just does. Everything that happens in life leads you to whatever is next for you. The things that happen in life aren’t always what you want, but it’s all part of the journey through life. You can cry, yell, scream, swear, throw things, break things, have a complete breakdown, and try anything you want to numb the pain, but nothing will change the fact that you have to eventually face reality and deal with life.

Losing my mom was the worst thing that could have happened in my life. We were very close. I am the person I am today because of my mom. She taught me how to treat people and how to view the world. I am a very open-minded person who loves meeting new people. I don’t judge people. I am very understanding. I am probably the most patient person you could ever possibly meet in your entire life. I try my best to be kind and polite to everyone I meet in every situation. I love life and have a very positive view of the world. I always look at the bright side of things. I smile all the time. I believe in helping others. I believe in trying to find a way to brighten other people’s day, just because I can. I believe I am incredibly fortunate to be in the situation I’m in at all times, because I know there is always someone in a worse situation. I believe this world is an amazing place, and I feel that there are really great people everywhere in this world. I trust this journey we call life to all work out for the best in the end. I am the person I am and believe the things I believe because of my mom.

Later in my mom’s life, she and I traveled to several concerts. I grew up loving music, specifically country music, because of my mom. That shared love of music started when I was very young.

When I was 3 years old, my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be Randy Travis.” A couple of years later, she asked me again what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be Garth Brooks.” The only thing that stopped me from following through with those dreams was lack of actual musical talent. I hear having musical talent helps when you want to grow up to be a musician. Crazy thought, I know. haha She never laughed, she never teased me, and she never told me to be realistic. She believed I could do anything I wanted to do in the future. I was surrounded by people who told me to “be realistic” when I was growing up. I was told all the time that I would never be able to do certain things. If my mom agreed with them, she never told me. She always encouraged me to do my best and keep moving forward.

Growing up, my mom never once missed one of my baseball or basketball games. She enjoyed sports, and she was there for every game I ever played.

As I got older, I never gave up on my crazy dream of getting into the music industry, even though I had no real talent. My mom and I attended every concert we possibly could within a reasonable distance from home. I honestly couldn’t even begin to guess how many concerts we watched together.

In August of 2006, my mom and I saw our favorite local band, 32 Below, play a show in downtown Fargo. The whole night, she kept saying how tired she felt and that her back was sore. Neither of us thought much of it. She had been working a lot of extra hours for the previous couple of weeks. She wasn’t the kind of person who complained about things, which is something I learned from her, also.

Over the next couple of weeks, she was in so much pain that she couldn’t stand it anymore. She went to the ER multiple times and was given different reasons for the pain. She was given medication and was sent home. None of it ever helped for more than a few hours.

At the end of that month, I was involved in a bad car accident, and my vehicle was totaled. It was the first day of school in my third year of college. I was one block from campus when the accident happened. I sprained my wrist and was in pain for a few weeks, but it was nothing major. Things could have been much worse, even though my car was totaled.

The weekend after my accident, my mom was, once again, in more pain than she could stand, and ended up in the ER again. This time, more tests were done, and she ended up having emergency surgery. She was diagnosed with colon cancer that night. The next several months brought a lot of ups and downs, but she was eventually declared cancer-free in the spring of 2007.

The middle part of 2007 seemed to be pretty great. Mom was doing well, and life seemed to be getting back to normal. That summer, 32 Below headlined a show at the fair in our hometown of West Fargo, ND. I had become friends with the band by that time, and was invited to hang out with them backstage that night.

During the show, the guys brought me up onstage with a video camera to record the crowd. It was a huge crowd and a great moment. I very clearly remember being front and center on the stage with the spotlight shining in my face, and I looked out at the grandstand. It’s hard to see very far with a spotlight shining in your face, but I saw my mom when I looked out at the grandstand. I saw the smile on her face. I wasn’t singing or playing any instruments with the band, but I was onstage with our favorite band. She knew it was a “dream come true” moment for me, and I think it was for her, too. I think I hid it pretty well, but I started crying on stage in front of 10,000 people. That is a moment I will never forget as long as I live.

Later that year, mom’s cancer came back and spread quickly. For me, knowing how well she had been doing for so long, it was hard to comprehend. I didn’t understand how things could change so suddenly.

In late 2007, the youngest of my three older brothers called me and told me to keep a night open that week so we could hang out. He’s a busy person, so that was a bit strange. We spent the evening together at a bar drinking, and, on the way to the bar, he explained to me that my mom was not doing well at all. I don’t know if I was just in denial or what the deal was, but I didn’t realize exactly what was happening before that night. We stayed at the bar drinking pitchers of beer and playing darts until closing time. When the bar closed, my brother went home, but I was still trying to process everything we had talked about that night. I still lived with my parents, and didn’t want to go home, knowing my mom would still be awake. I went to my best friend’s apartment, and ended up staying there. I wasn’t in a position to really deal with reality at that point, and tried my best to not remember that night. My mom called me at 3:30 AM and asked where I was, since I never came home. I just told her I was staying at my best friend’s apartment that night. I conveniently didn’t mention that I was in the process of making a liter of Jim Beam disappear, after closing down the bar with my brother. Let’s just say I had a pretty rough couple of days after that night. As common as it is to drink to forget about things when life gets tough, there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to make me forget about what was about to happen.

I spent as much time with my mom as possible over the next couple of months. She was in too much pain to sleep in bed, so she slept in the recliner in the living room every night. Every night, I would sit on the couch and talk to her and watch TV with her until she fell asleep. After she fell asleep, I would sit there for hours and watch her until I finally fell asleep, too.

In the days, weeks, and months after my mom passed away, my family spent a lot of time together. In my opinion, it was a lot of time spent together, but not really dealing with the loss we had suffered. We were together physically, but we never really talked about what had just happened. Maybe that was fine for everybody else, but it wasn’t fine for me. I need to talk about things in order to deal with them. My family has never been the kind of family that has shared our emotions. Growing up, we rarely hugged or kissed each other. Crying was something that would result in me getting laughed at by one of my brothers when I was little, so I learned to not cry as much growing up.

I went through some tough times in high school where I pretty much hit rock bottom and was completely depressed. Hardly anyone knew, and I wanted it to stay that way. I learned at that time that I couldn’t bottle things up inside of me. I needed to get everything out. I needed to talk to people. In college, I started writing when I didn’t have anyone to talk to.

After my mom passed away, I think my family thought I was trying to ignore what had happened and that I was hiding from it, but I started spending a lot of time away from home with friends. I felt more comfortable at that time with my friends. I talked. I let everything out, and they listened, whether they wanted to listen or not. Eventually, I started traveling more often to 32 Below concerts. I started traveling longer distances for their shows. That time spent alone in my car allowed my mind to wander. Even though I was by myself, I could feel like I was talking to someone. I just let out all of my thoughts. It was like therapy for me. I could get out any emotions I needed to get out, and then I could go to a concert when I got to my destination. The more I traveled, the better I got to know the band. I started offering to help with certain things after the shows so I could stay at the venues longer. I didn’t want to go home. I eventually ended up traveling across the country with the band for six years selling their merchandise. It was an amazing experience. I still consider those years to be the best years of my life. The thing that never changed in all of that time was the difficulty of dealing with the anniversary of the day I lost my mom and her birthday every year when those dates fell on days that I was on the road.

It’s funny how things work out in life when you stop and take time to look back later. You may find yourself in situations that seem like the end of the world. You may think you’ll never get through the hard times that life makes you deal with at times, but you just have to keep living and know that things will eventually turn around. Losing my mom was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve never gotten over it. I never will get over it. It hurts. It hurts bad. It hurts every single day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, 9 1/2 years after she passed away. I also never would have felt the need to get away from home and start traveling if I hadn’t lost my mom. I never would have spent the best years of my life on the road if I hadn’t had to learn to deal with that loss. I wouldn’t have quit college if I hadn’t lost my mom. I wouldn’t have ended up eventually going back to school and moving to Florida if things hadn’t happened the way they did.

As horrible as things can be sometimes, you have to remember that everything happens for a reason. Everything that happens in your life, whether it’s good or bad, leads you to what is next. Life is a journey. It’s a series of events over many years that eventually lead you to your destination. I would give anything to have my mom back again. 53 years is just not long enough to do everything that we all want to do on this planet. I always find a way to look at things in a positive way though. As horrible as losing my mom was, and as much as I wish it had never happened, I know that it was just part of the journey. It has led me to where I am today. It has helped me to realize how important the things she taught me were. It has made me realize that my mom isn’t really gone. The older I get, the more like her I become. She lives on in me. She lives on in my brothers. She lives on in our whole family. She lives on in the hearts of everyone she knew.

Looking back at how life has changed since January of 2008, I wish my mom could have seen the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been. My life has not gone even close to the way she would have wanted, but I know deep down that she would be happy and would be proud of me. I really can’t ask for more than that. I wish she could have been around to see this journey I’ve been on, but life happened. And because life happened… life happened.

Happy Birthday, mom!! I love you!!

Kona sunsetKona rainbow

Make the World a Better Place- Share the Magic!!

Before I begin, I want to give all of you a little heads up… this is going to be pretty long. But, I promise it will be well worth the time it takes you to read all of it. I am combining what could easily be two posts, but I feel there is enough of a connection between the two posts that combining them into one is fitting. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I hope it inspires you to maybe take another look at the way you live your life and interact with others on a daily basis.

Those of you who know me well, and those of you who don’t know me, but have read my previous posts, know that I am a die-hard fan of Disney. I live close to Walt Disney World and spend as much time as possible in the parks. There is very little in the parks that I am able to experience that I haven’t yet experienced. I love certain things about all of the parks, but Magic Kingdom is my personal happy place. No matter what is going on in my life or what I have dealt with that day, when I enter Magic Kingdom, all of the stress and negativity from the outside world just melts away. This is the place where I can truly live in the moment and not have a care in the world. As anything Disney-related should be, my time in the parks is just pure happiness.

I have certain spots where I prefer to watch the parade and fireworks every day. I have spots where I like to go to get away from the crowds and feel like I have some privacy for a little while. There are certain things going on throughout the day that I plan my entire day around.

Now that I have experienced nearly everything that I am able to experience in the parks, I am proud of the fact that I can help other guests find certain places throughout the parks, and that I can make recommendations to help make their experience a little bit better.

Visiting the parks as much as I do, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is as fortunate as I am. People travel here from all over the world, but not everyone has the luxury of visiting the Disney parks five days a week. Whenever somebody tells me they are visiting for the first time, or that they don’t know if they will ever get a chance to come back, I want them to get as much joy from their experience as possible. I want them to experience the parks the way I do.

I should note, I am not employed by Disney and am in no way (other than being a huge fan) associated with the company.

Since I have experienced most of my favorite things countless times, I find that I now get more joy from watching other people enjoy their experience as much as I do than I get from actually enjoying it myself.

A few months ago, while waiting for the afternoon parade to start, I met an elderly lady from New Jersey who had first visited Magic Kingdom shortly after the park opened, back in 1971. She told me that she was starting to have health issues and that travel has become difficult for her. For those reasons, she decided that would be her last trip to WDW. Throughout the parade that day, several of the characters and other performers happened to see her and spoke to her. A few of them gave her hugs. When the parade ended, she was in tears and said that experience was the highlight of her trip. I wished her well before we parted, and that experience obviously had a lasting impact on both of us, considering I still remember it months later. Seeing how happy this lady was and knowing how special that trip was for her has made that one of my all-time favorite experiences at one of the parades.

About a week after that memorable parade experience, I was waiting for the parade again when a family from England walked up next to me. They were visiting WDW for the first time. They told me that their youngest son who has Down Syndrome had wanted to visit WDW since he first learned to speak. His favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast. At the beginning of the parade, Beast waved to me. I waved back, and then pointed to the young boy sitting next to me. Beast waved to the boy, and Belle blew him a kiss. The boy cried for the rest of the parade and started shaking from excitement and happiness. Seeing how excited the boy was, the rest of his family started crying. They knew it was a moment he had been looking forward to his whole young life.

Fast forward to earlier this week. I spent a great day at Magic Kingdom, and was able to get my favorite spot to watch the fireworks toward the end of the night. A large group of young ladies surrounded me and waited about an hour before fireworks started. I overheard them talking about how excited they were to see the new fireworks show for the first time. Two girls in their group had seen the new fireworks show, which just debuted less than three months ago. The rest had never seen it, but were anxious to see it, because the previous show had become a tradition for them on their annual Disney trips. The girls who had seen the show already told the rest of their group that they would all be crying halfway through the show. I chimed in and told them that I am a regular park guest and that the new show is far superior to the show they had grown to love on previous trips. I also made sure to mention to them that the specific spot we were in is my favorite spot in the entire park.

As the show began, they were all singing and dancing along to the music and were in awe of the fireworks. As their friends predicted, halfway through the show they were all crying. The show hadn’t ended yet, but they were already talking about how they can’t wait to come back on their next trip and enjoy that experience again. Seeing the joy that moment brought to these young ladies made my whole day. It was hands down the highlight of what had already been an amazing day.

Any time that I am able to make someone else’s experience in the parks a little bit better, I am happy to do it. Things as simple as inviting a young child to stand or sit in front of me so they can have a better view of a parade, or giving up my spot completely for a first time park guest so they can fully experience something I’ve already seen 100 times can make an enormous difference in their enjoyment of that moment. I have seen all of my favorite shows and attractions literally well over 100 times. I don’t need to have a perfect view every time. I am happy to share with people who haven’t had those opportunities before.

I could go on and on about great experiences I’ve had in the parks in the time that I have been an annual passholder, but not everyone can relate to the experiences I’ve had in the Disney parks. Not everyone is a fan of Disney either. Everyone has their own interests. However, you don’t have to be at Disney to have these types of experiences. They can happen anywhere in the world. It’s about sharing the magic and the joy you feel from whatever it is you’re most passionate about.

When I began planning to move to Orlando to attend a golf school, I knew that I wanted to find a way to use golf to help others in some way, but I just didn’t know how to go about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the golf industry after I finished school. My main focus was improving my own golf game.

Within just a few short weeks of starting school, I realized that I was more interested in helping others learn to play golf than I was in actually playing myself. Teaching became my main focus for the rest of the time I was in school. The answers I had searched for before moving to Orlando came to me naturally. I realized that I wanted to help people by not only teaching them to play golf, but by also inspiring them to improve themselves off of the golf course. I coached youth baseball back when I was in high school and college, so getting involved in youth golf seemed to be a natural fit for me. I am now the director and lead instructor of a junior golf program for kids with special needs of all kinds. Our program is every bit as focused on teaching valuable life skills as it is about teaching golf.

I was born with a physical disability called Spina Bifida. My disability has forced me to find my own ways to do the same things as my peers, but it really hasn’t slowed me down much. While working with special needs kids and teaching them to play the great game of golf, I hope to set a good example and to be a positive role model. Whether they decide to play golf for the rest of their lives, or it’s just a temporary interest, I hope I can inspire these kids to never give up and to never settle for less than what they deserve. My whole life, people have told me I wouldn’t be able to do the same things that “normal” people can do. I have always taken great pride in finding ways to prove people wrong. I don’t want this to sound like I’m bragging, but I’m glad, looking back, that so many people have said I wouldn’t be able to do what “normal” people do. The reason I’m glad they have said that is because I honestly feel that a lot of things about me are special. I don’t want to be “normal” and just fit in. I stand out and am proud of it. I stand out physically, because I look different from other people when I do most things. More importantly, I stand out because of my personality and my drive and determination to persevere. I don’t mean to imply at any point in this post that I feel like I’m a hero or that I’m better than other people. I just live my life the way that makes sense to me. I live the way I believe everybody should live, which is doing the best we’re able to do in our own unique situation in life.

I have met so many able bodied people in my life who have been faced with a difficult situation and have immediately said, “I can’t”, “It’s too hard”, and “I give up”. That is something that I just can’t relate to, as common as it is. There are definitely things in this world that I’m not able to do, but my inability to do those things has nothing to do with lack of effort on my part. If I fail in any situation, I will go down swinging every time. I ALWAYS try my best. Nothing in the world beats the feeling of proving somebody wrong when they don’t believe in you. It’s an incredible feeling, and it’s something that I want everyone to experience. I want to inspire people to keep trying their best, and to do really great things in this world. Simple gestures that require almost no time or effort can make a world of difference to the people around you. Share the magic with them!!

As I said, you don’t need to be at Disney to create a magical moment for someone. You don’t need to be in any special situation at all. Something as simple as smiling at a stranger and saying “hello” as you pass by could be enough to turn their whole day around. You never know what the people around you are going through. You never know how much a small, simple gesture could mean to them. Just think how much better this whole world would be if we all did our own small part to contribute to the happiness and positivity of those around us. People say world peace and universal happiness can’t exist. I couldn’t possibly disagree more. It absolutely CAN exist, if we all work together and make it happen. It takes all of us working together to share the magic of our happiest moments throughout the world.

Think about it… when was the last time you went out of your way to do something nice for a complete stranger? Do you really, genuinely feel joyful when you see happiness in others? Do you try to have a positive impact on the world every day? No wonderful gesture is too small to have a positive impact on the world. You have to start somewhere. I challenge all of you who read this post to go out into the world and do something nice for somebody. Make them smile. Don’t ask for anything in return. Whether you stay close to home or travel around the world, find a way to spread the love and happiness to everyone around you. You might be surprised how good it feels to know you were able to, in some way, make the world a better place than it was before that moment.

Thank you to all of you who took the time to read all of this!! I hope it means something to you, and I hope it has inspired you to go out into the world and spread positivity, happiness, and love to everybody you meet.

Castle 2WishesHEAOCN ClassDisney MagLake Nona

Home, a Place or the People?

Home can mean so many different things to different people. Some people think of home as the place where they grew up. Others think of it as the place where they are currently living. To me, home is any place that you really love. It’s a place where you feel comfortable and happy. It’s a place where you feel like you belong.

When I think back, I couldn’t even begin to count all of the places I’ve been that have felt like home to me. That is a really incredible feeling. To fall in love with a place you never thought you would even get to visit, and to be accepted by the people who live there, is pretty awesome. Sometimes the place is so amazing on its own that you fall in love with the place. Sometimes the people you meet can make you feel welcome and make you feel like a local. The most special places are the ones where the place and the people both make you feel like you belong.

For six years, I got to live my lifelong dream of traveling across the U.S. with a band. When you get to do something like that, the band isn’t just a band. You spend so much time together and travel so many miles together that you become a family. Throughout my time spent on the road, I reminded myself every day how fortunate I was to be able to live my dream. I have so many incredible memories from that time in my life that I could write a book.

When I take the time to look back at that time in my life, it’s pretty over-whelming to think of all of the places we visited and all of the people I met. In countless places, we arrived and were greeted by a local saying, “Welcome home”. Visiting a city that feels like home makes staying out on the road for long periods of time not only tolerable, but very enjoyable. The first time I ever experienced this was the first time I got to visit the Cincinnati/Dayton area. When we arrived at the club to set up for the show that day, a group of die-hard fans (people I am happy to say are still good friends of mine years later) were waiting to greet us. They knew the “new guy” was going to be with the band for the first time that weekend and were curious to meet me. I will never forget jumping out of the band van and hearing, “Welcome home!! You’re gonna love Ohio. We’re happy to have you here.” They had no clue how right they were about me loving Ohio. Even though Cincinnati was an 18 hour trip for us, I always loved getting to go back and looked forward to it for months before each trip.

Throughout the years, several places became my favorites. The same thing I experienced on that first trip to Cincinnati happened in these other cities. I fell in love with the cities and made some really amazing friends. I was fortunate to make such great friends, but I’m even more fortunate to still be friends with these people, even though I haven’t seen most of them in years. I miss getting to visit all of those places on a regular basis, but, most of all, I miss the people.

Probably the biggest surprise for me was Chicago. Chicago is a huge city, and it gets a ton of negative media attention. My personal experience in that city is the opposite of the image most people have, thanks to negative stories in the news. A lot of it has to do with the specific places I got to visit, and even more of it has to do with the specific people I met. Chicago, to me, has always felt like a massive small town. I think that is the highest compliment I can possibly pay to a city. Millions of people live in this huge city, yet the people I met made it feel like going back to a small town every single time. I always told people in Chicago that I was happy to be “home” again every time we were there, and I meant it. The people made Chicago feel like home. I hope some of the people I met there are reading this right now, because I don’t know if I ever really properly thanked them for how well they treated me and the rest of the band. We were all extremely well taken care of, and I could never thank those people enough. I had always wanted to visit Chicago, but never thought it would happen. To make friends there and to be welcomed into their world was truly special.

I don’t want to make this too terribly long, but I could easily keep talking about other cities that I loved. I’m sure I will talk about some of them in posts sometime in the future. When I look back at my time on the road, I tend to most often think of my favorite places and the people in those places more than anything else. I miss those people and I miss those places. I miss Cincinnati. I miss Chicago. I miss Mankato. I miss Minneapolis. I miss Rapid City. I miss Sturgis. I miss the friends I made in other cities, too. There are just too many to list all of them.

The more time I spent on the road, the more I realized how much I enjoyed being on the road. The saddest day of the week for me was always Sunday when it was time to go home. Before even getting home at the end of the weekend, I already started looking forward to the next weekend on the road. I looked forward to seeing my family and friends, but grew increasingly disinterested in my hometown. I knew that eventually something would have to change. Home should be a place that you look forward to getting back to, not a place that you look forward to leaving.

I now am proud to call Orlando my home. I fell in love with this place the first time I ever visited, and I decided within a weekend on that short trip that someday I would live here. Although I’m no longer traveling every weekend, I still have a place that feels like my home away from home. It’s a place most people wouldn’t expect. My home away from home is now Walt Disney World. Specifically, Magic Kingdom. Most people think of WDW and immediately think of chaos, huge crowds, screaming kids, and stress. For me, it’s a place to shut out the outside world and just relax. It’s a place to take time to think and remind myself just how fortunate I am to live the life that I’ve had. It’s a place where I can just live in the moment and love everything about the joy and magic that fills the parks.

Since I moved to Florida, I have gone back to visit my hometown twice. I enjoy going back to visit, and love getting to catch up with family and friends, but I noticed on both trips that, as much fun as I was having catching up with everybody, I was excited to get back home to Florida. On both of those trips, I found myself spending a lot of time wondering what was going on in Orlando and wondering what I would be doing at that time if I were at home. That, in my mind, told me that I am now living where I should be. I have found a place that I look forward to getting back to when I leave.

So, what makes a place “home”? Is it the place itself? Is it the people? Is it your current life situation? Is it something else? To me, the answer is obvious. Yes!! Home is something different to everybody. It can be anything or any place. It can be a specific place, or it can be any place where you’re surrounded by your favorite people. We all have to find our own place that we’re proud to call home. When you find it, life just feels better.

OrlandoChicago skylineKCChicago Merch

Celebrate Small Victories

Life is a journey. We all take different paths along the way, but it is a journey we all experience in our own unique way. Let’s face it, sometimes life is hard. You can mean well and try your best, but things tend to almost never go perfectly in life. I have experienced everything in my life from minor disappointments to complete devastation and heartbreak that I will never completely get over, but I have learned to not really be surprised when life throws me a curveball and changes my plans. When this happens, you have two options. You can either throw in the towel and choose to give up, or you can adapt to the situation and realize that it is just a bump in the road on this journey through life.

While life tends to not be perfect, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals or make plans. Goals are what keep us moving forward. They are what keep us driven to succeed. Life would be boring if everything were perfect all the time. There would be no mystery, no anticipation, and no motivation to try harder. If you knew that things would work out perfectly no matter how much effort you put into the things you do, would you still give your best effort every single day of your life? Most people wouldn’t.

A goal is a desired final result of any journey on which you choose to embark in life. Many people set goals for themselves, but really have no idea where to begin or which steps they need to take to achieve their goals. Trial and error is the process which usually leads to your end result in life. Along the way, you will have successes and failures, victories and defeats. Each failure you suffer throughout your journey is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes so that you can learn from them and continue to move forward. When you learn from a past mistake, you will tend to not make the same mistake again in the future. Small victories keep you motivated to push forward and keep giving your best effort. In life, we need to be our own biggest cheerleaders. Having a supportive and helpful family and circle of friends helps a great deal, but you can’t succeed solely because other people believe in you. You have to believe in yourself.

Often times, people are cautious when they achieve a small victory along their journey. They are happy, but don’t want to stop and celebrate, because they haven’t yet accomplished their ultimate goal. Focusing on the ultimate goal throughout your journey can be exhausting and discouraging, because you are allowing yourself to realize how far you still have to go before you reach that goal. Convince yourself to focus on the journey and the small steps you have to take along the way. When you suffer a setback, don’t let it stop your momentum. When you look at the big picture, it’s just a small bump in the road. When you complete one of the steps that will allow you to move forward in your journey, don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back and be proud of your progress.

The most important goals we set for ourselves in life will typically take years, sometimes an entire lifetime, to achieve. If you don’t take time to reflect on how far you’ve come and to be proud of yourself along the way, then you are preventing yourself from enjoying a lot of happiness that the small things in life can bring you. Take a break once in a while. Reflect on the things you’ve accomplished and how they have led you to where you currently are in your journey of life. Be happy for yourself. Be proud of yourself. Celebrate your small victories throughout your entire journey. Don’t keep waiting for the big victory party at the finish line. Having the ability to wake up every day is a victory. On almost a daily basis, a friend will text me and ask what I’m doing. My response most times is, “Celebrating (insert day of the week here)”, and I mean that. I celebrate being happy and being alive every day. Celebrate life every day. Nobody is guaranteed another day in this journey. Visit your happy place and enjoy living in that moment. Treat yourself to a favorite meal or snack. Enjoy your favorite beverage. Surround yourself with your favorite people. Do whatever it is that makes you happy, and know that you’ve made progress in your journey. Your happiness now will lead you to a happier future. You deserve to be happy all of the time, not just in the future when you finally reach your ultimate goal.PWBeer