“You have to start realizing you’re writing your obituary every day, and we have a limited amount of time here on this planet and in this realm, and we’ve got to go do what it is we’re supposed to do. And you’ve got to feel that kind of passion and urgency towards those things that really matter to you.”
Toni Reece: Thank you so much, Jim, for agreeing to be part of this project, and before we go into the questions, can you please introduce yourself?
Jim Stovall: I am Jim Stovall, and I’m just delighted to be with you today.
Toni: Thank you. Jim, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and then I’ll head into the questions.
Jim: Well, I was born here in Tulsa, Oklahoma where I’m speaking to you from today. As a young man, my only life ambition was to be a professional football player, and somewhere along the line getting ready to play a season of football, I was diagnosed with a condition that would result in my blindness.
I shifted gears and became an Olympic weightlifter and concluded my athletic career. At 29, I lost the remainder of my sight, and I started a company called Narrative Television which makes it possible for the 13 million blind and visually impaired people in our country and millions more around the world to enjoy movies and television.
And then I’ve written 15 books and made a couple of movies, and write a weekly syndicated column. About three times a month, I go out and do an arena speech. Today, I’m just delighted to be talking to you.
Toni: Well, thank you very, very much for agreeing to be part of this project; and with all of the work that you’ve done, Jim, when you think about that word inspiration, who do you think that you do inspire, and how does that happen?
Jim: I think I first and foremost inspire people that have challenges in their lives. You know, we’re all willing to accept any excuse that we can give ourselves that keeps us from doing the best we can be. My problems as a blind person are no bigger or greater than yours or anybody listening to us or reading about this, but the issue is people think when you see a blind person it takes away all the excuses.
So I think to a certain extent I inspire a lot of those people that want to do something in their life but they’ve been letting something stand between them and what it is they know they are supposed to be doing.
Toni: How do you do that, then, Jim? How do people find you? How does that inspiration get transferred to them?
Jim: Well, I write a weekly syndicated column that’s read by about three million people in 400 newspapers and magazines, and I get to speak to almost a million people a year in arena events. I’ve written about 15 … I think my 16th book comes out this next year. Millions of people read those books. Most recently, the movies have started based on some of my books, and that helps me reach a whole new audience that, you know, otherwise wouldn’t listen to me or read the things I write.
Toni: When people are looking at the work that you do or reading or listening to what you’ve produced in this body of work and it does inspire them, how does it then move them towards their potential? How do you help with that?
Jim: I think I encourage people to look at the biggest dream they ever had in their life as their passion, as the thing they should be moving toward, and help them to realize that that dream would not have been put inside of them if they did not have the capacity to achieve it.
So they begin to realize that they change their life when they change their mind. All they have to do is activate that thing that they’ve been given and start moving towards it. And they may not have all the answers, but if you start moving toward it and taking them one thing at a time, you will get from here to there.
You know, too many people are waiting for all the lights to be green before they’ll leave the house. I think for a lot of people, I am just that catalyst. I’m nothing more or less than that. They had everything they needed to get there. I always tell people in my events “I don’t have the answers you’re looking for. I will help you frame the questions, and when you look at it, you’ll understand you always had the answer.”
Toni: Now when you think about inspiration for yourself, what do you need to be inspired?
Jim: I think I need to be challenged. I think I need to be disciplined. People both excite you and encourage you and also hold you accountable. You need both ends of that; both the carrot and the stick, if you will. And I have people in my life that do that for me; mentors, people that encourage me, but people that also that I have given permission to hold me accountable and say “Jim, you said you were going to do these things, and it doesn’t appear from this activity that you’re moving toward that as quickly as you indicated. Where are we here?” And so I think you need both of those things in your life.
Toni: Are there tools or methodologies that you’ve reached for over the years that have helped you when you feel that need to be inspired, when you need to be filled up yourself? Do you reach for things?
Jim: Well, I’m a huge reader. I’m embarrassed to tell you when I could read books with my eyes like you do and most of the people accessing this interview, when I could read like that, I don’t know that I ever read a whole book cover to cover.
Now, thanks to the National Library for the Blind and a high-speed tape player, I read a book every day. I can listen at 800 words a minute, and I’m able to finish a book virtually every day. And so I have the ability to access the greatest minds the world has ever known — be it Albert Einstein or William Shakespeare or anybody before or since — and I can learn from these people; the good and the bad.
Toni: Jim, of those who have listened to these interviews in the past, they know that there are certain words that come to me when I’m listening to these interviews myself, and the word that I just wrote down is courage. That’s what came through for me, with just this little bit of time. But I’m wondering, did you always come to the table that way? Were you always so positive and courageous as it seems to be?
Jim: No. I was scared to death, and to be quite honest with you, I still am today many, many times. I mean, it doesn’t matter how we feel. What matters is how we do. I don’t have to always feel courageous; I just have to act courageous.
And sometimes for me it’s as simple as saying “If I were empowered and if I were courageous, what would I do right now?” If I’ll do that thing, I’ll always be happy. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel fear or feel anxiety.
You know, we live in a society today where we’ve been convinced that if everything is perfect we’ll feel great and feel empowered all the time, and that’s simply not the truth. Successful people feel scared and discouraged and everything else; they just go ahead and perform as if they didn’t.
Toni: Was there a turning point for you?
Jim: I think, you know, immediately after I lost my sight, I moved into this little 9’ x 12’ room in the back of my house. I thought I would never leave again. And the thought of even walking out of that room much less traveling a million miles a year and running a television network and all the other things was just beyond daunting to me. I couldn’t imagine that.
And I sat in that little 9’ x 12’ room with just my telephone and my tape recorder, and my radio for months and months and months. And finally one day it dawned on me, whatever I’m afraid of out there cannot be worse than spending the rest of your life in this little 9’ x 12’ room.
So, you know, the first day I walked out of there, I didn’t start a company or make a million dollars or write a book or make a movie. I walked 52 feet to my mailbox, and that’s the day that changed my life. It’s not this huge thing; it’s taking that first step that really makes the difference.
Toni: And it’s doing whatever it takes to move forward.
Toni: When you look at what you’ve been through and what you need to be inspired, how does that then help you to continuously explore your own potential to keep moving forward?
Jim: Well you know, that’s always a challenge, because we can always look at where we have been and where we are now; and you start receiving accolades, and people start telling you you’re great. One of the bad things about having a disability is no one expects you to do anything, so if you do anything at all they will give you a standing ovation; and you have to become internally motivated.
You have to start realizing you’re writing your obituary every day, and we have a limited amount of time here on this planet and in this realm, and we’ve got to go do what it is we’re supposed to do. And you’ve got to feel that kind of passion and urgency towards those things that really matter to you.
Toni: How does that happen, though? Because I will tell you that has been a running theme through the interviews that people — and again, these are random, you and I have never met before – and so you said it as well. It’s knowing what that sense of purpose is and having that passion to move forward. But people who are reading and listening to these interviews, how do they find that? How do they get there?
Jim: Well, I think they spend so much time making a living that they forgot to create a life. They’re just trying to fill in the blanks, and they’ve never really thought about what it is they want to do. You know, most people spend more time planning their three-day weekend than they do what are they going to do for their rest of their life.
They’ve never really sat down and realized this life you’re living right now is not a practice game, and you have an open blank check. You could do anything you want with your life. And they’ve never thought “If I could do anything I want to do; money, time, place, contacts, connections – if none of that were an object, what would I do? If I could do anything … if I had a magic lamp and I could have three wishes, what do I want that I don’t have?”
People have never even considered that because they only look at A, B, and C and “Do I want this or this or this in my life?” and they don’t realize there are an endless number of choices.
They have not because they ask not, because they pursue not, because they question not.
Toni: And is that what you live by on a daily basis so that you continue to move forward?
Jim: Yes, I try to. And I will tell you and everyone that hears this, I haven’t mastered that. I always tell my audiences “Please do not miss the power of the message due to the weakness of the messenger.” I’m a fellow traveler, and I will point out some of your weaknesses, and I know where they are because that’s where mine are.
Toni: Well, I’ll tell you, you have been absolutely amazing in this interview, and I can tell you from the Get Inspired! Project we could be talking for another half hour. And your time is precious, as well, so I thank you for the valuable information you have given as far as who you inspire, how you go about it, and what you need, but then also what you have to do to keep moving forward. Those lessons are invaluable. And the fact that you have shared them with the Get Inspired! Project, we are humbled by that, and we thank you.
Jim: Well, my thanks to you and everyone involved with the project.
Toni: Thank you, Jim, and hopefully we’ll talk again.
For more information about Jim Stovall: www.jimstovall.com