Inspiration- A Third Person Concept?

Over the past six plus years I delved deeper into a word which can stir controversy amongst the disability community, “inspiration.” Prior to the past six years I probably like most people did not give much thought to the concept. I found wrestler Tommy Dreamer inspirational for his loyalty to Extreme Championship Wrestling. Additionally I found Cleveland Indians pitcher Charles Nagy inspirational for fighting his way back to the Majors after bone chips in his pitching arm’s elbow sidelined him during the 2000 season.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

What started the deeper exploration six years ago? My college professor Sister Karita telling me “Zach, you are an inspiration to anyone who has to overcome adversity.” I never considered myself an inspiration before. No, I just do what I need to do to get through each day.

However Sister Karita’s comment weighed on me. In fact they helped me decide to pen my teen memoir Off Balanced. If Sister Karita could find inspiration from my story, maybe others could too.

A few years later I published Off Balanced (buy for your Kindle or Nook) and yes, inspiration remained among the words readers used to describe the book. Interestingly enough publishing Off Balanced led me to write more about disabilities. Doing so introduced me to individuals in the disability community who rejected the praise “You’re an inspiration.”

Seems funny, right? There exist so many more worst descriptive words to object. Yet a closer look reveals valid points. Foremost, what criteria led the speaking party to utilize the I-word? If the reason entails simply living with a disability that will typically sit wrong with the “inspirational” person.

Why so? Consider the implications. Alternatives to inspiring by just living mean sulking over limitations or taking drastic life-ending action. Should the metaphorical bar for achievement in the disability community stand at smiling and possessing a will to live? I say no.

Honestly I felt hesitant typing “disability community” in the above paragraph because this topic transcends the disability community to multiple demographics. The catalyst for today’s post provides evidence, a conversation with my recently departed Aunt Ellen. My aunt died indirectly from cancer last month. I share her story in the video below.

Back in January when I went to Arizona to visit Aunt Ellen we ended up enjoying a conversation about inspiration. Said conversation went something like this.

Me: I think you’re inspirational.

Aunt Ellen: My friend said the same thing but I don’t get why.

Me: To me it’s because you are not letting the cancer and grim prognosis change your personality.

Aunt Ellen: I’m just doing what I can.

During the conversation Aunt Ellen also told me she considers me an inspiration to which I replied similarly “I just do what I need to do.” Reflecting back 10 months later I see a theme. Inspiration remains a third person concept. We see inspirations in others but we do not in ourselves.

Do you agree? Sound off in the comments section below!

P.S. If enjoyed today’s post, you may also like my video “Calling Someone with a Disability ‘Inspirational.'”


Tracking New Year Resolutions: July ’13 Recap

Well, by now I think you know the routine. A new month means looking back on the previous one to evaluate whether I’m successfully accomplishing my 2013 New Year resolutions. This whole public evaluation serves two main purposes. First, these public self-assessments force me to clasp personal accountability. Secondly, I wish to inspire you to keep pursuing your 2013 New Year resolutions.

Resolution #1- Utilize My Youtube Channel Via Vlogging
Specific Goal- Vlog Twice a Month
Accomplished? YES

Embracing a tentative schedule once again enabled me to achieve my Youtube vlogging goal. Typically I aim to record and post a video blog during a month’s second and fourth weeks. Now in July I didn’t publish my first video, “Thank You to My Book Readers,” until Saturday, July 20th.

However, missing my first self-imposed deadline created urgency. I knew to reach my Youtube goal I must get that first video done ASAP. The second video then came easily. Watching fellow author John W. Quinn’s video “What’s It Like To Have Cerebral Palsy?” sparked my motivation to record the following.

Resolution #2- Post Here on a Weekly Basis
Specific Goal- Post every Friday
Accomplished? YES

Anyone with a time orientated goal should benefit from the trick I’m using to meet my weekly Friday deadline. Mentally I’m determined to write out my blog posts here by Thursday at the latest. So say your goal involves waking up earlier in the morning. If you normally get up at 7:00am but desire to change that to 6:00am, fix your mindset to awake at 5:00am. Embedding 5:00am into your brain will make waking up at 6:00am no challenge at all.

Really the above could help you reach all goals. Everything requires time. The earlier you get up, the more time you enjoy in the day to tackle that to-do list.

Resolution #3- Keep to Due Dates
Specific Goal- Don’t Receive Any Inquiries About ETAs
Accomplished? NO

Again on a technicality I can say I did accomplish my third New Year resolution, the one giving me the most trouble to date. No one sent me inquiries about when they can expect that guest post or article by. Still I’m not one to celebrate cheap victories and therefore I consider my third resolution unaccomplished.

Allow me to give an example. In June I arranged to write a guest post for a site called The Indie Mine. Initially I told my contact there to expect my post Wednesday, July 3rd. On Tuesday, July 2nd I sent a followup email saying I didn’t want to rush getting the post done and I instead will send my submission Monday, July 8th. The response I received read in part,

“No need to concern yourself with how we’ll be able to handle delays. Just fire off an email when you’re ready or close to being ready and I should be able to squeeze it into our schedule.”

Entering August my progress on the guest post proves stagnant. Sure, I could ramble off excuses to why “Write Indie Mine Guest Post (ASAP)” stayed on my weekly to-do lists all July. Yet I will digress. My main point stands, I did not keep to due dates.

Amazing Moments

The ordinary often takes what’s so special about life hostage. We get lost in our routines, at least until something amazing occurs and restores our perspectives. Colonial Hills Elementary School recently provided the setting for one such amazing moment during Field Day.  Thankfully somebody captured the entire happening on video so I don’t need to worry about giving  the moment just credit. Instead, you get the opportunity to watch the inspirational instance for yourself.

First, to give the embedded Youtube video context, I copied and pasted the video’s description.

“Matt has Spastic Cerebral Palsy, but opted to run in Field Day at Colonial Hills Elementary School despite being given the option to sit it out and despite the incredible challenge of his disability. What transpires is a boy who is filled with determination and a school of children who spontaneously come together and inspire Matt and everyone of us to do and be better.”   

Now without further ado,

Incredible right? Matt defines determination. Plus the overwhelming support his entire class demonstrates displays human nature at its finest. This leads me to ask, have you ever experienced, participated, or witnessed an amazing moment similar to the one  above? Personally, my high school graduation which I recall in my teenage memoir Off Balanced  comes to mind. For your free reading pleasure, here’s a short excerpt from my book.

“My mind, caught up in the moment, went numb with each name called drawing me closer to the stage. You could tell how well liked someone was based on the reception given by our fellow graduates. Directions given at the start to hold applause and cheers until the end quickly became a casualty of the enthusiastic atmosphere. I inched closer to the stage, my thoughts still blank.

‘Zachary Fenell.’ The school administrator called out. Sucking in a deep breath I moved towards center stage. Clap! Clap! Clap! Hands smacking together rang in my ears as I received a very respectable applause. Surprise and pride mixed together. Pride naturally consumed me as high school graduation is a grand milestone in life. The surprise came from the reaction I received. I had no reason to expect much of a reception considering how closed off I had been to most classmates.”

Your turn! Share your amazing moment below via a comment. 🙂

Personality Profile: John W. Quinn

To those familiar with my writing, you will likely recognize the name John W. Quinn. I first learned about John through my daily “cerebral palsy” Google Alert emails. From these messages I discovered Quinn wrote Someone Like Me- An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy, a book noting how John overcame his cerebral palsy to enjoy a 20 year naval career.  Back in April I reviewed Quinn’s book for Yahoo! Voices, calling the book “a valuable read.” Moved so much by the author’s story, I included him in my Yahoo! Voices article “Role Models with Cerebral Palsy,” which also featured 2006 Last Comic Standing winner Josh Blue and the previously profiled Rollin’ With Zach host Zach Anner (read here). I even name dropped the former naval officer along with his praise for my memoir Off Balanced on this blog while promoting  my book (currently available on the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, excuse the cheap plug but I’ve got to pay the bills).

Someone Like Me by John W. Quinn

I highly recommend adding Someone Like Me to your 2012 reading list.

Now before you think John and I are nothing but two self-indulgent dudes giving each other virtual high fives and pats on the back, know otherwise. Someone Like Me  left me genuinely awed  by John W. Quinn’s dedication and physical discipline. Quinn could’ve given up on his naval ambitions after failing his first Navy physical and getting heavily ridiculed for the failure by his recruiter. Instead John spent a year in his basement secretly practicing the part he failed, the duck walk. He then retook the test and passed, becoming the poster boy for the cliche “Anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it.”

Perhaps most impressive about Quinn involves the physical discipline he exhibited in order to keep his cerebral palsy hidden from the Navy, not such an easy task considering the physical affects the disability holds over the human body. For instance, awkward gait and slumped shoulders proved vital to avoid. I don’t believe an able-bodied person can truly appreciate how mentally stressing this can be. Personally I probably can’t even maintain proper posture for five minutes but yet Quinn did  this all day, ALL FREAKING DAY, for 20 years, 20 FREAKING YEARS!!! Eight plus months following reading Someone Like Me and I’m still wowed  by this fact.

Well, that’s why John W. Quinn remains a reoccurring name within my writing. Honestly, when I emailed John an advance copy of Off Balanced I didn’t expect him to reciprocate my overly positive sentiments towards  him. Yet the former naval officer called my book “honest, compelling, and heartfelt” going on to say “Off Balanced should be required reading in every high school in America.” While I didn’t expect such a strong endorsement, the words further my conviction for Off Balanced. I’m certain too I’m not the only one John W. Quinn motivates.