A Blind Man’s Vision

The following story from Charlie Collins illustrates the transformative power of two important Success Principles—#50: Tell the Truth Faster and#17: Ask! Ask! Ask!   and is part of a new book I'm currently writing entitled Living the Success Principles.

Let me know your thoughts after reading Charlie's story. Please post your reaction, and learn how to submit your own story below. - Jack

A Blind Man's Vision by Charlie Collins

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Charlie Collins, CPSC
Founder and CEO
Vision Dynamics, LLC

My parents and I sat in the doctor’s office as he gave us the diagnosis. “I’m afraid it’s juvenile macular degeneration,” he said, his tone grave. “There’s nothing we can do to save Charlie’s sight.” I was nine years old.

At 13, I received a certificate from the state of Connecticut declaring that I was legally blind. I didn’t need the certificate to know that—for the last three years, the writing on the chalkboard had progressively disappeared, and in the school hallways, the faces of the people I passed had become dim and gray. Although I could still make out shapes, colors, and areas of light and dark, my world seemed to be shrinking rapidly around me.

The certificate only cemented the belief growing inside that I was going to fail in life, and my self-esteem began its long nose-dive. 

I struggled through high school—seemingly on an all-out quest to prove that my negative self-image was accurate.  I tried to numb my pain by drinking and even taking drugs, but that never solved anything for long and only ended up creating more problems in my life. When I graduated, I tried college twice, but flunked out both times. After that, I moved back in with my parents and began working odd jobs, landscaping, and grooming ski trails and tennis courts.

As a kid, I’d wanted to fly planes, be a cop or a private detective, do something with engines, and go fast! But all those ambitions had died with my diagnosis.  After high school and my failed attempts at college, I literally had no dreams, sure that my life, dominated by my disability, was going nowhere.

One day, when I was about 24, I was on a landscaping job, cutting the grass at a local motorcycle dealership. I had just finished edging the walk and I stood up for a moment, aware of the long line of shining new motorcycles parked in front of me.

Motorcycles were special to me. Even though I couldn’t hold a driver’s license, I owned a dirt bike that I often took out in the woods behind my house where I had walked a trail and memorized it. Some of my happiest moments of that period were spent speeding along through the trees, the breeze ruffling my hair. At those times, I didn’t feel quite so blind.

Standing in front of the parked motorcycles, I fell into a daydream, imagining myself racing, leaning into corners, the roar of the engine filling my ears. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Startled, I turned around to see a bearded ZZ Top-looking guy. I recognized him immediately: it was Jimbo, the owner of the dealership. I often came in to buy parts for my dirt bike and we knew each other by name. Assuming he didn’t like the job I’d done on the lawn, I cringed inside, waiting for the dressing-down I expected.

“Charlie, he said, I was wondering if you’d like to work for me.”

My first thought was, Why would he ask a dumb blind guy? But all I said was, “To do what?”

Well, I know you love motorcycles, and I think you’d make a good salesman.”

I was stunned. I told Jimbo I’d think it over.

That night I lay in the same single bed I’d slept in my whole life—the bed where I’d spent so many nights crying or wondering why I existed or even thinking “Boy, wouldn't it be nice not to wake up tomorrow.” But tonight I was arguing with myself. I truly believed I wasn’t good enough for the job. Yet, I really wanted to try. Torn between fear and hope, I cried out inside, “If there’s a God up there, I really could use some help here. There's a big part of me that would love that job. Please remove whatever is blocking me from saying “Yes” and just giving this a shot. I can’t allow this blindness to control me anymore! I can’t allow a disease in my eyes to take over my entire thought process, my body, every inch of me—to let it kill me! Please, help me.” After tossing and turning for hours, I eventually fell asleep.

In the morning, I went straight to the dealership and told Jimbo I’d take the job. “But,” I said, “do you have any idea how poor my eyesight is?”

Jimbo said he knew there was something going on with my eyes, but it didn’t matter to him. “I don’t know you as a guy with an eye condition; I know you as a guy who’s passionate and enthusiastic, and who loves this type of stuff!”

“Really?” I said. “What the heck; I never saw that.”

Jimbo gave me a chance, and I wasn’t going to let him down. I threw myself into my new job and discovered that I was really good at sales.

To my amazement, within two years, I had worked myself up the ladder and become the co-owner of the dealership—a $2-million-a-year business! This was beyond my conception of anything I could have even imagined for myself. During those years, I also married a lovely woman I’d known since sixth grade, and bought my first house. Wow, there I was, living the American dream!

Yet strangely enough, I still wasn’t happy. I had the toys, the prestige, the power, and the money, but something was missing—something I vaguely recognized as a sense of purpose and meaning in my life. On top of that, I had started trying to hide my eye disease from my customers, and this pretense and self-inflicted pressure to be “normal” was getting to me.

So I sold my share of the dealership and took a year off to figure out what to do next. During that year I realized that, even with my success, I still felt unworthy. My self-esteem had been temporarily propped up by my business accomplishments, but underneath, at my core, I still considered myself that “dumb blind guy.”

 As I mulled over my career options, I promised myself that whatever I picked would have to help me find a sense of purpose in my life, and most of all, allow me to be myself—vision impairment and all. Once I got that clear, bingo! That was it! I had the idea to start a company to help other people with vision impairments.  So I founded Vision Dynamics, a company that supplies products and services to people living with low vision and blindness so that they can lead independent and happy lives.

What I still didn’t know was that vision impairment has less to do with the eyes and more to do with the brain and our thoughts.

That knowledge came a few years later, when I began to look into the world of personal development. I’d heard of it, but didn’t really know much about it. One day, I Googled “self-esteem” and found a website for Jack Canfield. This guy sold audio books. Perfect! I bought one called Maximum Confidence and began listening. I was so excited by what I heard that halfway through the first CD, I paused the disc to run to my computer and buy more of his audio books: The Aladdin Factor and The Power of Focus. I was blown away! This guy knew exactly what was going on with me—down to the specific wording of the negative self-talk that still ran constantly through my mind.

Best of all, Jack had answers. I began using his tools and techniques, practicing what I was learning from his CDs, both at work and at home. Soon I started teaching my staff a few of Jack’s tools. “Today, we’re going to practice visualization,” I said to them. “Isn't it cool that blind people can visualize?” Of course, I’d been visualizing all my life, but I didn't know that’s what I was doing. Most of my visualizations were negative, focusing on lack, scarcity, and what I felt I couldn’t have. Slowly, I began turning that around.

For the next two years, I listened to Jack’s tapes over and over, and things in my life got better and better. I was really impressed with this Jack Canfield guy. So impressed that in early 2008, I found myself sitting in the first row at a three-day Jack Canfield seminar, hearing the man speak live.

Just getting to the seminar had been a huge stretch for me. I’d traveled across the country to California alone—something I didn’t know if I could pull off. I’d retrieved my luggage, found transportation to the hotel, and navigated through a completely unfamiliar building by myself. I was practicing trust, practicing “I can!” Whenever I started telling myself, “You can't,” I’d quickly change it to “You can! Remember that Jack says you can.”

A few weeks earlier, when I’d registered for the program, I hadn’t told anyone I was vision-impaired. Now, surrounded by more than 300 smart, successful people, I tried to hide my disability. I thought these people might feel sorry for me or look down on me.

It wasn’t a problem the first day. It was great to hear Jack in person and observe how he worked with people on the course. I hung on every word. I took copious notes, writing with a big black Sharpie—the only way I could see what I was writing—until the lady to my right asked me to please use a different pen because the fumes from the

Sharpie were bothering her. I didn’t want to tell her why I needed to use that particular type of pen, so I took out a ballpoint pen and pretended to use it.

The next day, the hiding thing came to a head. I arrived for the morning meeting and saw our name badges laid out on a table outside the door. I couldn’t see the writing on them at all. I looked around to make sure no one was watching me and then bent down with my nose an inch from the badges, trying to find mine and straightening up whenever I heard someone approach—which was every 30 seconds or so.

After a few minutes of this, I was panicked, ready to run back to my hotel room, skip the meeting, and hide until it was time for my flight back to Connecticut.

The doors were about to close when I had an idea. The next person who walked up to the table was a woman. “Excuse me,” I said. “I left my glasses in my room. My name’s Charlie. Can you point out my badge to me?” She smiled and handed it to me. I thanked her, my heart pounding, and sprinted into the meeting room.

At the first break, I walked up to the stage and introduced myself to Jack. We began talking and for some reason, I told him about my experience with the name badges. After the break, I sat down in my chair, ready for more, when I heard Jack say, “Somebody please give Charlie the microphone.” Then he asked me to stand up.

“Hi, Charlie,” Jack said. “I want you to take a look around at all the people in the room. Now, tell them what you told me at the break.”

I was mad! How could he expose me like that! How could he make me tell everyone my secret? But I did it. And as I spoke, I could feel more and more power flowing inside me. And at the end of my story, people clapped!

Jack said to me, “So, Charlie, I think you get it: you need to stop living your life this way. As of right now, you're no longer going to allow that legal blindness to run your life.” Then he looked around the room and asked, “Is there anybody here who would say no if Charlie approached them and asked for help?”

The room went nuts. Everyone was calling out, “I’d help him!” “I’d love to help!” “Of course I’d help him!”

Jack continued, “Human beings like to help each other. That's what we're here for, to serve and help each other—and all of us need help at certain times. Now, do you believe that, Charlie?”

To my surprise, I did. 

For the rest of the seminar, I had a great time. I felt somewhat vulnerable—and yet more open, authentic, and empowered than I’d ever felt before. And because I had felt so much growth working with Jack in person, before I left that 3-day seminar I signed up for every damn course he taught. The next one I went to—Breakthrough to Success, Jack’s weeklong training program—was also a life-changing experience. It was there that I finally discovered my true calling: being a inspirational speaker.

Today, I have two careers that I’m passionate about. At Vision Dynamics, in addition to selling “talking” clocks, computers that have large-print screens, and other items that make life easier for vision-impaired people, I’m also able to inspire and empower them. Through workshops and classes, I share what I’ve learned about personal growth, using all the tools Jack taught me—and people love it. This two-pronged approach makes my business unique, which has kept it flourishing year after year.

And I’m also a inspirational speaker. I travel around the country speaking to groups of people, both sighted and blind, about how we can overcome our blind spots—because no matter how good a person’s eyesight is, we all have them!

In fact, one of the most important things I learned from Jack is that we all lose our vision when we block ourselves with negative thinking patterns. Even people with perfect eyesight can’t see their way to creating a happy life for themselves until they put their thoughts to work for them, instead of against them.

I am living my true life purpose and it’s a great one:  I teach people how to see again.

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To learn more about the purpose of my upcoming book Living the Success Principles and how to submit your own story, click here.

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