Two things I learned about life: Failure and Carnival Tickets

In 2016 when I got my eyesight, it changed everything. I had no idea how much the world was about to change in 2020. I am sure you can relate on some level.

After your 30s it feels like most people realize that life is not the life they thought they were going to have when they were 15.

In my case, that’s a definite.

I had moved to Los Angeles in late 2017, after a long time healing from my eye surgery. I didn’t know anyone here, and I was not very good at living as a sighted person. I knew it would be difficult, but how long it would be difficult, exacerbated by the pandemic, was something nobody could predict.

Sitting alone in my apartment during the lockdown with my nearest longtime friend being thousands of miles away – it gives you time to think.

I still don’t regret this ballsy move into the unknown. I know that being uncomfortable is how you grow, and, up until 2016, I had allowed people who felt comfortable to violate my boundaries and treat me like a child instead of a capable adult with a disability into my life.

As far as becoming who I really am, a total reset was now or never. And I did it. And it was terrible. But, much like childbirth, it had to happen now. I was no longer in my 20s.

How many people sit and complain and never take action? It’s easy to do. It’s easy to worry, “What if I fail?” I didn’t have money or anyone backing me. I had no safety net. I didn’t have an advantage behind the curtain like the thousands of “I came to LA with 2 suitcases and a dream” people who are hiding that they had access to a trust fund.

My only trust was trusting myself to not give up. I mean, really. I find those kind of disingenuous omissions to be offensive. They set an unrealistic example for those of us who come from modest means. I feel that people look at those folks and then when they have hardship – they give up because they are comparing themself to someone else’s rigged game. And it’s totally ok to have a trust fund – just be transparent that you have it so you aren’t setting an unrealistic example.

I did work my way up from living in the back of a car to being able to afford my own 2 bedroom apartment in Los Angeles – but I have the battle scars and nightmares that come with that lonely journey. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding.

The reality about life is that it’s not a movie.

Failure is a natural and necessary part of progress. Failure is information that you build on to inform your later success. Just like testing the market before a product is launched. Failure is good, and you only truly fail when you stop.

I never stopped, no matter how many times I spent birthdays and Christmas alone, cried myself to sleep, or went without a meal. It’s all about generating as many chances to win as you can with your valuable fails.

That’s the secret I know.  Life is like the kid who generates 200 chances to win at the carnival. Keep buying tickets, even if you feel stupid for trying. I encourage this kind of stupid.

Now is the time to focus on what you want your life to be. What is the life you want to look back on when you are 80?

Do it now. Keep buying those tickets. And understand that I am right there with you trying to generate as many tickets as I can to win at the carnival we call life.

The only way to go is forward.

Originally published on my Substack. Subscribe here.

Back when I was an MMA Fighter

I grew up legally blind and was bullied on a daily basis. Being blind meant that I couldn’t even see the people before they’d hit me. But there I was, 8 years old, laying on the floor while 4 boys kicked and spit on me.

Ever hear the saying that life happens for you, not to you? These experiences shaped my way of thinking and being forever.

To this day, I make sure that my work is always focused on being the person I needed back then. The hardest thing to learn as a kid was that sometimes, people will hate you for reasons that have nothing to do with you. And sometimes they are reasons that you can’t control.

Think about it – what someone else thinks about you is in their head – not yours. But still we have to deal with their inability to manage their imaginary friend.

Back then, I was defenseless. That changed when I turned 14.

After I got older and with my vision corrected, I joined a karate school. They also taught kickboxing and MMA fighting. I was told only guys could learn this, but the owner if the school was so amused by my lack of fear that he let me into the program.

I didn’t realize until many years later that my lack of fear was because I couldn’t see – so I’d just jump in the ring and go for it. I could see shapes well enough to tell where a person was, but not more than that.

The first time I faced off against an opponent I was so gentle that I didn’t want to hit someone else. After receiving a few punches, also remembering all the beatings I endured growing up, I got over it and fought back. MMA was a safe space for my repressed anger and a community of men who began to respect me as one of their team.

When I moved away to college, I left fighting behind and pursued other interests, but had proven my point to myself. I can be my own rescuer even when others let me down.

I just discovered Cobra Kai and saw The Karate Kid for the first time. It reminded me so much of the mentality I trained under. Johnny Lawrence makes me miss my former teacher and gave me clarity on how much MMA helped me become who I am today.

MMA was not just about fighting – it was about self-esteem, positive energy, and community that transcends into learning how to fight so you don’t have to.

Know your worth and align with your positive energy, whatever shape it may take.

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

Social media is always the subject of debate. There are pros and cons.

A pro: Imagine trying to get through this pandemic without Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Zoom keeping us connected while forced to isolate.

One good thing about social media is how it confirms we’re never alone. There’s always someone out there. And we can also be there for someone else.

How we use social media is up to us, so choose positive over negative interaction.

It’s helpful to avoid conflicts and seek out new friends to unite with versus people who want to argue and divide us.

Rather than disliking somebody’s post, why not find things to like? The recipient of your positivity will appreciate it.

Social media is not a problem unless you choose to make it one. Just like in real life, don’t go looking for trouble.

Seeing Columbo

During the pandemic, many people found a new friend in Lt. Columbo. A new generation discovered his TV show thanks to streaming.

I’d make myself pancakes on Sundays and watch him solve mysteries. It was like having breakfast with the great man himself… without the cigar smoke.

Columbo feels like a very real person thanks to the brilliant actor who portrayed him, Peter Falk… but did you know he had disability?

When Peter Falk was three years old, he lost one of his eyes to cancer. He wore a glass eye most of his life.

After his first screen test, the head of a studio rudely told Peter Falk: “For the same price, I can get an actor with two eyes.”

Peter Falk was dogged, intrepid and not to be underestimated… just like Lt. Columbo.

After his failed screen test, Peter Falk worked harder, became a great actor, received two Oscar nominations and eventually achieved legendary status as TV’s most famous sleuth.

COLUMBO, Peter Falk, 1971-93

If you didn’t know Peter Falk had a disability, that’s because he wasn’t defined by it nor let it stop him… and proved a studio chief wrong by becoming a better actor than most performers with two eyes.

Navigating the World While Legally Blind: How I Did It

When people hear the world “blind” they imagine a person not seeing anything at all

Only 10% of all blind people have no vision and use Braille. Many see some shape and color.  Not all blind people are the same, just like all people are different.   

My eye was shaped like a football instead of a circle.  I could only see before the tip of my nose.  As far as seeing further, I only discerned vague shapes and color.

olivia durant blind motivational speaker

I would never go anywhere alone, but had a very good memory of places I’d been. I would try my best to memorize rooms and past outings, including trips through New York City.

I did not live in a life that would involve special schools and assistance from others.  I had to make up my own ways of navigating the world with limited support.

When I would enter a room I would mentally divide it into equal shapes, then count the steps between those areas.  I would remember those steps for the future, including when it was time to turn into a door.  Sometimes I made errors, but managed to keep my disability hidden.

After my vision was corrected, there were benefits from these methods that remain. I’m very good in the dark. I’m also very good at texting without looking at my phone. These are just a few of my superpowers.    

As far as how I navigate the world now, I’ve come a long way.

A new users guide to eyesight

What is the first thing I remember after my eye surgery?

The sky.

The sky is something you see every day, but I’ll bet you don’t notice it unless there’s a big change.

Consider this.

How many people do we think about and never contact because we need some reason to do so?

You don’t need a reason to reach out to people.

I saw my relationships with myself and others differently after my eyesight was given to me.

Seeing a face often helps us better understand what is being said.

The same applies to faceless people we send our words to.

Personal relationships should stay personal.  Social media can make them impersonal.

We even have something called Facebook and we still seem to forget this.

Photo by Şahin Sezer Dinçer from Pexels

While many things in life looked different to me after my surgery, theme parks looked exactly the same.

Theme parks are fun; you literally feel the rides and experiences.  You also hear the sounds and smell the food.

Be able to see crowds gave me a sense of the size of the community.

My new vision made learning how to do everyday things revelatory.  Simple things people treat as second nature like how to cook, do laundry or selecting clothes for my career.

I cherished learning some of these basic things that most take for granted.  We should always value learning new things, no matter how routine they seem.

Driving was a very different experience after corrective eye surgery.  I was always a very attentive driver and stayed the same way after my improved vision.  I paid close attention to the world around me through that windshield.

Paying attention is something we all need to do as we’re always surrounded by constant distractions.

After my eye surgery, I was able to travel and see many places for the first time.  That included places I’d been to before.  I was now able to fully appreciate them.

Travel isn’t required to find new and exciting places.  The destinations can be as common as a new restaurant, new store, or the home of a friend you’ve never visited.

You don’t need to take a picture. You need to take the experience.

Olivia Durant wearing sunglasses

People often wear sunglasses as a fashion statement or to project an aura or attitude.  Sometimes people wear sunglasses to hide their eyes, to cloak how they’re feeling since eyes not only see… they tell.

I wear sunglasses for the same reasons everyone else does, but I also appreciate one of their most valued purposes which is to protect my eyes.

Because I don’t take them for granted.