James Ward’s Incredible Story

Links To Stories

James Ward’s Incredible Story

Meet James Ward.  He went from being homeless and living in a mission, to attending Howard University. His story and the above Tumblr page created to raise funds to pay for his tuition, has gone viral.

It’s a moving story, and I could not be happier for James.

But what sticks out in this story is the role that Jessica Sutherland played.  Although she does not take credit, and recognizes that James is the one that has done all the hard work, I cannot help but wonder how different his story would have been had he not met Jessica.  Given his clear intelligence, I do not doubt he would have made something of himself somehow.  But I do wonder…

I know that I do not know the whole story, and I do not know Jessica, but I do have to ask — was Jessica, James’ living proof?  There’s something there. I know there is.  And I plan to try to find out.

Leadership Redefined: The story of Dr. V

Links To Stories

Today, I share with you the following article: The Perfect Vision of Dr. V by Harriet Rubin (Fast Company)

Earlier this year, a friend sent me a copy of the above article.  And I am happy to now share it with you.

It’s about an Ophthalmologist in India whose story moves me every time I read it.  He may have passed away in 2006, but he is very much living proof of a life that I trust will challenge your conventional notions of what it looks like to lead, to live, and to be successful.

At the age of 58, Dr. V. opened a network of eye hospitals that has since served 32 million people, the majority of whom cannot afford his services.  Some facts taken from this article that give you an idea of why his model has been the focus of numerous case studies:

  • The free patients, whose medical services (including food and room) are covered entirely by the hospital, have a separate building. Paying customers are charged 50 rupees (about $1) per consultation and have their choice of accommodations: “A-class” rooms ($3 per day), which are private; “B-class” rooms ($1.50 per day), in which a toilet is shared; or “C-class” rooms ($1 per day), essentially a mat on the floor. Paying customers choose between surgery with stitches ($110) and surgery without stitches ($120).
  • There is no qualification for the free hospital.
  •  Aravind’s surgeons are so productive that the hospital has a gross margin of 40%, despite the fact that 70% of the patients pay nothing or close to nothing, and that the hospital does not depend on donations. Dr. V. has done it by constantly cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and building his market.
  • It costs Aravind about $10 to conduct a cataract operation. It costs hospitals in the United States about $1,650 to perform the same operation. Aravind keeps costs minimal by putting two or more patients in an operating room at the same time. Hospitals in the United States don’t allow more than one patient at a time in a surgery, but Aravind hasn’t experienced any problems with infections. Aravind’s doctors have created equipment that allows a surgeon to perform one 10- to 20-minute operation, then swivel around to work on the next patient — who is already in the room, prepped, ready, and waiting. Post-op patients are wheeled out, and new patients are wheeled in

I could not be more grateful to Harriet for doing an excellent job of capturing why he is very much living proof.  What he is living proof of for you, may not be the same for you, but my guess is our reasons won’t be so different.  Here are some other highlights of the values and principles that were the drivers behind his tremendous success in realizing his vision:

  • “For Dr. V., leadership begins with the pursuit of self-knowledge and a vision bigger than any that can fit in the prospectus of a single corporation. All his life, Dr. V. has resisted smallness. Yet there is nothing egotistic about him. He asks himself, “How can my work make me a better human being and make a better world?” That question is at the heart of the mystery of leadership. And to answer it is to seek perfection.”
  • “He came to believe that man has not reached the highest level of evolution, but that evolution will continue for several more stages until a higher intelligence is created. ‘Even the body has to be more perfect so that a new creature will result,’ says Dr. V.”
  • “I ask Dr. V. a simple question designed to get him to talk about his unique vision: ‘What are your gifts?’ I ask him. Dr. V. replies, ‘People thank me for giving them sight.’ This is no error of translation, no slipup of English. Dr. V. considers his gifts to be the things that he has given others, not what he possesses.”
  • “Part of Aravind’s service package includes love, courage, and total care. ‘You identify with the people with whom or for whom you work,” says Dr. V. “It is not out of sympathy that you want to help. The sufferer is part of you.'”
  • “‘Consultants talk of ‘the poor,’ ‘ he says. ‘No one at Aravind does. ‘The poor’ is a vulgar term. Would you call Christ a poor man? To think of certain people as ‘the poor’ puts you in a superior position, blinds you to the ways in which you are poor — and in the West there are many such ways: emotionally and spiritually, for example. You have comforts in America, but you are afraid of each other.'”

“Play, Passion, and Purpose”


Need a Job? Invent It

The above New York Times articles speaks to one of the many drivers behind the Living Proof Project.

This site intends to become an educational resource to challenge the norms of education.  Knowledge is merely potential power.  It’s the first step.  So then what does it take to be able to put that knowledge into action?  What are the conditions needed for someone to be able to take their knowledge and have the courage to invent their own career path?

In this article, Thomas Friedman interviews Education specialist/author, Tony Wagner.  His main message, we need to focus on teaching skills and instilling intrinsic motivation to learn.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”

So what should be the focus of education reform today?

“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”

It is my hope to introduce you to stories of people who have invented their paths.

Inaugural Interview: Lewis Harry Spence

Video Project

I am honored to introduce to you, Lewis Harry Spence.

Harry, who I’ve known for a little over a year now, is a large part of the reason why this site exists. He was the first person I officially considered to be “living proof”.   After every cup of coffee I had with Harry, and the more I learned about him, the more I wanted to share his story with people I knew would benefit from knowing him.  And I am beside myself to be able to do that with this project.

For me, Harry is living proof that it’s not about what you do, it’s about how you approach what you do – the principles and values that you live by.

Some highlights that still speak to me:

  • “there’s sort of a notion that by 25 you’re grown up, and I deeply believe that is a terribly stilted notion about development. I hope I have grown dramatically over the course of my 30s and 40s and 50s. And I do believe I am a very different person that I was 25 or 30 years ago. That there is a continuous process of social learning that is profound and powerful.”
  • “it’s so easy to fool yourself.  It’s so easy for your ego to fool you into believing you’re doing the righteous thing. When in fact it’s more about you than it’s about the task and about the needs of others.”
  • “I can now say, in many ways, my work is itself a spiritual discipline.”
  • “Even between 56 and 66, the sense of sustained equanimity keeps increasing. But it constantly requires lots of discipline and lots of learning.”
  • “It’s all about where my focus is.  Is it on my well being or is it external – on trying to bring myself in support of the needs of the world? And if I can stay in that space…and it’s a struggle…if I can stay in that space, then that’s  a space in within which great and immense satisfaction and sense of meaning arises.”

I hope you’ll take the time to watch the video. I assure you it will be worth your while.

No words suffice in expressing my gratitude to Harry for making his story so accessible to me, and now to you… and any one who has the pleasure of stumbling upon this video.

And it begins…

My Journey

After 6 months of over-thinking, stalling, and more stalling, I am finally posting my inaugural video for the Living Proof Project.

The idea for this project came to me when I went back to school in 2009.  In school and since, I’ve had the chance to meet people whose stories were proof to me that the life my heart was telling me I could live, could actually be lived.  Meeting people who had courageously charted a unique career path, who took an idea and made it into a business, to witnessing what a healthy and loving relationship looks like – their stories were proof of what I only imagined was possible.

This project came to life upon realizing that just by having access to real, very human stories, I could start to believe that I too can do the same. Hence, the name  – “the living proof project”.

This site is for those who are seeking. This site is for those who need that extra nudge to pursue what their heart is telling them.  This site exists to light a fire with the embers that are flickering in your gut.  This is a project to show you that if there is a vision you have for the future that you are itching to make into a reality, there is someone out there who is living proof that if they can do it, so can you.  And I believe that in the end, you’ll find that it’s never about the details.  The secret to their success lies in their courage and how they chose to approach their lives.

As will become clear when you hit play for my first three interviews, I have never used a camcorder before nor have I ever interviewed anyone. My questions aren’t perfect.  I interrupt with my loud laugh.  You’ll hear me “mm hmms” often.  And since I definitely don’t know how to edit videos, for now, the videos here are the long, uncut, full-length versions.  But I didn’t want to let those details stop me.  It is my hope that those shortcomings won’t keep you from connecting with the powerful stories that these individuals were courageously willing to share.

Mixed with these interviews, will be snippets of my own stories, and stories I find on the internet that align with the vision for the LP project. And at first, the interviews will be with people whom I know personally. Their stories may not speak to you as they still speak to me, but this is just the beginning.

The idea is to make accessible stories that one would typically disregard as being unattainable – to show you that you too can do the same. When I say “do the same”, I do not mean make the same choices and live the same life, I mean writing your own story.

For those who are seeking, feel free to share your story with me and the kind of “proof” you are seeking, and I will do my best to find living proof for you.  For those of you have a story that you wish to share, or if you want to interview someone who has been “living proof” for you, email me and we’ll publish it on this site.

My email:  mo @ thelivingproofproject.org.

And without further ado… let the concept that I dreamed of, which I had the courage to realize because of the people you will soon meet…. now commence.