Category Archives: Design You

“A man with a vision is never truly blind”

I remember from my graduate days in psychology studying  Alfred Adler’s theories of individual psychology. During World War I, Adler served as a physician in the Austrian Army, first on the Russian front, and later in a children’s hospital. He saw first-hand the damage that war does and his concept of “compensation” emerged from his WWI experiences. “Every individual represents a unity of personality and the individual then fashions that unity,” postulated Adler. “The individual is thus both the picture and the artist. Therefore if one can change one’s concept of self, they can change the picture being painted.” Adlerian psychology assumes a central personality dynamic reflecting the growth and forward movement of life. It is a future-oriented striving toward an ideal goal of significance, mastery, success or completion.

Photograph by Tim McClanahan







Enter artist Jim Stevens. Jim began drawing as a child when he “borrowed” a piece of charcoal from his grandmother’s studio along with a few sheets of sketching paper. When she found out, instead of rebuking the boy, she recognized his passion and talent and began teaching him how to draw. He would go on to study with American master sculptor Ed Dwight and helped him with his 12-foot high bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that stands today outside Morehouse College’s King Chapel in Atlanta, Georgia. A palette of successes and commissions followed as did shows in prominent galleries.

While a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol leader in Vietnam, Jim Stevens was shot in the head during a combat mission. The wound resulted in severe migraine headaches which plague him even today. In 1993, he suffered a migraine that caused a stroke which, in turn, took his eyesight in just 30 minutes. After losing all but a pin-dot of his eyesight, he found himself divorced and the blind single parent of two preteen daughters. He was also unable to continue teaching at the University of Colorado and lost all confidence to continue with his art.

Photograph by Tim McClanahan

In 2000, at the encouragement of his children, he began to “compensate” and to produce art again. Slowly, but deliberately; giving his art away as gifts until he realized that there was more he could do with his artistic abilities. He worked hard; re-learning his pre-injury craft until the more he did the more he believed he was capable of and the quality of his art returned to full expression using specially-made lenses for his eyes. When  Jim Stevens looks at something, he can take in only one detail at a time. If he looks closely, he can see a person’s eye. To look at the eyebrow above it, he has to tilt his face up slightly. It speaks to the effort he has to engage to use his primary artistic tool; that of sight, which makes his art even more astounding.

Jim’s compensation for his physical and emotional injuries has drawn attention to him from 3-time Emmy Award winning screenwriter Paul Cooper who wrote a screenplay about his  life, NBC News, CBS News, Colorado Public Radio and PBS NewsHour. He’s had three books published on art and his monofilament paintings, scrimshaw, and other works are collected internationally. Jim’s won the VA National Gold Medal for Fine Art, the Sargent Art Supply Company National Award for Art and he’s been honored as a Kennedy Center Registered VSA Artist in both the visual and literary arts. On top of those kudos, he’s the only legally blind man, and oldest man, to ever win the men’s fighting competition at the Martial Arts “Tournament of Champions”

When you start to make a list of the reasons for not pursuing your dream and are inclined to erect a scaffold of excuses for not pursuing your passion, think of Jim Stevens. You can then choose to either count your losses or count your blessings. You can walk up to the canvas of your life and begin to paint or you can sit at home watching television regretting what might have been. But, remember: DREAMS TRUMP LIMITATIONS.

“A man with a vision is never truly blind” Jim Stevens

Read a free excerpt of DESIGN YOU 


Love The One You’re With: YOU

American singer and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Stills, best known for his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, released the lead single from his debut self-titled studio album in 1970. The song, inspired by a remark Stills heard from musician Billy Preston became his biggest hit single peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1971.

The title of the song is a mantra for everyone reinventing themselves to live their destiny: Love The One You’re With. And, no one is more important in this life than YOU. As Stephen himself said, “Once you decide that it is the art that is important and not how popular and well received you are, you no longer have an albatross. “ Make your life your work of art.

The One-Question Shortcut to Identifying Your Niche Market

Dixie Gillaspie, Writer, Coach, Lover of Entrepreneurship, has nailed down that one fundamental question to not only identify your niche market as an entrepreneur but to use as a litmus test for everything you do regarding your entrepreneurial activities. Read: The One-Question Shortcut to Identifying Your Niche Market 

You Can Dream and Achieve at Any Age

At age 23, Tina Fey was working at a YMCA.

At age 23 Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.

At age 24, Stephen King was working as a janitor and living in a trailer.

At age 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.

At age 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.

At age 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.

At age 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.

Julia Child released her first cookbook at age 39 and got her own cooking show at age 51.

Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the Editor-in-Chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at age 40.

Stan Lee didn’t release his first big comic book until he was 40.

Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career and landed his first movie role at age 42.

Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his first major movie role until he was 46.

Morgan Freeman landed his first major movie role at age 52.

Original art by Christopher Leykam


Authenticity is the Key to Living a Rewarding Life

“The person you are is a thousand times more interesting than the best actor you could ever hope to be.” Constantin Stanislavski, seminal Russian theatre practitioner widely recognised as an outstanding character actor and co-founder of the Moscow Art Theater, where his productions achieved the zenith in 20th-century naturalism.

Over 70% of workers either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged from them (Gallup poll), It’s sadly no surprise that so many people have become adept at acting out the roles prescribed to them by the superegos of their past, such as well-meaning parents, teachers, coaches, bosses and significant others…even though what they do is far from who they are and what they’re capable of.

Constatin Stanislavski is considered the father of modern acting and every acting technique created in the modern era was influenced by him,  For young actors, understanding of Stanislavski’s seven questions is an invaluable foundation upon which to build a character. Ironically, they are the same questions that everyone should ask themselves regarding whether they are living a genuine life or not:

1. Who am I?

2. Where am I?

3. What time is it?

4. What do I want?

5. Why do I want it?

6. How will I get what I want?

7. What must I overcome to get what I want?

Stanislavski believed that there is always something stopping the character portrayed by an actor from achieving his or her objective. Whereas Stanislavski held that there is someone or something in the outside world impeding a character’s advancement and also some internal conflict with which they struggle, the “character’s obstacle” as he called it is experienced in real life by anyone who feels unfulfilled by the work he or she is doing. Using Stanislavski’s “7 Questions” enables actors who put in the required time and energy to have a greater understanding of their character and their personal acting technique. If you are struggling with knowing and pursuing how to live a life based upon your genuine abilities, I encourage you to ask the questions of yourself and think about them.You can go through life acting out a part that is not the real you or you can live life fully by designing you and your life based upon your true talents. The former comes with regrets. The latter leads to fulfillment.


Read a free excerpt of DESIGN YOU 

with illustrations by Christopher Leykam
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