The Power of Interdependence And Focusing On The Good with Jeremy Poincenot
Jeremy Poincenot is a two time World Champion of Blind Golf and a motivational speaker. His recent talk titled The Power of Interdependence was one of the highlights of TEDx San Diego and shares his story of adversity with audiences all over the country.
How did you get into Golf?
Golf has always been my favorite sport. Growing up, I played three years varsity high school, and my parents met working in the golf industry through Taylor Made Golf. My dad worked 30 years in the industry, and we always played together. I didn't play as much as college, but golf has always been a huge part of my life and is a big passion for me.
What was life like before you lost your sight?
Every golf course has a par which is a score you should be hitting on that hole. With handicap, you are shooting over the par. When I was able to see before the age of 19, I was a 4+ handicap golfer which is good, but now that I am blind, I am an 11+ golfer.
Life before losing my sight was very normal. I lived an above average life in Southern California and have two amazing parents and two younger siblings. I was in the prime of my life at SDSU, and everything was tremendous. I was on the path of graduating and going to enter the real world at some point. I wanted to work in the golf industry
When I lost my vision, it happened over the course of two months. I woke up one morning, and as I was walking around campus, I had to squint to read signs which was abnormal for me because I had 20/20 vision my whole life. I figured at first, I needed to get glasses or something, so I went to the optometrist, and that’s when things started to go awry where he had me cover my left eye, and I couldn’t see out of my right eye. I thought maybe glasses wasn’t the fix. I went to other doctors and was misdiagnosed several times. Over the course of two months, I went from perfect 20/20 vision to being legally blind with no central vision diagnosed with a rare disorder called Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON). There is no treatment or cure and I can no longer read, drive or recognize faces.
I had this fear of depending on others and fear of not knowing what I can do. I had been living a normal life, and now I was stripped of my central vision. What can I do? Can I go back to college? Can I find someone who would love me? So many thoughts went through my head, and it was a crazy time for me.
How do you find the silver lining in your blindness?
For me, it took losing my sight to see the silver lining in my blindness. I always have been an optimistic person and looked at the glass as half-full. When I lost my sight, I was not the happiest person for a long time. I went through the 5 stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression for awhile, and finally reached acceptance, and some people don’t ever reach acceptance when going through a traumatic experience. It took a year plus to go through those stages, but after a year plus and finally reaching that acceptance, I saw that even though I didn’t have my central vision, I had complete peripheral vision, so my spatial awareness is good. When I put things in perspective, I make it work, and my blindness is not limiting my life. It’s changed it, and I have accepted it. I am happier at 27 legally blind focusing on the good than I was at 19 trying to keep up with the Joneses and be as cool as I could be.
What was that first day like when you were blind and was there anybody or anything that motivated you to see the positive in your blindness?
There were a lot of people who helped me out; my family especially. I had a friend helped me get back into school, and he took five classes, two of them were to help me get used to being in the classroom again. I had another friend help me put together a fundraiser ride called the CURE (Cycling Under Reduced Eyesight) ride, and we do this ride to help raise money and awareness for LOHN.
With all of this, it makes me think that we need passion, purpose, and perspective in our lives. When I found those with blind golf, the bike ride fundraiser, and doing something bigger than myself, that’s when I discovered that I was going to be ok and get through the tough times. I had this incredible support system around me. It helps me see things differently like when I have a tough week in March, but I have a blind golf tournament in September, I remind myself that you know what, it’s going to be ok because I have something to look forward to in September that I love to do. Having something to look forward to when you are going through a tough time was extremely helpful for me.
What do you define as focusing on the good? Is there any of your senses enhanced because you’re blind?
Focus on the good is an easy mantra to spread and that’s what I work on when I do presentations across the country. I wake up every morning thinking I’m not legally blind. That I have no central vision, but I focus on the peripheral vision, I do have. It’s about gratitude, and I’m thankful for the people in my life, and I concentrate on that. I try to focus on the day to day, what are the pros and cons, but then I shift my focus more on the pros because that are the positives I have in my life. I don’t let those negatives outweigh the positives in my life.
We’re all going to have the up and downs. We can’t sugar coat them and focusing on the good is a process. It’s something that has taken awhile for me to practice. I still have bad days like everyone, but that’s where the mantra comes in, being able to see the things we should be thankful and that has helped change my perspective. I believe there is a lot of good in humanity and I see that every day with people who are trying to help me.
My doctor is one of the leading researchers on LHON told me that when people ask me this to say no. But, I do have to focus on them more to stay up to par with the fully sighted. I need to listen more and pay attention more. Although it's not a sense, my memory has gotten better. I’ll recall conversations from months ago with incredible retail, and I can even tell you every single shot I hit during the second round of the Blind Golf World Championships in Canada.
Talk about Blind Golf and where the sport is headed today.
Well, first off, Golf is an individual sport, but Blind Golf is a team sport. Each golfer in Blind Golf has a guide who helps them out on every shot. For me in competition, my guide is my dad. The sport of Blind Golf is international, and we’ve gone everywhere from Canada to Japan. We want to get more involved in the sport and were working on now getting Blind Golf into the ParaOlympics.
You have a big fan in NFL Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. How did you two connect?
Being a seven-time champion and a world championship twice, I met Aaron at a charity fundraiser tournament. I was demonstrating blind golf, and while I was doing that, I was golfing next to Aaron and Blake Bortles. I got to chat with him, and he started to following me on Twitter. I wish I could get a chance to play golf against him.
(Aaron, if you're reading this, let's make it happen!)
You talk about through your blindness you were fearful of being dependent, but you also found out about the power of interdependence. What is that and what has it done for you?
Interdependence is about shared experiences. My dad and I are playing golf together, and we’re playing the game interdependently. He’s using his eyes to guide me while I’m swinging the club. We’re working together toward a common goal. With interdependence, relationships are deeper and cause people have more purpose in their life with increased success. I want people to the power of interdependence. A lot of times we see things black and white; you’re either dependent or independent, but there is this new middle or a gray area of interdependence. When someone is driving you somewhere, don’t feel like you’re dependent on them, think of it as being interdependent with them and creating that shared experience.
Why do you think people are afraid to ask for help? Was there a time where you struggled with it?
I think we’re fearful to ask for helpful because we’re afraid of being vulnerable and we also don’t want to be seen as dependent. I think it’s interesting because when someone asks for our help, we felt special and needed, so we feel good. At times, I struggle myself in asking for help, and I think there is a fine line between asking for help and being independent. Asking for help shouldn’t be a bad thing.
I don’t think there was a specific time, but I was reluctant to allowing people to help me. I still wanted to remain as independent as possible, and I did not have it. I was not willing to accept help from others. I just wanted to do everything on my own, and it was a tough time for me because I did need some help and I do remember my friend Josh who was the one that helped me get back into school telling me that I wasn’t a burden but a blessing. That was the first time I realized maybe that there was something more than to asking for help, maybe there was more to this than I was fully aware of.
Are there any books, videos you would recommend?
Give and Take by Adam Grant is a great book that I learned a lot from this year and the best TEDx talk I’ve seen is by Shawn Achor “The Happiness Advantage.” He’s brilliant and funny, and I could watch that all the time.