When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, I was frustrated by the growing failure of my reflexes and mobility. Let me rephrase that: I was furious and cursed my condition. However, I didn't give in to depression, which so many of my senior peers tend to do when faced with physical limitations. Depression leads to inertia which is a recipe for hopelessness.
Instead, I used my pain to delve into an entirely new field -- medical equipment -- in which I had no previous experience. As a result, I invented an entirely new kind of mobility device that provides a stable platform for rehabilitation and exercise, while maintaining an upright posture. Think of a wheelchair but one in which the user stands. (More on this in a moment.)
I called it -- what else? -- The Dashaway. (I never said anything about being immodest.)
Whatever your age happens to be, you must be proactive when you're dealt a bad hand in life. Take that energy (pain, fear, anger and uncertainty) and channel it into a passion to overcome the obstacle and give it all you've got. We all know the truism about an artist's suffering inspiring his or her greatest work. The same can be true of the entrepreneur.
Still, you may ask, what can a Parkinson's afflicted, 95-year-old tell me about success and perseverance in this economy? Inventions and innovations have defined my entire life.
My own history was forged during the Great Depression, and my education and prospects during these years was met with every imaginable obstacle. When I was 20 years old in 1936 I faced a similar choice that young people do today: ride out the bad economic times by staying in college or take my chances in the daunting job market. I chose the latter and never looked back.
I pursued entrepreneurial business in such disparate fields as off-shore oil shipping, entertainment and commercial real estate. I'm probably best known for inventing the machine that imprinted plastic credit cards, thus facilitating the industry's rapid growth in the 1960s. Currently, I hold 14 U.S. patents.
Leaving college then was as difficult as leaving now but early on, even while in high school, I grasped the concept of leveraging (even before the term became fashionable). Everything I did worked toward building something else. I'm betting today's twenty-somethings have at least as much to leverage in their lives to successfully starting a business as I did 75 years ago.
Despite the hardships of those time, which would make today's economic landscape look like a boom, I always followed my instincts.
Paying attention and listening to what's happening around you applies everywhere in your entire life. In the course of several decades, I became a sailor, inventor and successful entrepreneur. There were constants in my life; a love and protection of my family and a desire to conquer problems that were presented as technology began to blossom. New operational needs were created by businesses.
I asked questions and learned what companies were looking for.
Which brings me back to my Parkinson's disease, made more vexing by a near-fatal fall where I broke my hip. My diagnosed Parkinson's - along with my diagnosis of spinal stenosis -- progressed to the point where I could not even get up out of a chair or my bed without help.
To ease the excruciating pain (caused by my compressed spine), I was taking 5 Vicodin tablets a day. Like anyone who takes prolonged pain medication without exercise, my body weakened further.
The Dashaway was originally conceived to help me recover my strength, mobility and confidence. In my research, I crossed paths with master exercise physiologist Charles Blount, a successful Hollywood trainer and inventor of the popular PilatesStick.
I knew what I wanted to do, which was regain mobility, and understanding his expertise at helping celebrities get whipped into shape made him an obvious choice for making my invention a reality. Together, we began designing and building a number of prototypes, which eventually evolved into the sleek, Corvette-red device that is currently on the market.
Today, hundreds of people like me, previously confined to their beds because of neurological or severe joint problems, use The Dashaway to navigate day-to-day activities safely and just get around easier. In my case, it also instantly and dramatically stopped my pain.
Now, you may wonder why someone my age is still thinking of inventions, and ideas to bring to the marketplace. The drive to be an American entrepreneur and inventor began when I was 15, and will continue until I draw my last breath.
If I can impart anything to you entrepreneurs out there with wonderful ideas, if they are born from passion and a need by you personally, see it through and don't shelve it. Write it down, talk to people, believe in your ideas and own them.
The moment you stop being interested in learning and doing things in this short life, you have already died.
Today my health is fragile but my mind is alert. The Dashaway Company, which I sold a number of years ago, continues and I am still involved with other business ventures, philanthropy, photography and entertaining still. Most weekends, you can still find me sailing my 72-foot cutter off the Southern California coast. My hope, here, is that my story will inspire you to think big, and never take no for an answer, or accept any limitations you may be handed as deterrence to your own path to success