YOP104: The Blind Blogger with Maxwell Ivey

By March 29, 2016Podcast Episode

Bio: I am a 49-year-old blind gentleman who grew up in a family of carnival owners. All I ever wanted to do was to continue in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and be part of the family business.

As you can tell by reading this, that isn’t where I ended up. I did help in the business over the years, but couldn’t sustain it after the early death of my father (who had lung cancer). I then turned to helping people sell their amusement equipment. I do that on my other site, The Midway Marketplace.

I started blogging to promote that site and met a lot of wonderful people in the blogosphere. They told me that I had an amazing story and many commented on how I inspired them. They finally convinced me that I had a bigger purpose in store for myself.

So, I started this second blog, and in it I share more of my personal journey, struggles, and triumphs. I also got noticed by a lot of people and have appeared as a guest, an interview subject, and a motivator on many different sites. My As Seen Online page lists these places.

I do my best to help others, and do so mostly by encouraging them to take steps towards their ultimate goal, or to continue on the path they have started.

Transcript

Zephan: Faced with his own mortality, Max made some life altering changes. He underwent gastric surgery and lost over 250 pounds. He started his own business buying and selling amusement rides and learned how to blog using software for visually impaired people. Overcoming many obstacles, Max made a name for himself online and now shares his expediences on The Blind Blogger. Max, thanks for being here today.

Max: Thanks for having me on today. I’m looking forward to having a good conversation and see if we can’t inspire some people to take some actions today.

Zephan: Yeah, absolutely. Just reading your bio, I feel like I have to jump back here to as a kid. It’s so interesting because some people are born without their sight and some people do have sight for a certain amount of time and then something happens to them. I’m curious to hear a little bit about your perspective of—at one point in time, you knew what things looked like and something happened and now you experience the world a little bit differently so I’d love to hear just kind of what happened when you were twelve and where it went from there.

Max: Okay, I was born with perfect vision. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is a degenerative disease, it affects the retina. I gradually lost vision from about age 4 or 5. I had a large drop off in vision at 12 or 13, which is pretty common for men with RP. It stayed pretty much constant. I had decent vision for traveling around, but not good vision for reading. It stayed that way until I was in my late teens, early 20s and then I lost it down to what I have now, which is light perception.

I think it is interesting when you talk to people who were born with no vision versus people like me, who had vision and lost it because at least some references I understand that a person who’s born totally blind will never understand such as colors. There’s certain cultural icons that I understand what they are. I lost most of my vision before the Swoosh, but I at least know what the McDonald’s arches and the Coca Cola logo look like. I can remember the Flintstones telephone and I can remember a box of 64 Crayola crayons.

Those are some concepts that make life a lot easier if you don’t have vision, at least I think so. The other thing about losing your vision gradually is you learn from an early age that very little is going to ever stay the same because I’ve gone in my lifetime from reading regular print to having to wear glasses to reading large print type to having to use a closed circuit TV where you put the book under a camera and it projects it up onto a monitor to learning braille and now most everything I get is either on digital audio or listen to using a screen reader from the computer. That’s just one area of my life from being a kid to being an adult, just had to constantly learn a new way to do the same thing.

Zephan: Yeah and I’m sure that that happens for many people throughout their life where regardless of what they’re going through, they probably change the way that they do things or the world changes it for them. As we get older, I can’t exactly behave the same way I did as a kid when I’m working with a client so the world definitely changes things, but it’s interesting to see how your way of interacting with the world changed for you.

I wonder if, and this is something I’ve always been curious of, they always have those superhero movies where if someone loses their sight, they might develop super crazy hearing. Have you noticed that any of your other senses have really started to take over or get more sensitive as time has gone by?

Max: Actually, I’m a bad example of that because my smell has never been good and it’s never gotten better, but I would say that the one difference is—Steven Covey, he’s well known in the field. He wrote several great chapters in his book about active listening, about really paying attention to the person that you’re talking to and really being invested in the conversation and I think that that’s really more of what happens is is that you just focus in on the senses that you have left and you spend more time honing those senses, just like with anything else.

If there’s something that you’re bad at, you might make up for it with other things that you’re good at or that you can become better at and I think that’s the way it is with hearing. I also was smart with my hearing and avoided things like rock concerts and jet airplanes and never been a guitar player or any of the things that would decrease hearing level knowing that I would have to depend on it more.

Zephan: Absolutely. I think that’s a smart choice because it will allow you later down the road when you really do need to rely on that stuff to take advantage of still having your hearing. I know, me personally, I played drums for many years. I’ve been to concerts and even at 26, going on 27, I know that sometimes my hearing is starting to go. That’s a bit scary for me still being quite young. I can definitely see where making those choices really would make a big difference in the future.

I’d love to jump forward just a little bit here and hear a little bit about understanding your own mortality and what happened for you when you realized that we don’t live forever and the life that we do have is important. I know that some big life changing things happened for you, both in your family, but also for yourself in losing a lot of weight so maybe share with us a little bit about that.

Max: Yeah, I was still traveling with the carnival, although this was after our show had went out of business. We were working with my uncle’s carnival and I wasn’t handling it well because we used to compete pretty heavily with them for bookings so it was not fun having to realize that my carnival was no longer in business, but there’s was. That, plus I lost my father. I was never what you’d call in good shape.

Put on even more weight and eventually I had a situation where I was almost thrown out of a motel for urinating on their mattresses and somebody noticed that that day the skin on my legs was tight and discolored and I went to see the doctor. The doctor said “You know, you need to make some changes or you’re not going to be around here much longer.”

At the end of that season, I went home and got a primary care physician that was able to—they put me on medication for blood pressure, for gout and I was on 6 or 7 different pills at one time and the first thing they realized is that I wasn’t getting good rest. They had me get a sleep study and eventually I was treated for sleep apnea with a CPAP machine and a few years after that, after realizing that diet and exercise on my own wasn’t getting me any real progress towards losing the weight.

I’d agreed to go to a seminar and find out about gastric surgery. Once I realized that gastric surgery was just another tool that some people used because they weren’t able to accomplish their weight goals without it and that it still would require making a lot of changes and doing a lot of hard work I was in because I’m one of these people if you tell me “It’s easy,” I’m probably not interested, but if you tell me that “I’m going to have to do some work,” then I’m there.

I had the surgery, I went to the nutrition classes, I changed my diet, started exercising more regularly than I was and over the course of the 6 before the surgery, I lost 81 pounds and then since the surgery, I lost another 160 pounds so I’m down to 255, 260 as opposed to over 500, which is a much healthier weight for me now and I’m able to maintain the weight even with the holidays, season meals that are problems for most people.

Here it is, it will be 4 years—it was 4 years a couple weeks ago. I had my first weigh in on Valentine’s Day, 2012. It’s been 4 years since my first weigh in, I’m at my good weight and I’m still at the weight my doctor wants me to be at. I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish it without having the surgery.  Some people don’t need it, some people aren’t in the right frame of mind where it will succeed if they have it.

I think the one interesting thing I’ve found out during the whole process, there’s only about 50% of the people that have a gastric procedure will lose 80% to 90% of the weight they need to lose. Now some people will even gain weight. They may drop the weight, but then they come back to their original weight and put pounds on in addition to that, even with the surgery.

Zephan: I mean kudos to you for pulling that off, number one, because I mean that means that you weren’t in that 50% of people that don’t do it. It sounds like you’ve done amazing with it. I never want to scare anyone into bettering themselves or realizing that a change needs to happen. Were there signs for you that were popping up in your life where you started to think “Oh, you know, I think it’s time that I need to make a change,” or what was kind of going on in your mind at the time because it’s interesting to see how far people push their bodies until finally something really bad happens and then they finally decide to make that change?

Max: I think I’ve been fat most all of my life. When I was younger, they would refer to it as husky or as being a big kid, but I would say there was 2 or 3 years there where I went from being about 400 to being over 500 and my brother has a picture where he says it looks to him in the picture like I was more like 600 or more. I think that in that 3 years after my father’s death and after I was no longer really involved in the business the way I was before, having to accept the fact that the person that you have been, the way you see yourself for many years of your life is no longer possible.

That takes a while to finally accept. I would agree with you. It’s a shame it took a drastic event and people telling me that if I didn’t make serious changes in my life, I wasn’t going to be around here much longer, but for a lot of people that is what it takes. It takes getting to the point where they realize they don’t have a choice. That’s one of the reasons why I share my stories because I really don’t want to see people get to the point where I’m at or was at.

I think there’s a lot of little things that people can do as far as maintaining their weight or any other aspect of their physical, mental, spiritual health that they can. I think, unfortunately, a lot of people get overwhelmed with all of the things that are wrong or that they need to improve as opposed to just doing something about one aspect of it that they can do something with. I mean I look at all the changes I’ve had to make as far as from the beginning to the—before the surgery to when I actually had the surgery, I mean for a while there I had to completely give up caffeine.

I have to make a real effort to drink more water now. I take supplements every day. The portions that we eat have changed. The types of foods, the way they’re prepared. I now get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. There’s a lot of things that have changed to get me to where I’m at now. Just like when I went to the first class and the nutritionist, they said “You know, you’re going to have to make a lot of changes in your life, but you don’t have to make them all right now.”

“What we advise you to do is to pick one thing and do that for a month and then after you’ve done that for a month, pick another thing and do that for a month and add to it and eventually you add all of these small changes together that you’ve built into habits and you’ve succeeded losing the weight and keeping it off.” I had to wait 6 months before the insurance company would pay for the procedure. In that 6 months I made a lot of small changes and I lost 81 pounds.

Zephan: I want to reiterate something that you just said here because I think it’s super important and this is something I can definitely relate to. You talk about doing this one thing and there’s actually a great book called The One Thing and it’s all about figuring out what is the one thing that you have to do to make a huge change in your life. Looking back at when I made the decision to leave my 9 to 5 job to start a business, I never thought I could do it because I didn’t know how.

I didn’t know where to start and my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to replace my income and I always told people the story about how I had someone who literally sat down with me and broke it down and said “Okay, how much are you making right now?” I was just making $30,000 a year, that was roughly my salary. He said “Well, let’s just assume you work 5 days a week and there’s 52 weeks in the year, but you get 2 off for being sick or vacation or whatever.”

“Essentially you’re working 50 weeks out of the year, 5 days a week so you work 250 days a year. If you take that $30,000 and you divide it by 250, you get the exact amount of how much money you just need to make each day.” He did the math there and he said “You only have to make $120 a day.” When he changed that in my mind for me, it was no longer my one goal is to make $30,000 a year, it was my one goal is to make $120 a day, 5 days a week for 50 weeks out of the year.

It made it so much easier to follow through with that plan and I’m sure you saw that, too. Once you just picked one thing and focused on it and stayed with it, I think it made it so much easier to see those results happen.

Max: Yeah, that applies to my business as well because when I first decided to start my own business helping people sell amusement equipment, I didn’t have the first clue how I was going to do it. I didn’t know anything about a website or even how we were going to find out about doing a website, but the first thing I did was file for the domain name. I came home from an event where I should have made a lot of money and didn’t make any money.

Was totally disgusted and I said I’ve been talking about doing this fulltime and making a real change in my life for a few years now. I haven’t done it, if I’m not going to do it, when? I called my brother up and I said “You know, Michael, go online and register the domain MidWayMarketplace.com for me.” It wasn’t until 5 months later that we had a website, but I knew that that was the ultimate—that was one of the first goals we had to have as far as becoming a fulltime amusement equipment broker was to have a website because everybody said “If you’re going to do this and especially, Max, for somebody who’s not going to be able to travel and go meet people face to face as easily as other people do it, you need to have a website.”

That was the first thing. My brother eventually figured out a way to create a simple site with a plugin from source boards that will allow me to upload photos and write descriptions where I really didn’t have to know anything about how the website ran. A few months after that, Michael got a high paying job moving rides for a carnival on the East Coast and I had to learn how to maintain and update my site. I went to the W3 School and they have tutorials where the first thing is the homepage, then links, then embedding images and I would just work through each section and copy what they did and then try to do it on my site and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but I just continued to do the next thing that I thought I needed to do in order to help people sell their equipment and to generate commissions to where I could bring in income and make this thing work.

I actually keep a copy of my original—the first time I created a homepage for my website, I keep that because it was ugly. It was gaudy, it was bright yellow background, dark blue text, red links and orange if you clicked a link so it would remind you that you that you’ve been to that link before. A few people complained about how bright it was, but I was able to sell equipment with it and a few years later I would eventually move over to WordPress and change it to a more traditional white with black text and a few images, but even the images weren’t all that great because I didn’t have a way to edit or format them or resize them so I basically had to put up whatever they sent me. I might have 4 or 5 different sized images on one page.

Zephan: Right.

Max: Did I worry about how it looked? No. I worried about getting people the ability to see the equipment so that I could see it to them. It worked. I’m not going to win any prizes like I tell people back when we used to have our carnival “We didn’t win a lot of style points, but we got open.” My website didn’t win a lot of style points, but I sold rides and that’s what I like to tell people is to do that one thing and whether it’s starting a website or a blog or a podcast or any type of new business like you were doing, it’s about breaking it down into the various steps and doing the ones that you can and not really worrying too much about the ones you can’t.

Zephan: I want to pull out another great lesson here that you brought up and that was that far too many people are concerned with how something looks and they waste so much time on the look as opposed to the functionality and you really were able to create something that regardless of the colors and I think it’s important to add that you made a website without the ability to see it. I think that’s amazing in it’s own right.

The fact that you were able to create something that is meant to be a visual for other people without being able to do that yourself. I think that’s a feat in itself and I think that you’re totally right, that you don’t have to win the style points. If it works, that’s all that really matters and I think far too many people either give up too soon or don’t even finish their idea or their dream that they were working on because they want to see the whole picture when really that’s not how life works.

That’s not how anything works. You can have this big idea in your head, but I don’t think you’ll ever see the complete big picture of how it’s actually going to be. If you let that paralyze you from moving forward, you’re never really going to get to where you want to be.

Max: I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m sure we both know a lot of people, who they’re constantly redesigning their website. They’re always trying to make it look better or work better as opposed to investing that same time in creating content for the site or promoting the site or reaching out to people for collaborative opportunities based on what their site is all about. They’re always looking for that next plugin that’s going to make their site do something that it doesn’t right now.

For most people it is they’re just too worried about the style points, about the way it looks as opposed to whether or not it does the job of communicating to people that this is the service I offer, this is the product I have for sale or this is the problem I can solve for you.

Zephan: Yeah, definitely. Let’s move forward a tiny bit just to the Blind Blogger and tell me where did the idea for this come from because I know originally you were making these sites to sell equipment and now you have your own website where you blog about all sorts of topics so how did you get into this idea and start this as a business?

Max: It wasn’t really my doing in the beginning. I was on social media and blogging to promote the equipment sales and more and more people started commenting on how inspiring it was, the fact that I was doing all the things that go into having a website and a blog and recording videos and social media, email lists, all the stuff that I was doing. They said I really should have a site where I would share more about the personal aspects of doing this and doing it as a blind person.

Originally, my thought was I’m not an inspiration, I’m just a guy who shows up everyday and works hard to build a business for his family, but as many people have pointed out to me “Max, there are a lot of people out there who have no physical disability, there’s no real excuse or reason why they aren’t doing more with their lives,” and they need people like me who are showing up everyday to share the story.

As it’s been explained to me if I had decided to sit on the couch and watch TV, eat junk food, nobody would have thought a second thought about it. The fact that I don’t allow myself to be satisfied with a nothing life, with even what I’ve done to this point. I’m always open to the next challenge or the next opportunity that comes along.

They say the fact that I do that when so many people who don’t, so many people who could don’t is something the world needed and so I started the website and when I decided to start a second website I asked people “What should I call it?” They’re like “Mike, we’ve been calling you the Blind Blogger for a long time now. Why don’t you just see if that domain is available?” Sure enough, the BlindBlogger.com was taken, but theblindblogger.net was available.

I need to check back and see if the .com has expired yet because the fellow that has that domain name, nearest we can figure, he writes about being a blind drunk. I wouldn’t mind having the other domain. I’m not going to pay big money to arrest it away from somebody else, but just in both cases, the Midway Marketplace and the Blind Blogger, I’m generally referred to as Mr. Midway or the Blind Blogger online. Both of those names were given to me by people who followed my work and I was fortunate that my brand names were given to me.

I didn’t have to go out and figure out what I wanted to call myself. The BlindBlogger.net has given me a place where I can share my experiences as far as the process, like what it was like to write my first eBook. What it was like to finally admit that I am an inspiration. I wrote a post about how I have what I call the Ice Tray Challenge because I started filling the ice trays, which is a little more difficult than you would think if you have no vision to fill those darn things and keep them level, but it was really more about the fact that it was a small gesture I was performing for my family and didn’t realize how big of a deal it was to them until they started telling me.

Those are some of the things I’ve written about. Of course I also write about when people interview me or when I do guest posts or when people ask me to contribute to articles or whatever. I’m starting to invite other people because there are quite a few other people out there that are visually impaired that have blogs or podcasts and some of them are even a lot more talented than I am at it so it’s also nice when I can want to bring some of those people in on my side and expose them to the world.

As you know, there are a lot of talented people in fields. There are other guys out there podcasting who just aren’t being found because they aren’t as active promoting themselves. I’ve become The Blind Blogger. I’ll never try to claim I’m the only one, but I was one of the first to really be out there on social media in groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, building my email list and so I’ve kind of got the nickname, but there are a lot of other people out there and I’m happy when I can share some of those other people with the world. Lately, I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve even gotten some of those other people interviews on radio shows and podcasts like yours.

Zephan: That’s awesome. I think that’s amazing to see where it’s gone. Max, this has been a great conversation. We’re just getting towards the end of our interview here, but I would love to just remind everybody where they can go to find more information, what that website URL is and I think that that ice tray challenge is actually very creative. I really do like that because it’s such a small thing to do for most people. For you it takes definitely a lot more, but I think being willing to step out there and do something outside of your comfort zone, that really means a lot to other people.

That’s really what life is all about and so I think that’s a really cool thing. I’d love to read more about it. If you could, Max, just share with everyone again. What’s the URL for your website and where can they find you on Facebook and things like that?

Max: They can go to Theblindblogger.net. On Twitter, I’m @MaxwellIvey. On Facebook, it’s Facebook.com/Theblindblogger. I’m Maxwell Ivey on Blab, Pinterest, Instagram. I used to create different pages for the Midway Marketplace and The Blind Blogger, but I’ve realized since then it’s a whole lot easier just to create one identity of Maxwell Ivey and have posts about either as they come along and YouTube.com/MaxwellIvey.

I’m just about finished with my second book, which I’m calling It’s Not The Cookie, It’s The Bag, Lessons I’ve Learned About Weight Loss While Preparing To Have Gastric Surgery. That is going to my Editor this week. It will be out on the website hopefully in the next 30 days or so. As I’ve been told, you can never have too much advance publicity for an eBook so I’m starting to mention that one in addition to the one that everybody has already heard about, Leading You Out Of The Darkness Into The Light, A Blind Man’s Inspirational Guide To Success, which is available on Amazon and Create Space, but they can find all of that on my website, Theblindblogger.net.

Zephan: Perfect.

Max: That’s also where they can reach out to me for personal coaching or to be a part of my group coaching or to hire me for speaking or to give a presentation and I’m more than happy to do presentations online via Skype, Zoom or other methods as well as in person. It’s just a matter of what works best for the person that’s wanting to hear my message and have me share my story.

Zephan: That’s awesome, Max, and thank you so much for sharing your story here today on the podcast and I definitely look forward to heading on over to that website and learning more and congrats on getting that second book out there so everyone should be checking that out over on your website and on Amazon and thanks for being here today.

Max: Thank you so much for deciding to have me on the podcast. I’ve been very fortunate that just about every time I’ve reached out to somebody to do an interview they’ve said “Yes, please. Our listeners needs to hear you.” I know that there’s always the possibility that they could say “No,” so I appreciate it and I’m very grateful and humble and I feel like this is my opportunity to share my story and hopefully motivate people to take that one concrete action every day.

It isn’t the big things you do, it’s those little small steps you take, especially in the early days when you’re scared to death and it takes everything you have just to put that one toe in the water or to crack the door open and look out through that little bit of light that’s shining through that door. That’s what people need to do more of because it’s those small steps, it’s those small acts that lead to the big accomplishments. I hope to hear from some of your listeners that I have helped them to actually do something, to actually take those steps.