289 The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude – Matthew Jeffers

What You will Hear in Matthew Jeffers' Story:

  • The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude
  • Need a Little Encouragement Today? This show will do it!!
  • When Life Throw You Curveballs
  • The Surprising Way He Became a Speaker
  • Surprising Outcome When He Shared His Story

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More about our featured guest Matthew Jeffers

Matthew Jeffers is an actor and a motivational speaker residing in Brooklyn, NY. He was most recently seen playing God in the Drama Desk Award winning production of The Mysteries at The Flea Theater. He is the actor behind the email that helped inspire the Baltimore Ravens to turn around their legendary Super Bowl XLVII winning season. He has spoken for companies including Anytime Fitness, The Dijulius Group, TravelCenters of America, The Ohio State University Athletic Department, and John Robert's Spa.

Full Transcript

Joel: Welcome to today's show, your daily dose of inspiring stories, fresh ideas, and practical solutions to help you relaunch, and to become known in your niche. And if you are a daily listener, welcome back to the show, thank you for tuning in, and thank you for joining in the before and the after show online conversations. And if you are new here, hey, just know that you are among friends. And this is what you can expect: Unique insights, a-ha moments, and actionable information from self-made successes as they share their trials, tribulations, and come-from-behind victories. Joining us on the show today, actor and speaker, Matthew Jeffers. And, Pei, I have to admit, when the folks at Eagles Talent connected with me with Matthew, I wasn't really familiar with him or with his message. So, I did my homework, and here's what I found out. Matthew stands 4'2″, but he is in giant's shoes. He has had multiple surgeries, blood transfusions, he had to learn to walk again, and like me, he had a tracheotomy early…

[01:26] Pei: Wow.

[01:27] Joel: Early in his life. And you know what? I also found out that he is the man behind the amazing turnaround year that was experienced by the Baltimore Ravens, which led to them to an unbelievable victory in Super Bowl 67. Hey, Matthew, welcome to show. Was it Super Bowl 67, where they turned it around?

[01:50] Matthew Jeffers: 47.

[01:51] Joel: 47. I knew… That didn't sound right. Okay, Super Bowl…

[01:54] Matthew Jeffers: We're entering Super Bowl 50 I believe, this year.

[01:57] Joel: I gotcha, Super Bowl… Okay.

[01:59] Matthew Jeffers: The big 50, yeah.

[02:00] Joel: Fantastic, okay. Yeah, that just didn't sound right. Okay, so…

[02:03] Matthew Jeffers: It could've been any Super Bowl, as long as they won. That's all we care.

[02:07] Joel: It didn't really matter.

[02:08] Matthew Jeffers: It didn't really matter the number.

[02:10] Joel: Indeed. Well, by the way, welcome to ReLaunch. Welcome to the show.

[02:13] Matthew Jeffers: Thanks for having me. Thank you.

[02:16] Joel: Absolutely. This show, Matthew, it's highly practical because this show's all about the relaunch, how you did it, and it's also about becoming known in your niche, again, we talk about how you did it. And to get this show started, Matthew, we've all experienced numerous launches and relaunches throughout our lives, and I generally ask our guests to zero in on the relaunch that has been the most transformational for them, and then we just unfold the story from there. And we'll do that with you here in just a few minutes, if that's okay, but first, if you will, let's start the show off with a quick piece of takeaway gold. Now, you do a lot of speaking, you're affiliated with our friends over there at Eagles Talent. You just moved from your hometown of Baltimore, to the big city in New York, so you're starting to get a lot of speaking engagements. And the team here at ReLaunch is absolutely thrilled for you. But let me ask you this, after the event, you know what happens, the audience, or at least some of the audience comes forward and they start talking with you. And they start to share with you their concerns, their frustrations, their challenges, what would you say is the number one challenge or concern that people share with you? And then what's the quick piece of advice that you give them?

[03:44] Matthew Jeffers: Sure. So, I would have to say that the majority of the questions after my speech, which is centered about maintaining this positive attitude philosophy through all of the bumps that we cross on the road, and I have to say that the most common one is, how do I find myself to hurdle during those days when it is raining outside, and you forget your umbrella, and things just kind of snowball, and bigger things, and bigger challenges, and you throw cancer into the mix, and really big challenges? And they ask me, how do I find myself to be able to get up and keep walking on? And I guess my answer to that would be, I don't want people thinking, when I speak to them, that I'm just this kid who walks around with this eternal smile on his face, right? Like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, like whatever happens, it's all good. I tell them, and I sit with them and I say that I have really, really rough days, tough days, and certainly I've experienced that in the past few years, especially with my mother.

[05:07] Matthew Jeffers: And I just tell them that it's vital in that moment of feeling in the dark and alone, that you should own that moment and accept it that that's part, that's an essential part of being human is feeling doubt, and not wondering how you're gonna find the way to see tomorrow. And as long as you can be in that moment and accept it, and not try and shy away from it and say, “Oh, well, woe is me, and I can't do this,” and you reach for the possible medication, or other stuff. It's important to just sit in that moment and accept the fact that this is where you are, and take a very pragmatic approach on how to go about it, right? I mean, I do that daily. I did it actually today on the subway, coming back from work. There was a man sitting next to me who was saying some things, and I didn't decide to just keep my smile on and pretend like all was okay, I sat in that moment and I understood that it was a challenging moment, and how… What were the ways that I could get around this, so that it's not gonna linger with me once I leave that train? Do you know what I mean?

[06:28] Joel: Yes.

[06:28] Matthew Jeffers: So it's just finding those ways about living in that moment and accepting it, and finding a way to carry on and realize all the things that await for you on the other side.

[06:43] Joel: I appreciate you sharing that with us, Matthew, and your story, or the sound of your story, reminds me quickly of the ESPN video that I watched of you, talking about that powerful, powerful letter that you addressed “to whom it may concern,” in the Baltimore Ravens' head office, which actually was passed around from player to coach, to pretty much everyone on the staff that really turned around, not just the season, but my gosh, it turned the hearts of some of the toughest men in professional sports. We can talk about the clip and we can talk about the letter a little bit later on in the show, but right now, let's talk about Matthew's relaunch. And we've all experienced numerous relaunches, but the one that has been the most transformational for you, and then let's go from there.

[07:39] Matthew Jeffers: Sure. Well, in the speech, I kind of discussed my quote, or kind of my philosophy of how I live my life, and that the only disability in life is a bad attitude. So I guess what my relaunch, what it was, it was actually a moment… It was I think 2001. I was about 10, maybe nine years old. I had just recently recovered from a major, major surgery. I had four surgeries in one month, all on my legs, to completely restructure my bowed legs that I had for years.

[08:18] Joel: Is that your actual disability? Because I did reading and I watched the videos, but you really didn't talk at all about disability other than the only disability is a bad attitude. So, what exactly is your disability?

[08:33] Matthew Jeffers: I was diagnosed at age one with skeletal dysplasia, and that's kind of the umbrella term, because the exact… There's many form, I believe there's 200 different forms of dwarfism, and I just happen to have one that has like 13 syllables, it's just not even worth saying. I think I forgot it when the doctor told it to me. But generally, I have a skeletal dysplasia where there's a gap in my knees, where most people have bone, I had just pretty much empty space, so that there was really no way to grow because the bone wasn't pushing up on anything. So it just took me a much longer time to grow than the average person, and certainly when I finished growing, I wasn't nearly as tall as the average person. And unrelated to that, I also had, like you said in the introduction, I had a tracheotomy when I was five months old, due to respiratory distress that I encountered where my breathing tube closed up overnight, and they had to perform an emergency tracheotomy. So those are the two main things that have posed the biggest challenge to me through my life.

[09:52] Joel: So, back to the story that you were getting ready to share, the relaunch. Go ahead, please.

[09:56] Pei: Right When you were nine.

[09:56] Matthew Jeffers: Yes, the relaunch.

[09:58] Matthew Jeffers: Yeah, nine or 10. And so, I had just recovered from a pretty major surgery, and it was raining outside, 'cause it's always raining on those days. And my mother had her mother whose health was deteriorating at a pretty rapid rate from bladder cancer. She was in the hospital, she was driving me to physical therapy. And the term “disability' had been ruminating in my house a lot, because of, technically, of what I had. And I was just kind of fed up with it, I really was. And I knew that that day, my mom was in a very low place, her son had just experienced a traumatic experience, her mother was on the down slide. And I remember this nurse came in, and she started taking my vitals and we started talking about my recovery, and we just started talking about things that weren't related to my disability.

[11:01] Matthew Jeffers: And I don't know what exactly happened, it was you could call this “epiphany”, where I was like, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Because here we were, in this little hospital room, and just talking about basketball and sports and games, and what I'm doing over the summer, and how I'm doing at school. And it just got me excited when if you looked at my surroundings, I wouldn't really have much to be excited about. So I think in that moment, and obviously years after that, my mother kind of clung to that moment as being a very proud moment because here she was, decades older, and she would say that it was her son who was teaching her, not her teaching her son. So it was a special moment, and certainly, that's, I guess, the epiphany that looking back has really been the fork in the road on how I decided to carry my life and live day to day.

[12:01] Joel: And that happened for you at a young age, after, gosh, multiple surgeries, a tracheotomy, not knowing… ‘Cause you're a kid, so obviously, you're scared. There might be some big words floating around that you don't really understand, or know what it means. That's probably a scary situation, too.

[12:23] Matthew Jeffers: Oh yeah. Yeah, for sure. I was, like I said, nine or 10. It was the summer that I had that major surgery, and I was all about sports. It was like my life. I had plans to become the next Michael Jordan because, why not? So, being constricted to the cast that I was in, it's called a hip spica cast. So, if you can just imagine lying on your back with two casts on both legs with a bar in the middle, going from ankle to ankle, so that you can't move and you can't sit up either. So, that was…

[13:05] Pei: Wow. How long did they stabilize you like that?

[13:08] Matthew Jeffers: So, I was… That was June 3rd, 2001 to August 28th, 2001. So, essentially the whole summer. And I know that being a 10-year-old, the only thing that a 10-year-old wants to do is run around and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and run around again. I'd go crazy because that's what…

[overlapping conversation]

[13:34] Joel: Are you kidding? I'm 46, I wanna do that. [chuckle]

[13:36] Matthew Jeffers: Yeah! I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich right now! So, it's like… It was tough. It was really tough. And I'm thankful mostly for the friends that I had because they would come back from camp and spend hours with me, instead of… They would skip dinner just to sit with me and watch TV. And it was a very, very bittersweet moment 'cause it showed that I had such a great support system, but at the end, it was tough. It was tough.

[14:08] Joel: I can imagine so. But one of the transformational relaunches was that the time in the hospital with the nurse, correct?

[14:17] Matthew Jeffers: Yes. Yeah. So, shortly after I got my cast off, I was just beginning… I hadn't quite learned how to walk again. I had to re-learn how to walk again. And it was in that moment right after I got the cast off, when I had that little encounter with a nurse who kind of changed my life inadvertently.

[14:40] Joel: This reminds me of the story that I heard, and you can find it if you visit our website, joelboggess.com. Pei, you remember the conversation we had with John O'Leary, and how he talked about how he, as a child, I think he was nine at the time, blew himself up, set himself on fire, completely by accident. And the nurse that nursed him, literally nursed him back to health, was the man that you'll know as Rocky's arch-nemesis, Apollo Creed, who later became his hero and friend. And that was actually nurse Roy from way back in the day. And that nurse is the one that inspired his relaunch and gave him the courage to walk again, and to be able to move forward with his life. Anyways, I have a lot of respect for healthcare practitioners. Like you, I spent a lot of my time as a kid in the hospital, surgeries, and blood and the works. So, yeah, big, a lot of respect for that. Matthew, I appreciate you setting the backdrop there. I wanna fast forward to where you are today, and how you became pivotal in the turnaround of the Ravens team, but also pivotal in your own life because you basically became your solution, so to speak. I hope that's fair for me to say. So, take us there, you, Baltimore.

[16:22] Matthew Jeffers: Yeah. Well, I have to thank… Every time I go back to the story, I think I have my roommate to thank, because he worked for the Baltimore Orioles, and he had to wake up very early for work. And to say that I'm not an early bird is understatement, a gross understatement, but there was one morning that he woke me up quite early, and I still, 'til this day, I'd tell him that had he not woken me up that morning, none of this probably would have happened. Because I couldn't fall back to sleep after he left, and that's when I started thinking about just everything. And the Ravens, they had just got demolished by the Denver Broncos to go on a three-game losing streak, and things had turned pretty grim very quickly. And it was in that moment that it just kind of dawned on me at how quickly people's attitudes could change. It was pretty amazing, 'cause a week, probably a month before, people in Baltimore were booking their tickets to the Super Bowl. That's how good we were playing, that's how good we looked. And it was shocking to me, here we are, not even a month later, three and a half weeks later, and the season went from division champs to disappointment and embarrassment. And it was amazing. So, in that moment, that's… I don't know quite what came up over me, but that was the morning that I woke up and just opened my computer to an email box, and I started to write.

[17:55] Joel: How long did it take you to put this email together?

[17:58] Matthew Jeffers: It was about 20 minutes, yeah.

[18:01] Pei: Who did you write to?

[18:04] Matthew Jeffers: I went on the Baltimore Ravens website, and like every website, they have a little box at the bottom that says contact us.

[18:10] Pei: Contact form?

[18:12] Matthew Jeffers: Exactly. And it was literally a shot in the dark. I mean when I said, “To whom it may concern,” I didn't know to whom it was going to…

[18:22] Pei: Sure.

[18:22] Matthew Jeffers: But I hoped it concerned them, you know?

[18:25] Joel: Sure.

[18:25] Matthew Jeffers: But the thing that still amazes me with this whole thing is that it was an email. I didn't win the Super Bowl, I didn't do anything incredible. I mean, people send two billion emails every day. Did you know that? Like with a B. That's incredible to me. So the only thing I did was I woke up early one morning, I thought about some stuff, and I wrote for 20 minutes, one of those two billion emails. So I just think it's incredible that everyone has a story, and that's kind of like my philosophy today, is that I encourage people when I speak to open your hearts and share your story. Because, like you were saying, Joel, you had experiences when you were younger. You had a tracheotomy, and you know what that's like. It's a dark place, and here you are now, right? So it's pretty incredible when… If everyone just sat down and wrote for 20 minutes, in an email box, “To whom it may concern,” and just a little snippet about your life, and how you feel and where you're going, I think it's amazing, the power that that holds.

[19:44] Joel: What you did, Matthew, you said a minute or two ago, that you didn't do anything, but actually you did everything, because what you did is you poured out your feelings, your thoughts, and you crafted it together in a story that moved big guys. So…

[20:05] Matthew Jeffers: Yes, they're pretty big.

[20:07] Joel: So that's what you did…

[20:08] Pei: So, what happened? I know the two of you obviously know the story, but so what happened next?

[20:15] Joel: Yeah.

[20:16] Matthew Jeffers: Well, I won't bore you with the mundane details because not all… It was kind of a slow progression, but I think the day after I got an email from Coach John Harbaugh, which was pretty amazing, and I was shocked to even… I wasn't expecting to hear from anyone, I really wasn't. That's not why I was doing it. Then I heard from Coach Harbaugh, and then a few days later, I don't have a Twitter, but my girlfriend at the time, mentioned that one of the star players had Tweeted me. I was still learning what tweet meant, so it was all a new experience for me. And then a few weeks later, the head PR of the Baltimore Ravens, Kevin Byrne, a wonderful guy, terrific writer, reached out to me, asking if I would be the subject of one of his weekly blogs. And then fast-forward a month, or a month and a half, through different interviews, ESPN… It came across the desk of one of the producers at ESPN. And as the Baltimore Ravens began to make their miraculous playoff run, that's when they reached out to me to see if I would be interested in doing a story for ESPN.

[21:36] Joel: Awesome. Talking with actor and speaker, Matthew Jeffers, today. Matthew, a few minutes left, can you give us a nutshell version of… A handful of sentences that people kept repeating to you, as you became known within the Ravens organization, and also within media circles?

[22:03] Matthew Jeffers: I think the thing that… The quote that stuck with me most is a quote by Coach Harbaugh in one of his interviews, where he said that I was a light in their darkest hour. And to me, that… I didn't always agree with it, because I still believe that I didn't do a whole lot, but for him, in that moment where they were heading to the Super Bowl, for him to say that about me was something special, and kind of symbolic of the way I felt about myself, going back to that moment in the hospital room where I kinda became my own light in my own dark hour. And it was a special thing to be a part of, and I still can't quite believe it happened. I pinch myself everyday.

[23:00] Joel: ‘Cause you're a lifelong Baltimore Ravens fan, and…

[23:03] Matthew Jeffers: Oh die hard. Die hard. Die hard.

[23:06] Joel: I watched your video, and you would talk about how you would wake up and you would pull back your purple comforter, and then you'd hit the floor and slip on your Baltimore Ravens little house shoes, and walk through the…

[23:24] Matthew Jeffers: And I'd brush my teeth with my Ravens toothbrush. Right, yeah.

[23:26] Joel: Yeah, yeah. [chuckle] So, this actually had to be a dream come true. Some of the time, when we talk about becoming known in your niche, and really, the way you became known is you just expressed what was going on inside you. Everyone has some kind of something that they're a fan of. It doesn't have to be a football team or a baseball team, or even a sports team, but most people have something that they are a huge fan of, or that they have a ton of admiration for in their life. And what Matthew did, which is what I encourage the ReLaunch nation to do is, find out what that is, share your thoughts, your views, your perception of what's going on in this situation just like Matthew did, and send it somewhere. Matthew didn't even know where he was sending it. He just addressed it “to whom it may concern,” but you know what? It got to the right person at the right time.

[24:34] Pei: The one who's really concerned.

[24:36] Matthew Jeffers: Yes, yes, exactly.

[24:38] Joel: Indeed. Okay, so very good. Talking with Matthew Jeffers. Really appreciate you being on today's show. Would you give us, Matthew, I don't always do this, but I wanna do this today, Matthew, because I love your story and I love the way you tell it in your videos. Of course, we're gonna include all of the go-to hotspots for your website and social media on the blog article that accompanies this episode. But if you can leave us with, gosh, the… Maybe 20 or 30 seconds of the way you end your speeches to empower your audiences so that they can remember that a disability or rather, the only disability is a bad attitude. I'm gonna give you the microphone and let you bring us home. Matthew, go right ahead.

[25:32] Matthew Jeffers: Sure. When I was young, and going to school, every single morning, my mom would drop me off and she would ask me one question every single day, and it wasn't “Did you remember your lunch?”, it was “Do you have your armor on?” Every single day, she would ask me that, and what she meant was that, did I have the passion and the love and the respect, and the drive within myself to accept whatever happened that day, and to go on with a smile on my face and love in my heart? She asked me that until the day I graduated high school. A few years later, she was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, and I would ask my mom, “Do you have your armor on?”, when she would go into surgeries and chemo and radiation. And I knew that every single day, she did. And the two of us lived out that dream of living a life of love and passion, and joy and respect, and sheer wonder for being in this world that offers so much, and that we have so much to offer to it.

[26:55] Joel: Very well said.

[26:56] Pei: Wow! What a touching story. Thank you for sharing that, Matthew.

[26:59] Matthew Jeffers: Sure.

[26:59] Joel: What a great question, too.

[27:01] Matthew Jeffers: Thank you.

[27:01] Joel: Indeed. “Do you have your armor on?”

[27:04] Matthew Jeffers: When you go out, when you get out of bed, and you go out to work or to the world, I hope people remember to put on their armor, and to remember that the only disability in life really is a negative attitude.

[27:21] Joel: Negative attitude. Matthew Jeffers, thank you so much. You're welcome to come back here on ReLaunch any time. You just let us know. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you.

[27:30] Matthew Jeffers: Thank you so much for having me.

Connect with Matthew on his website.

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Joel Boggess

Keynote Speaker | Corporate Trainer | Award-winning podcaster I help teams ignite their courage, take bolder steps, and get greater results. Together, we create possibilities that bring empowerment, meaning, and financial impact.

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