099. No Labels Define Us with Nathan Todd

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

One of Nathan’s favorite sayings as a kid was “Crash & Burn.” Why? Because he was born 8 weeks premature with Cerebral Palsy. This meant Nathan didn’t learn to walk until the age of 4, he had a 504 plan at school, he learned to drive using hand controls, graduated college, and learned from an early age that your gonna fall down, the thing that makes the difference is your ability to get up and walk through your fire.

For 9 years he coached people with disabilities and everyday he would hear I can’t because [insert label here]. He saw that people would be limited by a label placed on them, usually by society, and it became their reality. What Nathan realized was this isn’t a disability issue it’s a human issue. For the past year he’s been developing the message of No Label Defines Me. What 34 years of life have taught him is, often it feels like us as humans are navigating a world that wasn’t designed for us. In order to live a No Label Defines Me life you must learn to adapt & act.

Nathan is the author of Empower Yourself: Awaken the B.E.A.S.T. Within.

Through eradicating labels, Nathan’s mission is to Eradicate Loneliness and help people get reconnected with their true self

Key Points from the Episode with Nathan Todd:
  • Nathan and I jumped right into the discussion with the idea he talks about of No Labels
  • Nathan feels that all of us is at war with the labels we put on ourselves every day
  • No Labels is about looking our labels in the face, going to war with them and finding how to move forward
  • Nathan has Cerebral Palsy (CP), which he could look at negatively, but instead finds it to be a driving force in his life.
  • The broader label is the word “disability,” and Nathan notes how people without disabilities often try to use another word like, “Differently-abled” to be sensitive but also note what we can’t do
  • For Nathan, his disability represents strength and possibility, and he feels he would not be where he is without his disability.
  • One way this has impacted him as a White male is that he is a minority despite not being in one of the typical categories people think of when thinking about being a minority.
  • He has been overlooked, judged, diminished and more in ways that inform his perspective on what people who are not White men might feel through the impact of race and gender discrimination on them.
  • He talked about the terms “Angry Disabled Person Syndrome,” which, to him, means it’s very easy to get angry, and blame the disability or feel like, “Why me?”
  • For Nathan, he instead asks if it really is the disability, or might he be coming off in an angry way and his behavior might be why people are having an issue with him. This helps him take responsibility rather than place blame.
  • He doesn’t say this in judgment of anyone because that is exactly how he was living for a long time.
  • It is easy to blame his disability for many things. He could just give in, not try, not push himself and live up to the expectation of society of a disabled person.
  • That does not help you find what you are actually capable of.
  • Nathan was born 8 weeks premature with a 50/50 chance of survival.
  • That experience and having to fight for his life is a mystery to him – it happened to him, but he obviously has no memory of it.
  • From his first breath, he was fighting for his life, and that no doubt informed much of personality and thought-process.
  • CP, which is brain injury, for Nathan was caused by a brain lead that is almost like having a stroke.
  • His form is called Spastic Diplegia, which complete impacts his motor skills – walking, writing, etc.
  • He did not learn to walk until he was 4, which required surgery when he was 3 to even be able to try to walk. 
  • He calls out not just what this meant to him, but what his parents were going through in this process and the hard decisions they were faced with repeatedly, like choosing to have their 3 year old undergo that surgery.
  • Nathan’s mother did a lot of advocating for children with disabilities, including getting the State of South Carolina approve the surgery he had for other kids.
  • Nathan’s mother was a role model that inspired his path to be a coach and speaker.
  • Nathan has a younger brother, so he notes that his brother’s experience matters, too, as it does for other siblings of people with disabilities.
  • Nathan and his brother learned to walk at the same time, for example, and there were things his brother wanted to do with him that Nathan couldn’t do. And there is likely a difference in the attention each sibling gets from their parents.
  • The shared experience these siblings have informs who they are today.
  • Nathan talked about his dad, who was a football coach.
  • He always wanted to be Joe Montana, which wasn’t in the cards for him, which really impacted his sense of himself.
  • His dream was something he couldn’t do, and he saw approval from his father as being tied to, so it was really hard for him – even today.
  • Nathan’s parents got divorced when he was 16, which brought up the statistics that the overwhelming majority of marriages with a disabled child end in divorce.
  • Nathan has always felt responsibility for his parents’ tough times together and their divorce.
  • Not having his dad there when he was becoming a man was very hard for him.
  • That process gave Nathan some of the specific moments in his life that shape who he is today that he goes back to for processing and self-work.
  • We all have things we went that shape so much of who we are or are even running our life today, but we don’t go back to them or work through them.
  • We call this “Being Tough,” but it isn’t that, it’s hurting us and costing us.
  • Nathan’s work on those past relationship pains and experiences have informed how he approaches any relationship, so he’s realized that we have to go back and work through what happened.
  • This is where our labels come from.
  • The biggest label we face is “I’m not good enough.”
  • This can lead to loneliness – we are trying to live up to someone else’s standard (or ours that we ascribe to someone else), and yet we can’t, so we feel removed.
  • Loneliness is a signal for thirst and hunger – we are becoming disconnected from people around us, and yet we are standing in the way of that.
  • We tend to think we’re the only one going through what we face, and that makes us feel even more alone.
  • And when someone asks us how we are, we say, “I’m fine.”
  • A turning point for Nathan came 3 years ago as he went through a 12-step program for the pain he was dealing with in his life (rather than for addiction, for example).
  • Through that process, he realized how his past experiences and labels from when he was 16 were keeping him stuck – even 16 years later.
  • This lead to so much anger inside of him, so the need to work on it was so strong and so much for his benefit.
  • He used the book The 30 Day Sobriety Solution, and found the visualization tools in it to be so helpful.
  • He had been equating relationships with pain, which stood in the way of building good, lasting relationships.
  • The moment that started his shift came at Louis Howes’ Summit of Greatness.
  • He found himself questioning why he was there when everyone else was so successful, and he was stuck.
  • He had a conversation with someone on Louis’ team who talked to him about what he was offering rather than what he wasn’t; his perspective is one the others can’t offer, and there’s value there.
  • He ended up joining a training after the summit, and found himself at the end of each module feeling like he wasn’t done and that he had to keep working on himself further.
  • Through the process, he realized how much power he has and the level of impact he can have for others.
  • Nathan realized how perspectives can be shifted by how we interact – even just asking people what they create in this world rather than “what do you do?”
  • We have so much more power to create than just getting a job.
  • We have a power to create drastic shifts in the world by showing up, treating people the way we want to be treated rather than that place of “Why me?”
  • There’s something to be said for trying. Instead of saying “What can’t you do,” why not try. You may not make it, but you will learn something, have the experience of doing it, and grow.
  • Nathan saw a friend fall, and he said to his mother, “Oh, that’s ok. They haven’t learned how to fall yet.”
  • He had to learn how to fall and get up, which is literally valuable itself, but also philosophically or figuratively, as it informs the need to be able to try, fail and recover.
  • He asks what we can eradicate to elevate – what distractions are in your life keeping you from getting from point A to B.
  • Everything standing in the way of the straight line of where you want to do is a distraction you need to find a way to remove, and many are of our own doing.
  • It’s about making it as simple as possible.
  • Nathan goes by the nickname, “The Muscle Motivator.” He doesn’t look like other people in the gym, but he’s in there doing it, so he can be a motivator for others.
  • Funny enough, this is a label, which we started the conversation about being at war with.
  • His point is, we all have labels. If you don’t like the label you have, peel it off and get another one. 
  • It isn’t that there are no labels, it’s that we have the choice to choose which ones define us.
  • It is our choice what labels we use, but also how we let them define us.
  • For Nathan, despite someone else thinking “disability” is a negative term, he does not need to let it be that for him.


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