Episode 59 – Unstoppable Centered Leader with Donovan Nichols

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What do a Rubik’s Cube and leadership have in common? Hint, think about the title of this episode.
Meet Donovan Nichols who describes himself as a values-based, recovering workaholic. Donovan always felt his mind seemed to work differently than those around him, but it was not until his late thirties that he discovered he not only was an ADHD individual but that he also had a reading disability.
Disabilities notwithstanding, Donovan went through school all be it a bit slower than others, graduated from college and obtained a master’s degree, and had a successful 15-year career in the college student affairs arena.
Eventually, he discovered that his life path was taking him in a different direction. Today, he is seeking his Ph.D. in Higher Education. He also is a speaker and teacher on Leadership. One of his main programs is based on solving the Rubik’s Cube. He will tell us why the cube is so important and how teaching students to solve it helps them advance and learn to live a better life.
Donovan’s story and this whole episode are quite fascinating and inspirational. I had a lot of fun getting the opportunity to interview Donovan and I hope you will have as much fun and joy listening to this program.
About the Guest:

is a passionate educator, optimistic innovator, servant leader, caring speaker, husband, father, and fun seeker! As a professional speaker since 2008, Donovan has inspired thousands of people across the country to see the world from a different perspective, discover solutions to their challenges, and unlock their potential. This winner of the prestigious “20 Under 40” award for distinguished leaders has a proven track record for transforming groups into high-functioning, award-winning organizations. Through overcoming his learning disability and mental health challenges, Donovan has gained effective life tools and a unique perspective that he loves to share with others. During the pandemic, Donovan left his career in student affairs after 15 years and is now a full-time speaker and Ph.D. student. This self-proclaimed values-based, recovering workaholic says his greatest accomplishments in life are (1) marrying an incredible woman who makes him a better man, and (2) tag-teaming with his wife Alycia to raise two loving and joyful sons, Sawyer and Knox. Donovan’s primary goal in life is to help people live happier, healthier, and more balanced!
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is an Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
accessiBe Links
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Transcription Notes

Michael Hingson  00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i  capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson  01:20
Welcome once again to unstoppable mindset. Thanks for being here, wherever you happen to be. I hope that you will enjoy our episode today and that you’re enjoying this whole series. I’d love to hear from you. So don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know what you think we have Donovan Nichols on unstoppable mindset today, and I’m gonna let Donovan tell his story. So Donovan, welcome to our podcast.
Donovan Nichols  01:44
Thank you, Michael. I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Michael Hingson  01:47
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about kind of where you came from your early years and all that sort of stuff just so people get to know you a bit.
Donovan Nichols  01:55
Sure, I am from a blue collar family to amazing and loving parents who are both kind of educators by trade, and instilled that in myself and my family from from a young age very values based but, you know, went through some hardships. And at one point were on food stamps, and government cheese and all of that stuff when I was a little bit smaller, and they just had put everything into our family and said they’re going to do everything that they can to make sure that we have a good life that we’re all educated and giving people so that’s kind of where we started from. I was born and raised in Sylvania, Ohio, which is a suburb of Toledo and on the Ohio Michigan border. And I went to the University of Toledo did my undergrad, my masters there, and I am now a doctoral student as well. And getting my doctorate at the University of Toledo. I’ve lived a couple different places. I’ve lived in Las Vegas. I was there for six years. I’ve lived in Georgia and Athens, Georgia. I was there for about three years, and also lived in Prague in the Czech Republic for six weeks, and was a nomad around Europe for another four weeks. So I’ve had a lot of great experiences over life. So you’re back in Slovenia. I am back in Sylvania. Yep. So I made my whirlwind tour of the United States, when you know, Ohio, to Nevada to Georgia, back to Ohio.
Michael Hingson  03:36
Now, when were you in Las Vegas?
Donovan Nichols  03:38
I was there from 2006 until 2012.
Michael Hingson  03:42
It is certainly changed over the years.
Donovan Nichols  03:45
Oh my gosh, yeah, I went back just, you know, couple years later, and there’s just new buildings and other buildings were torn down. And it’s just it’s an ever evolving city.
Michael Hingson  03:57
We were there almost three weeks ago, for the first time in a long time. I’ve been to a couple of computer electronics shows, but not really got a chance to see much of the city. But we went to a concert actually to a Michael Buble a concert is just amazing how much it has changed. And the prices have gone up a great deal.
Donovan Nichols  04:18
Yeah, that’s I mean, my parents went back I think for their 25th anniversary, and they were talking about how the prices were so low and you know, got to do all this great stuff. And now the prices are just astronomical.
Michael Hingson  04:30
Yeah, even food is not something anymore that you go to Las Vegas and expect to get an inexpensive price.
Donovan Nichols  04:37
It’s pretty right. Yeah. And they’re charging for parking now. And different blades
Michael Hingson  04:41
are charging for parking. And hotels are very expensive. And yet people still go and gamble. We’re not gamblers. So we didn’t do that.
Donovan Nichols  04:49
Yeah, but I love my experience there had a wonderful time as a young new professional in that city.
Michael Hingson  04:56
So you went off to college and got a master’s degree and all that and then you went into the workforce. What did you do?
Donovan Nichols  05:03
Yeah, so actually, after I got my undergrad in communication started off in engineering, actually, my brother’s a mechanical engineer, actually, as a nuclear engineer now, followed a little bit in his footsteps. And then, after my freshman year realized that I needed to carve my own path and find what worked best for me. I still remember sitting in one of my engineering classes, huge lecture hall, just looking in the screen and asking myself are, what am I doing here? And it was kind of this not only what am I doing here in this in this program, but what is the purpose of me going to college? What is the purpose of me being on this earth and had this you know, philosophical awakening, realize that I loved leadership and being on campus and helping other students getting engaged and really enjoying their college experience. And so from that, I decided to go get my Master’s in higher education. So I did that right after my undergrad. And then right after that, I joined AmeriCorps, which is like the domestic Peace Corps, that is to fight poverty in America, I spent a year in America before. And then I moved out west to Las Vegas spent 15 years working in student activities. And that’s kind of where my career led me is to help other students get involved on campus, teach them about leadership, and the you know, just enjoy their college experience and take the most from it as possible so that they can grow and develop and be amazing citizens of the world.
Michael Hingson  06:42
Now, you have said that you have a disability, is that something that you always knew or you discovered later, or what
Donovan Nichols  06:52
I can still remember back to being in second grade, and the teacher told me that I was in the lowest reading group. And I just wondered, you know, why I thought I was a good student, I thought I was very intelligent. And I just, you know, kind of question it. But then throughout life, I just always knew something was different with my brain. And I think a lot of people, you know, think differently, we have all these different types of neuro diversities, but they’re just something that I couldn’t wrap my mind around, but just knew I was different. As I would take tests, I would have to plug my ears, tap my foot on the ground, I would always be the last student that would take a test, it took me forever to read through everything. Funny story with my AC T’s, I took the AC T the first time, my math score was good. My reading score was low, and knew that it took me a long time to read and actually what would happen is I get to the questions, and the test would be over. And I wouldn’t be able to actually answer the questions. So I just fill in bubbles. So I my my mom said, Well, why don’t you take a speed reading course, I took the course went back took the AC T again, did better in the math section that I didn’t study for whatsoever and worse in the reading section. So so I you know, I there’s all of these hints, but I had never gotten tested. It wasn’t until I got to, to the University of Toledo working as the assistant dean of students and I taught a course and leadership, I had a student that came up after class, and said that he needed an accommodation for the class. And it really gave me pause, because he is an extremely intelligent student was highly engaged, I would have had no clue that he had a diversity. And it turned out that he had a learning disability. And so I from that point, I started to try to figure out a little bit more because his story really jives with you know, what I had felt my entire life. And at the age of 37, I ended up going through testing, which is not easy to try to find a place to get tested as an adult and the amount of money that you have to pay to get testing and I had to go seven or eight times for the testing. It’s, you know, it’s not an easy process to go through. And the ultimate outcome was I found out I have ADHD inattentive type. And I also have a reading impediment that makes it somewhat difficult are actually very difficult for me to to read. And so the the ADHD really as I’m reading, I’ll get to the bottom of the page and realize that my mind had completely wandered, I have no idea what I read. So the second time I’ll say okay, I’m gonna focus this time and I’m gonna get it. I’ll get to the end of the page again and realize that my mind wandered once again, even though I told myself I was gonna focus. So it’s You know all that to say that it wasn’t until I was 37 years old, that I was finally diagnosed with a learning disability, but it was always something that I had known. I just didn’t know how, what exactly it was.
Michael Hingson  10:14
So when you say a learning disability, what, what is that? Or can you describe it in more detail? Or? Yes?
Donovan Nichols  10:21
So with the learning disability really, you know, it’s, it’s something within your brain so they call it a neuro diversity and it with the neuro diversity, it’s essentially that, you know, your brain works differently. And so it’s there’s so many different types of neuro diversities that are out there specifically with ADHD there’s, and then you know, a lot of people think with ADHD, it’s, you know, somebody that’s bouncing off the walls, and it’s just very hyperactive, which that is a type of ADHD. But another is the inattentive type. So for me, it is I can be looking at somebody and having a conversations. And as we’re having a conversation, I could actually be saying, Yep, aha, and it seems like I’m paying attention, and my mind is completely somewhere else. And so I just get, you know, attracted to different stimulus that happened, I won’t mind wanders frequently, when, you know, I was just before we started talking, I was closing tabs, because I had 112, web browsers open. And that’s just, I get interested in something, I’m like, Oh, that’s really cool when I start to research that, and then that leads me to something else. So that’s one part of it. Another piece that people don’t really know, is that I have hyper focus. And that hyper focus is I can just get so completely engrossed in something that the rest of the world just kind of goes away. And I just get deep into whatever that is. And so if it’s something that my mind is very interested in, that’s, that’s a piece of ADHD that people don’t really know, they think it’s kind of you’re looking at all these different things in your mind’s wandering all the time. But your, your mind can also hyper focus as well. So I’d like to talk about that, because that’s something that people don’t necessarily think of, or know about.
Michael Hingson  12:17
So what do you do to address that in terms of everyday life? Or reading and so on? Now, are there things that you can do or, yeah, that you started to perform, or what, there
Donovan Nichols  12:29
are some medications that help the you know, the other thing with learning disability is there’s no cure. Right to it there, you know, there are medications that can help with somebody’s condition, so they can concentrate better, be less impulsive, feel calmer, and, and then there’s all their accommodations that you can make. And these are, you know, practices that you can use a skill, and something that I didn’t realize throughout my life as I had created my own accommodations. And that’s when I was diagnosed, I had, you know, talk to the doctor about a psychologist and just said, you know, what can I do? And they said, Well, you know, you’ve already figured out some things without even knowing it. So some of the things that I do is I will listen to meditation music, while I work for classical music, my entire master’s thesis was written while I listen to classical music, and there is just something about it, that allows my mind to focus a little bit more. And so that works for me, I usually need, you know, quiet or you no door shut. And there’s also you know, these accommodations that you make there, there are some times that it can come off negatively to other people. I’ve heard throughout my life, and this is before I knew that I had a learning disability, that people would say that I’m closed off and not approachable, because my door would be shut at work. Well, what I was doing is I was really trying to accommodate my learning disability, so I could focus in on what I was doing, but it felt to other people, like I was closing them off or just trying to not be approachable. And so that that until I was you know, later on in life, then I started to try to find ways, okay, how can I keep my door open at time so that I’m approachable, but at the same time, be able to find what works for me so that I can focus in you know, so that that’s one of the things that I do, you know, one of the things that I had talked about earlier is like, I will tap my foot to a beat. And sometimes when I’m doing that, or shaking my leg, I have to be careful because in a meeting when I’m shaking my leg, it’d be snowing to somebody if I make the table shake, but you know, for me that rhythm that there just something about music, I’ve always been, you know, captivated by music and a musician play guitar sing. And that is something that helps my mind find a rhythm and be able to stay concentrated on whatever I’m working on.
Michael Hingson  14:59
So So you discovered that you had a learning disability, it’s always good to find the answers, isn’t it?
Donovan Nichols  15:05
Oh, absolutely. You know, it’s one of those things where I didn’t know what I wanted the outcome to be. When I went and got tested, you know, it was like, Okay, if I, if I don’t have a learning disability, then, you know, then what, then okay, well, why is all of this stuff happening? Or why do I think differently? Or, you know, why can I not pay attention? And then, you know, the other aspect of it is okay, well, if I find out a learning disability, then what, you know, I have a learning disability. So what, what comes next, and I think the best is, is knowing, because once you know, then you can address it. And I really wish that I would have been tested as a young child, it wasn’t as prevalent getting tested back then. But I really wish that if I would have had accommodations during my AC T, I probably would have done much better, I might have gotten more scholarships, to be able to go to college. And so there’s a lot of other things that could be beneficial. I was, you know, I was a straight A student going through to through school, which is one of the reasons why I’m like, well, there’s no way that I have a learning disability, I’m able to get A’s in class. But what the rest of the world didn’t know is I’m putting in triple the amount of work and not getting any sleep at night, because I’m reading and it’s taking me a long time to get everything done. And so that it’s funny, because one of my my pieces is that I say that I’m a recovering workaholic. And a part of that is that workaholism, I think, came from my learning disability of having to put in the extra hours. And so the more hours that I put in, the better I could do, and my accommodation was, well, I’m gonna feel better about myself if I go above and beyond what people’s expectations are, because I am not able to do it as fast as other people are.
Michael Hingson  16:59
Right? Well, so you were in, in the college environment, student activities and so on for 15 years. And I remember going a long time now, but a lot of the Student Affairs people that I knew at UC Irvine when I was there, and not only enjoyed talking with them, but they they helped a lot in terms of assisting with sometimes accommodations and financial aid and just being integrated into the campus. So it’s clearly a very rewarding career to be involved in all that. But then you switched, what prompted that,
Donovan Nichols  17:35
it is a very rewarding area to work in. I mean, just to see the development of students over the course of the time that you get to work with them, but then watching what they do after. I mean, I’ve I’ve had students that went on to be an assistant for David Copperfield, or another student who was on a Hulu program, Hulu series behind the mask and, and it’s just awesome. I’ve had students that become PhD students before me. And that’s just exciting to be able to see that development and know that I was allowed to be a part of their journey and, and help them along the way in any way that I could. So leaving that type of environment can be very difficult because of how rewarding it is. But essentially, what it came down to is work life balance. And I realized that as a young professional staying at work until two o’clock in the morning, you know, for comedians and movie nights and all that the fun entertainment or sticking around after a program just to talk to a student because they were going through something and to help them with their their mental health. You know, that was something as a new professional when I don’t have kids, I didn’t have a dog to take care of. I didn’t have a spouse that wanted to see me out. And you know, all the time that that was fine. But as I later in life, I got married to an amazing woman, Alicia, we have two kids. So you’re inox. We have four dogs. Chloe Tate, Doosan Vegas and with that and having people rely on you at home, but also just wanting to spend time with you and you wanting to spend time with them. It that type of lifestyle just wasn’t as accommodating to what I wanted in my life anymore. And so I say, you know, I didn’t go through a midlife crisis, I went through a midlife innovation, and I had to rediscover who I am and who I wanted to be. And ultimately, I know that I’m a caring human that wants to inspire people to reach their full potential and live balanced. So I wanted to look for a career that would allow me to do that. So I’m getting my PhD with the hopes of being faculty professor at a university, but I’m also speaking and doing consulting and through that I still get to be connected with college campuses, but I have a flexible schedule that allows me to do things like later today, and picking my son up early from school to take them to the doctor, you know, and that I have a wife that is incredibly amazing businesswoman, I definitely married up. And so she has a lot she, you know, can be flexible when she needs it. But she also needs to be at work, and she has great responsibility in her job. And so I I love being able to be a little bit more flexible, and being able to take care of the family in that way. What does she do, she’s an executive vice president for credit union, Adrian Michigan, she just got promoted. And she has aspirations to be the first woman CEO of the credit union as well. And so, like I said, I married up, not only is she intelligent and caring and a great leader, but she always makes me want to be a better man, just by watching her and seeing what she does makes me want to be a better person. And she’s so loving, supportive and encouraging of what I want to do. She was actually the one that suggested Hey, maybe you need to switch out of Student Affairs, and was encouraging in that way. When I was like, I don’t know if I can do it. You know, all I see myself as Student Affairs after 15 years, you you kind of lock yourself into who you think you are. And so she really unlocked a different piece of me and said, you know, let’s, let’s do this for us, so that we can have more time together. And, and we can build this family together.
Michael Hingson  21:42
I was just going to ask how did you actually go to the point of switching careers? And clearly she opened the door?
Donovan Nichols  21:51
For sure. Yeah, it was it was a process. You know, it was kind of a several year process. She there’s one night when I came home, and she goes, I know that you’re not going to want to listen to this. But I think that you should think about switching careers. And it was one of those things where my mind was immediate, like, No, I can’t do that. But she’s like, just think about it. And it wasn’t easy. You know, we had to take money out of retirement. Luckily, it was during the time of the pandemic. So there was some stimulus that was coming in that was very helpful to our families so they can make that transition. I have a doctoral graduate assistantship, or teaching assistantship that brings in a little bit of money. While I’m trying to gear up my, my speaking, as well as finishing my, my doctorate.
Michael Hingson  22:41
So going from assistant dean of students to graduate teaching assistant, well, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s all about reward in your own mind. And, ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with doing that. I think a number of us have had to switch careers over the years. I know, for me, I have, in one way or another, either by choice or not had to change what I do on more than one occasion. And, you know, it’s it’s all about being an adventurer, isn’t it?
Donovan Nichols  23:12
Oh, yeah, absolutely. is quite the adventure. And, you know, going through from assistant dean to graduate assistant is, I say, I got a promotion. Yeah. So with that, I mean, it’s, it’s a totally different lifestyle. You know, obviously, the financial compensation is not as good in any way, shape, or form. But the flexibility and the quality of life is so much better for me now, working in the academic side of the house, and being able to focus only a few, you know, 20 hours a week, instead of the 40 on paper, but really 50 to 60 In reality, in my other career, it allows me to really have that quality of life where I can leave work at five and be okay with it and spend time with my son and put projects you know, off until tomorrow. Whereas before it’s like I’m working, working, working, just trying to get it done. And now it’s you know, that can wait till tomorrow. And
Michael Hingson  24:21
how old are your sons by Sawyer is
Donovan Nichols  24:23
going to be three in August. And then Knox just turned four months old.
Michael Hingson  24:31
So now it says so Knox is about to finish his first year in college. Right?
Donovan Nichols  24:35
Right. Exactly. He’s grown at that rate.
Michael Hingson  24:41
That is That is really cool and that you’ve referred to yourself as a values based recovering workaholic. And now I think I can understand what that means.
Donovan Nichols  24:50
Yes, a big part of me deciding to switch careers really had to do with re looking at my values and recognizing At I had always said that family was first. And I had never truly lived that way. You know, when I would come to I need to work versus, you know, go home and spend time with family work kind of always was the primary decision. And I had to be very honest with myself when I think, you know, I always say to people, show me your calendar and your financial statements, and I’ll tell you what your values are, because where you put your time and money is telling me what is most important to you. And so I needed to make sure that I was really aligning myself and really spent time thinking about what my values are looking at, you know, how do I spend my time? And then how do I want to spend my time and let’s look at that. So my, my values are happiness, integrity, love, innovation, fun, and education. And with that, you know, family you won’t see in there because love to me, half is family. And that’s a big piece of it. Happiness, to me, is family fun to me, is family. So a lot of these other values encapsulates that piece of my life. And then yeah, go ahead. Oh, I was just gonna say that. Yeah, the recovering workaholic piece of it is, like I said, you know, I did notice that I was a workaholic. And I needed to take a step back and recovery for any, you know, work kind of became an addiction to me, and it’s how I valued myself was based off of how good I was at work, was how good I felt about myself. And, and I recognize, especially after having children, you know, that changes, I have all the things that I’ve accomplished in the world, my, the two major things that are my proudest moments are marrying Alicia, who, like I said, just makes me want to be a better man, and just as pure joy and happiness and love. And then our two sons and watching them be successful. And those forever will be my two most proud accomplishments. And everything kind of pales in comparison of that. And, and with the recovering piece, it’s, it’s not easy. It’s not just one day, you can say, Okay, I’m going to stop working super hard, or endless hours, there’s still times where you you do work, you know, some late nights, but it’s about balance. And it’s about being able to if okay, if I’m working really hard this day, then I need to take a day where I’m focused on family. And that’s all I do. So I try to be very conscious about when I’m spending time with the boys of putting my phone to the side, and really just focusing and paying attention there and not splitting my time and attention. So you
Michael Hingson  27:54
have switched, you’re now in a PhD program. And what what’s the PhD going to be in
Donovan Nichols  28:02
the PhD is in higher education? Okay, so that would be, you know, could originally it was the university administration, I thought I was going to be a Vice President for Student Affairs. And, you know, as time went on, just realize that that wasn’t the career path that I wanted to chase anymore. And now, you know, with a PhD, I could be a faculty member. And then I also it’s, you know, first speaking and consulting, I’m learning a lot about higher education in general. So being able to go in and consult with different institutions, I would love to consult about work life balance, that’s become my new passion. My dissertation is on work life balance, it’s something that I never really had. And it wasn’t something that I realized was super important to me until I left Student Affairs. And what I’m trying to do now is do a lot of research to help other people understand how they can be in these career fields, but still have great work life balance, and find opportunities that are meaningful and enjoying for them.
Michael Hingson  29:10
So you mentioned no more than once about speaking. You have a speaking career. Yeah. Have you started speaking tell me more about the whole speaking thing?
Donovan Nichols  29:20
Yeah. So I have a couple of things that I speak about. I really got into it in 2008. I got into it because
Donovan Nichols  29:29
I started to speak on pay it forward. The concept of paid for doing good for other people without expecting anything in return. And that came from when I was a leadership student at the University of Toledo was in a program called Leadership ut which is now less leadership. And in that program, they would bring in a bunch of leaders and people that talked about leadership to speak. And as I sat there in class, I would just, you know, have such admiration for these people want to really appreciate the their words of wisdom and I’d say to myself, You know what, I I want to do that, that’ll be really cool. But I also knew I needed something to talk about, I needed more life experience to be able to share with other people that I was going to be able to connect with them and help them in whatever way that they needed. So I put it on the back burner. Fast forward, I was in America or in America, where I was working with students and teaching them about servant leadership. And I realized that the lessons weren’t quite connecting. And so I said, You know what, let’s try a different path. And we watched the movie, pay it forward, and I did a session afterwards a reflection session. And as we were doing that, there was a lot of light bulbs, I could see going off in the room where students were finally making the connection of, Oh, I saw this in the movie. And that’s how it relates to my life in this way. And this is something I want to do different, or this is something I want to do better to help other people. And then I had somebody come up and say, Hey, I really liked that. Can you come do it for the 100 resident advisors on campus? And then from that session, it was, hey, can you come do that for my residence hall floor can come through that for my leadership program. And through that, I realized, okay, maybe this is my thing. You know, this is something that I could talk about, and it’s something that the world needs. And it’s something that everybody should be doing all the time. But sometimes we just forget. And we get so busy and caught up in our everyday lives that we forget about being intentional, and going out of our way to help somebody else. You know, sometimes when we help people, it’s in a moment of convenience, as opposed to really being intentional of how can I put in some sacrifice in order to truly change somebody else’s life. And then with pay for, you know, I wanted to do the ethical thing and found out that I wanted to see you okay, this is probably trademarks, I don’t know if I can speak on this found out that the movie was based off of a book, I reached out to the author, Katherine Ron Hyde, and said, Hey, this is what I do. Can I speak on this, and she said, it wasn’t trademarked. She had me send her a video. And then after seeing what I did, she gave me her blessing. And I was able to make a great connection with her ended up being on the Payette, Ford Foundation Board of Directors for two years, connected and in a lot of different ways with pay it forward. So that in 2008, did my first speaking engagement at Dominican University in Chicago. And from that, I just did it part time. So as I’m doing my work with Student Affairs, I’m also speaking on the side, until I get to this moment of needing to change careers. I had a buddy from college that saw that I was leaving the university and said, Hey, have you ever thought about speaking full time, and he’s running an agency called for college for life, talk with him and said, Yeah, I’m interested in this. So I signed on with him. And now I’m a speaker and consultant. Not only do I talk about the pay afford stuff, but I also have a session about teaching the technique. The technique for solving a Rubik’s Cube, I believe, is a technique that you can use to solve any large complex problem, you can use it to accomplish any goal that you have. And so I utilize that session really to teach people about confidence, grit, and resiliency, and to just continue moving through the hardships in order to accomplish your goals. And then, throughout, you know, with me learning about my learning disability, I try to incorporate that into the sessions that I go out and present on. Because I think it’s important to not only just have a session about that, but to put it into different pieces of what I do. So individuals can see the importance of understanding learning disabilities, and maybe even connecting, you know, there might be somebody in the audience’s it’s like, hey, you know that that story really resonates with me, maybe I need to go and get tested and figure this out. And then I also work life balance, that’s a big thing, not only speaking but consulting, one of the sessions I do is just work life balance in general, how people can have better work life balance, and then the other ones about with supervisors, and teaching them how to create a better environment for work life balance, because when we think about work life balance, usually it’s, it’s a self care model, right? People think, okay, in order to have better work, life balance, you know, meditate, yoga, do something to find happiness, but then come and work but for me, self care is only a piece of the puzzle. The other equally important part is community care. So how are we helping each other to have better work life balance? How are how is the environment at work, allowing people what’s the culture like? How are we promoting each other to be better at what we do and and that sending them emails at night and expecting them to respond. And not only just that, but sometimes when we send an email, we’ll say, Hey, don’t respond to this to the morning. Well, that’s like, you know, and people getting emails on their phone, now they’ll see it. And all they’ll do is think about it, or they’ll respond, because they, they feel like that’s what they need to do. And telling somebody, Hey, don’t think about this until tomorrow is like saying, Hey, don’t think about, you know, a big, huge pink elephant. Yeah. Because then what are people going to do? That’s all they’re gonna think about. All
Donovan Nichols  35:34
right. So you know, with that, it’s, what am I doing, I need to be doing things differently. So that I’m not causing other people more stress for my convenience, you know, so it’s the, you know, if you’re sending out an email, making sure that maybe you don’t have it, so it delivers tomorrow at 8am, instead of delivering tonight, and there’s a lot of great technology out there that allows you to do that. So that you can send things when is most convenient for you as you’re finding your own work life balance. But you are also being aware of how it affects other people, and that you play a big role and ensuring that other people can have work life balance in their life.
Michael Hingson  36:12
And as you are doing that, and putting these things into practice isn’t that of course, in part, also, paying it forward, because you’re practicing what you preach, and you’re trying to help other people get into this idea of work life balance, and isn’t that as good as it gets for paying it forward.
Donovan Nichols  36:29
So it’s all about, you know, doing something outside of yourself that’s altruistic, and really thinking about what is more beneficial for this person, even if I have to sacrifice a little bit?
Michael Hingson  36:41
Well, I really love the concept and have loved it for a long time, the concept of paying it forward. So it’s nice to hear you doing that. And and you’re right, people get emails, they want to respond immediately, or they send out emails. And all too often, we expect an immediate response. And we don’t have a respect for the balance or life balance that other people might want to have as well. And we can all help make that process go better if we would, rather than just needing to have instant gratification for ourselves.
Donovan Nichols  37:18
And it’s not just you know, top down to it’s also bottom up. So no, I’m a big proponent of work life balance. And so I will be talking to my super, I’ll want to send my supervisor a text at night, because that’s when I’m thinking about it. And I just take the step back and say nope, I’m gonna wait until I know that they’re in the office because I also don’t want to put them in a place where they feel like they have to take time away from their family or whatever they choose to do with their time outside of work.
Michael Hingson  37:50
Or sometimes you substitute a different text just like Hope all is going well have a good night and, and do other things that maybe people don’t expect, but let you know they’re thinking about them. And that kind of helps the connection a little bit. Texting is hard enough to create a real connection because you’re you’re texting, you’re not conversing in any way that we can kind of use that to help make up a closer connection is always a helpful thing to
Donovan Nichols  38:17
Yeah, or even knowing what’s going on in that person’s life. Maybe they took the day off to because it was their daughter’s birthday. And so texting on that day saying, Hey, I know you’re off for your daughter’s birthday. I just wanted to say happy birthday to her. And I hope you have a wonderful day. Nothing to do with work. It’s all about I know that you have a life outside of work. And I appreciate that. And I hope you are enjoying your time off.
Michael Hingson  38:42
Exactly. Well, you have talked about the you mentioned Rubik’s cube. And I want to hear all about that solving the Rubik’s cube and the other lessons that you get from that,
Donovan Nichols  38:52
for sure. It’s, it’s kind of interesting. So I was married before and was going through a divorce. And during that time, it you know, it can be very difficult. And just, you know, I was not necessarily in a good place mentally. And in order to pull myself out of it. I told myself, I want to do something that is unique and different that I’ve never done before that’s positive, that’s going to give me something to focus on and propel me forward. I was watching in pursuit of happiness. And as I’m watching that program, I the main character solves a Rubik’s cube. And as I was watching, I said that that’s what I want to do. I’ve never done that. I’ve wanted to do it. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how I’m going to figure it out, but I’m going to figure it out. And so then I just got on YouTube watched a bunch of different things and spent a lot of time figuring it out. And then kept doing it you know the first time it might take a couple days to figure it out. And then then next time is 18 hours and then the next time it’s 10 hours, and then it’s two hours, and then it’s, you know, you’re getting down into the minutes. And it would just over and over practicing in it. And as I was doing it too, I don’t know why. But I started to think about just leadership. And I was like, this, this cube is, you know, kinda like leadership in the sense of, this is a really difficult thing to do. But anybody can do it, if they just put in the dedication and the patience and the commitment to make it happen. And some are like, Oh, that’s a lot like leadership. And there’s other things about a Rubik’s cube. So there’s six faces on a Rubik’s Cube, and there’s a center piece, and each of those faces, well, the centerpiece is never move. They’re all in the exact same port or position to each other. And that’s how you orient yourself in order to know what piece on a Rubik’s Cube needs to go into what place. And so then I started to think, well, that’s like your values. You know, if you know what your values are, then you can orient yourself in while it seems like there’s all this chaos happening around you, you know how to put each each piece into place in order to move forward. With a Rubik’s Cube, there’s only three layers to a Rubik’s cube. So while it seems like there’s a whole lot, it’s really just three layers, you know, there’s 26 pieces, there’s only essentially 12 ways that you can move a cube. And in order to put pieces into place, you’re just doing an algorithm or a pattern of these 12 moves. So when you start to really break it down, you realize, okay, it’s, it’s not as hard as I thought, I just need to focus on the smaller steps to get there. And that’s a lot like life and your goals. It’s, you know, it can get extremely overwhelming if you think about everything that you have to do to make something happen. But if you think okay, what I’m going to focus on today is putting one piece into place. And once I do that, then I’ll focus on the next piece. And really, my goal is to accomplish the first layer. And once the first layer is done, instead of thinking about, Oh, there’s two layers that I still don’t know how to do, and beating yourself up about it, it’s about taking a step back and say, No, I was able to solve the first layer. Let’s celebrate that. And recognize that I never was able to do that before. And so if I wasn’t able to do that, and now I am, I can go to the next level. So as I was thinking about all of these pieces, then when I went to the University of Toledo, I was teaching a class it was for roughly 40 Freshmen a year. And I was teaching them a leadership class. And I always wanted to be a different teacher, not just somebody that taught from the book and lectured but how can I connect with people in a much different way that they will never forget. And so I said, You know what, I’m gonna, I’m gonna do something different. And I gave all the students a Rubik’s cube at the beginning of the year, and told them that at the end of the semester, their final exam was to solve the Rubik’s Cube and write a paper on how it was like leadership. And it was interesting, because you know, you have the one student that’s like, oh, sweet, I already know how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. You have the other students that are like, Okay, this is a challenge. I think I can do it, I’ll try to do it. I’ll put in my best effort. And then the other individuals that are just, you know, looking at me you like a deer in headlights? Again, what? What are you thinking? There’s no way I’ll be able to do that. And there’s actually one story of one of my students, Megan, she, the first day after class, she went home, and she was crying with her mom and saying, you know, I have to drop this class, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to solve this. And she had defeated herself before she even tried. And luckily, her mom said, you know, Megan, let’s stick with it. You know, just have patience with the process and just never give up. You can do this. And that was great advice about grit that Megan really took to heart. And little did she know that later that semester, her mom would find out that she had cancer. And so now Megan, was the one telling her mom to never give up and giving her mom back. You know, that same advice. And by the end of the semester, not only was Megan able to master solving the cube, but she was one of the students in class that was helping other students learn how to solve it all while helping her mom along her cancer fighting journey. And it’s great to know that MEGAN’S MOM is now in remission, and she’s doing well. And at the end of the semester, Megan said that she found out that she’s capable of more than And she ever realized. And when it comes down to it, that’s, that’s why I do it is to have students realize that this impossible thing that they didn’t think that they can do that somebody else could do it because they’re smarter or you know, they can figure it out, but they can’t do it is to get rid of that notion and allow them to believe in themselves, and teach them the technique in order to accomplish goals that they think are impossible, because once they’re able to accomplish something they thought was impossible. It opens up the floodgates to them being able to say, Well, what else in life that I did, I think was impossible that now if I if I put in the right pieces into place, I take it a little bit at a time, I orient myself by my values, that they are able to then accomplish those large complex problems and achieve their wildest dreams.
Michael Hingson  45:56
Well, and of course, that’s what unstoppable mindset is all about. And that’s my I call it a mindset. Because if we really take to heart that we can do more than we think we can, or that we at least ought to explore doing more than we think we can. And then we find out, we really can do more than we thought we could. We’re discovering that we are more unstoppable than we ever believed, and isn’t a negative thing at all. But it is all about adopting a different mindset. And it’s it’s so often that people, as you said, defeat themselves before they even get started.
Donovan Nichols  46:36
Yeah, one of the other things that I say is, you know, limited thinking produces limited results. So if we limit our what we believe is possible, then we’ve already lowered our own expectations, and not allowed ourselves to truly achieve what we are capable of doing. And that’s why I want to help people to understand the importance of believing in yourself, and having confidence and being able to, to really show that grit to be resilient as things this challenges are thrown at you. And it seems like there’s no way that you can do it. You just push through with that grit and you bounce back from any mistakes that are made, or any challenges that happen. And just keep persevering until you’re able to accomplish what you want to accomplish. And it you know, something my dad would always say is it will all work out in the end. And if it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end.
Michael Hingson  47:42
Yep. Well, the other thing that I think about when I’m listening to you is, what do you do at the end of the day, or at some point during the day to analyze what’s going on in your life? Do you tend to be introspective? Do you look at the end of the day about what happened today? And what went well? And what could I do better? Or what did I do great that maybe I can even do better next time? Yeah, I would. I would
Donovan Nichols  48:07
love to say that. I do that every night. But I’m not always good at that. But I do try to be intentional about thinking through what was I able to accomplish? And how can I build on that tomorrow? I think that’s a great practice. Because it really is focusing on. Like I said, with that, you know, solving the qubits, you focus on the piece that you were able to put into place and then realize, okay, what’s the next piece that I need to work on. And you know, that sometimes happens at night where I think about it, but sometimes it happens in the morning to my my best thinking, best reflection happens in the shower. And I you know, take showers in the morning, and there’s just something serene about that, where I want my mind will just wander and think about all the things that I need to accomplish that day. And I’ll have these kind of movie images in my mind of how to accomplish that. I believe in thinking about or having the end in mind. So to visualize what what that end looks like, so that you can work your way back and figure out okay, how do I get there? You know, it’s like with a Rubik’s Cube, it’s seeing the Rubik’s Cube solved in your mind, and then saying, Okay, now how do I get there? And and so every day, I actually have a couple things that are by my computer. And this is one of the techniques that I use, not only just to to to achieve goals, but also to help myself with my ADHD is that I have on my wall, my values, and so it shows all my values and then I have questions to myself. I have my overarching goals of what I want to accomplish big picture. And then I write out every day to With three goals that I want to accomplish that day, and so those are my my pieces that I want to put into place. Okay, if I can accomplish this today that I’m working towards my overarching goals. And as I noticed myself start to deviate, you know, it’s really easy for me, like I said, going down that rabbit hole of websites and YouTube videos and getting to things that just interest me. But I asked myself three questions. One is in harmony with my values. Two, will it help me achieve my goals? And three, Is it urgent and absolutely necessary to do right now. So if I can take whatever decisions come my way or choices, and I filter them through those three questions, and then I also filter them through my values, I am able to weed out the things that aren’t as important and be left with the the pieces of life are the choices that I want to make that will best help me to work towards my goals and accomplish work life balance.
Michael Hingson  51:05
So tell me, it’s, I think what you’re talking about is really great. And we all should do a lot more of, of working intentionally to not only have a life balance, but to think about what we do in life. That’s why I asked you the question about intentionally What do you do in terms of how you end your day? Because I think all too often we never take the time to analyze what we’re doing and and think about how did that work? Or how did that work, and we we just keep rushing forward without really thinking about it, which is unfortunate. And it would be so important if we would do a lot more to analyze what we do and use that to help us improve. But here’s another question for you. Do you ever worked with? Or have you worked with other students with disabilities?
Donovan Nichols  51:52
Yes, and one of the things I think is a great example is with the Rubik’s cube. So like I said, I give a Rubik’s cube out to all of the students. And over the course of six years, I gave it out to 232 students. And there was one day where they I found out that a student said that he was not able to solve the cube because he is colorblind, and he couldn’t distinguish the different colors. So there was no way that he was going to be able to solve it. And that was something that actually took me aback because I had never even thought about that. I didn’t think of colorblind. Now if I had a student that was visually impaired or blind, I would say, Okay, I am going to find an accommodation. But when people have these invisible disabilities, you don’t recognize it all the time. So it was it was great that I was somebody was able to help me understand that. But then step two is okay, what do we do? What’s the accommodation, because I’m not going to allow you to think that there is a disability that you have that doesn’t allow you to achieve this impossible task, or seemingly impossible. So I ended up writing a with a permanent marker, the first letter of each color on all of the pieces. And then when he was he saw that, then he was able to see those letters, and then he was able to solve the cube. And so that was something that was an enlightening moment for me to be more inclusive in the practices and to think outside of you know, what I currently know. But it was great to work with with his name’s Tyler was great to work with him and see him accomplish a goal that not only did he have the task of trying to solve something that seemed impossible, even if he wasn’t colorblind, but because of being colorblind, it added a different challenge. And there’s a couple things that happen through that process is the biggest thing was recognizing that we all have different challenges in life. And it’s about understanding what those different challenges are. And but not allowing them to keep you from from doing what you want to do. And that’s goes imperfect with you know, your unstoppable mindset. So understand what it is that you need to overcome. And then what are the resources? What are the accommodations that need to be put into place, but let’s not allow ourselves to let an additional roadblock keep us from going down a path that we know is most beneficial for ourselves. One of the problems
Michael Hingson  54:37
that exists with diversity is that we don’t really recognize all the differences and for example, I’ve maintained for a long time that diversity has really weeded out disabilities. We don’t include disabilities in the diversity conversation. But then when we start to talk about inclusion, you can’t get away from that as much as still people want to try their Reality is either you’re inclusive or you’re not. And if you’re not including persons with disabilities, for example, then you’re not inclusive. The Rubik’s Cube is a is a great illustration, the fact is that there are Rubik’s Cubes available, that instead of having or maybe in addition to having different colors, not seeing the colors on each side, there are different shapes, so that there’s a different shape for each color, essentially. So it is possible for a blind person to do a Rubik’s Cube, they’re available for sale, I don’t remember where but I had one for a while, we’ve moved a couple of times, so kind of have lost it along the way. And I’m going to have to go back and find it now and start to play with it again. But the fact is that all of us have differences I’ve maintained. And I usually say it sort of facetiously, but in reality, I’m very serious. Every person with eyesight has a disability, your light dependent, you don’t do well, unless the lights are on. And Thomas Edison and the inventors of the electric light bulb really created a reasonable accommodation for light dependent people by creating the light bulb so that you guys can turn the lights on and all is fine. Doesn’t bother me a bit whether the lights are on does my wife however, so I’ve gotten into the habit of turning the lights on. And now we have a number of lights that we control with Alexa. So that also helps. So the echo gives us the ability to to make sure lights are on or off. And it’s actually been very convenient. So technology improves. But the fact is that all of us have challenges and the sooner that everyone recognizes that just because someone is different than they are doesn’t mean that they’re less than they will be a lot better off as a society, I would think.
Donovan Nichols  56:44
Yeah, that’s, I mean, a wonderful point to be made. And I’m actually holding a real Rubik’s cube right now. You got one I do. Because after you know that I had found out about that challenge. I was like, Okay, well, I need to look a little bit deeper into this. And, and then I found out there are these Braille cubes. And I was like, wow, that’s really cool. And so I actually bought one and then taught myself how to do a cube just by using braille by touch so at night, when I’m this light dependent person has its his lights out, and I’m not able to see the cube, I’m I’m still able to solve it at night. And so it was a new interesting technique that I got to do that. It I feel like it’s it’s helping me to better understand my senses. And so you know, it’s like the feeling of touch and just noticing the subtle differences between the different pieces and being able to do that. That really helps you hone in and get better
Michael Hingson  57:50
that says, Well, I’m glad you have a Braille Rubik’s Cube. Good for you. Yeah, that’s, that’s,
Donovan Nichols  57:55
it’s definitely fun to do. It keeps my mind at work. I really enjoyed that said, I love being able to find out how to be more inclusive. In the work that I do.
Michael Hingson  58:09
Well, I want to thank you very much for sharing all of that with us. And in sharing your time on unstoppable mindset, my gosh, once again, an hour has gone by really quickly, hasn’t it. And so we’ll have to do more of this. I want to hear more about your adventures as you’re getting the PhD and indefinitely as you’re moving forward in your speaking career. I started doing that after escaping from the World Trade Center on September 11. And I have always felt that as long as I learn more, in a sense, then the people where I go speak, then I think I’m doing a good job. And I’ve found speaking to be a wonderful adventure, and extremely rewarding because it’s not that I just get to share with people, experiences and my thoughts, but I get to learn from them. And as I said, that’s really the, for me the important part about it.
Donovan Nichols  59:01
I’d love to like I said, I’ve listened to your podcast and gotten to know more about your story. And I’m just so appreciative that you have had me on and and then we’re able to grow this connection and friendship because through learning about your story, it it continues to help me to think differently about how to continue to be more inclusive, and how to continue to work with people all across the board, and how to how do we utilize this unstoppable mindset as a propellant to get us to all be able to accomplish our goals, but understand the obstacles that we need to remove from the equation in order to accomplish them as we work for move forward. Well stated so much. Thank you so much for what you do. And the incredible story that you have to be able to help us elfin others was September 11. I mean, it’s for anybody that doesn’t know that story they need to, they need to learn it because it you know what, what you went through and how you were able to do it with grace and confidence in what you do is just absolutely amazing.
Michael Hingson  1:00:18
Well, thank you. And I really appreciate you telling your story and be here today. So if people want to reach out and maybe contact you or learn more about you, and so on, how can they do that? So a lot
Donovan Nichols  1:00:29
of different social media, but the best thing I would say is go to my website, www dot Donovan nichols.com And that is spelled D o n o v a n N I c h o l s.com. Now I say Donovan is spelled like do know van, because it can be spelled a lot of different ways. But I drive a minivan. So do you know van nichols.com?
Michael Hingson  1:00:57
So it is in Dino minivan? Hmm? Great. Well, go visit Donovan’s site, reach out to him learn about him, because he’s got a lot that he is offering that we all can use. And, again, thank you for being here. I hope all of you listening will reach out and talk to Donovan in some way. And I hope that you will let us know what you think about the podcast and that you’ll contact me with your thoughts. And as always, if you know someone else who should be a guest on our podcast, please let me know you can reach me at Michaelhii m i c h a e l h i at accessibe, A C C E S S I B E.com. Or go to our podcast page www dot Michael hingson.com/podcast. And when you’re there or wherever you’re listening to this podcast, I hope that you’ll give us a five star rating. We really appreciate that. But again, I do want to hear from you and hear your thoughts. So Donovan again. Thanks very much. And let’s do this again.
Donovan Nichols  1:01:59
Thank you, I would love to and I want to help everybody that I possibly can. And so anybody that would like to connect let’s let’s do it and let’s solve our impossible goals and
Michael Hingson  1:02:12
remain unstoppable. That’s right. Thanks again, Donald. Thank you. You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.

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