I’m very passionate about inspiring, encouraging and equipping individuals with the tools they need to find their SHINE FACTOR (their own personal brilliance) and their SHINE ZONE in life - that place of congruence where shining and excelling seems effortless for them.
I’ve always been fascinated by the infinite capacity of human potential. We look around our world and see ordinary people achieving extraordinary, against-all-odds results. Most of us watch in awe as these people demonstrate the seemingly limitless potential of the human body, mind and spirit. I’ve come across many people who desire this, but don’t know how to achieve it.
That’s why I was excited to sit and chat with someone who is beating the odds, living fully and even influencing others while at it! Maxwell Ivey Jr, a multi-award-winning Blind Blogger, Entrepreneur, Podcaster, Publicist and critically acclaimed serial Author. Despite losing his sight at the age of twelves, Max has not only risen above his limitation, he is thriving inspite of it! Not only that, as a prolific self-help writer, Max helps other people rise above their limitations, to achieve their dreams and goals! I love how Max inspires the world, challenging us with the tagline “What’s Your Excuse?”, which also happens to be the name of his podcast.
Max is also a hilarious motivational speaker and a talent agent too!
Read on to find out what I discovered from speaking with this brilliant Shine-Star!
1. Tell us a little about your childhood and upbringing. Tell us about one limitation you had growing up, and how did you deal with it?
I grew up in a large family in a suburb of Houston, Texas, back when we were so far out of the city it felt like we were in the country. My Grandma had six children, so there were lots of cousins to play with. During the school year we would stay with my grandmother. And during the summers we would join the rest of our family traveling to fairs and festivals with the carnival. I didn’t start losing my vision until I was about four or five. And the vision loss was very gradual at first. I would eventually be diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa or RP. It wasn’t until I started junior high school that I had the first big drop off in vision. At that time I would start learning how to travel with a white cane, learning to read braille, and generally starting to find ways to adapt to my continually changing level of sight.
For example, I have gone from reading regular print books to using a magnifying glass to reading large print books to using a close circuit TV to blow up the print to finally listening to audio books or reading them in braille. Reading was one of my first loves, so thankfully I’ve always been able to adjust so I can continue to be educated, entertained, inspired, and enthralled by the written word. In my family, everyone participated in the carnival.
Most of the time I worked the pluck a lucky duck game. So the numbers on the bottom of the ducks got progressively bigger and eventually had to be replaced with braille. Tom Sullivan, the blind singer, songwriter, entertainer, and film maker likes to say the three best words in the English language are ‘want to play’. Games and toys have always been a challenge. Too often something that everyone else enjoyed, I either couldn’t play or had to be modified. In elementary school, I wasn’t great at most school yard games. In fact, the teacher made me the pitcher for the kick ball games because I was always striking out. That was before beeping baseballs and frisbees were common. One of my favorite toys ever was the old Simon game, because I didn’t have to see it clearly to play it well.
Each light had a corresponding sound, and I could memorize what sound went with what color. One of the best things that ever happened to me was joining a Boy Scout troop for kids who were visually impaired. Our scout master was blind, but our assistant scout master and most of the volunteers could see. They had to make some adjustments. Like we used a saw and pruning sheers instead of an axe and hatchet to cut the wood for our fires. We had cots so we wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground, and we had the camaraderie of being just boys wanting to be scouts and go camping, fishing, and exploring. I would eventually complete all the requirement to become one of the few legally blind eagle scouts. Just one more thought on this subject; when I first started the midway marketplace, I had to find a way to create and update my website. At that time there wasn’t anything like word press. Your only options were what was called Wysiwyg. What you see is what you get, but that wouldn’t work with a screen reader.
So, after a lot of asking around, I found out about the w3e.org online tutorials. I used them to teach myself how to hand code html, and while my website wasn’t perfect, I was able to use it to help sell quite a bit of used amusement equipment. Some of which was sold to people in other parts of the world. Without finding a way to overcome that challenge, who knows if we would be having this conversation today or not.
I’d like to think my natural determination and resilience would have led to me finding another way, but who knows. I do know at that point I didn’t have the money to hire a webmaster and wouldn’t have wanted to trust someone else with my baby, even if I could have afforded to hire someone.
2. As a child, you had dreams of following in the family’s line of business. You have now found fame as ‘The Blind Blogger’. How did you end up in your present career choice?
It was 2007, and we had joined up with my Uncle Albert’s carnival after we had realized that we weren’t going to be able to keep the show going as an independent operation; I wasn’t happy. First, because my dad had never been happy being on another man’s midway and I was a daddy’s boy. I learned everything I know about life, business, and being a man from him. Plus, we had competed very bitterly for bookings with my uncle’s family. I felt like if we had to lose, why did we have to lose to them. There were other carnivals we could have collaborated with.
We had some great bookings that any carnival in Texas would have wanted. So it was the Texas Pecan festival in Groves, Texas. I had plenty of license stock in my game booth; the weather was perfect, and the midway was full of people spending money. But I didn’t make any money at all. I came home frustrated, disgusted, and determined. I called my brother Michael in Florida and asked him to help me file for a domain name, then he helped me get my website online. He even ran it for the first few months, but then he got a high-paying job moving rides on the state fair circuit; and that left me having to figure out what to do next and how to do it. I would eventually learn lots of new skills for this new business. Including recruiting clients, setting fees, writing copy, building an email list, using social media, recording videos, etc; and people were watching. As Facebook and LinkedIn came along, I was sharing my equipment listings as well as my struggles and successes. They were impressed by my willingness to take on difficult challenges and opportunities with joy. They told me I inspired them and after a time I finally accepted they were right and started a second website as the blind blogger, a name people had been using for me as a sort of shorthand for a couple of years prior to the new persona. I would be challenged to write a book to participate in an online summit, the summit would fall through, but I kept writing.
Between my blog posts and that first book I rediscovered my love for writing. With the help of my friend and editor Lorraine Reguly of wordingwell.com ‘Leading You Out of the Darkness Into the Light a Blind Man’s Inspirational Guide to Success’ would be published in January 2014. Shortly after, I would compete for and win one of the prestigious Amtrak Writers in Residence for 2016. Using my prize to take a once in a lifetime crazy solo trip to New York City during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. That entire experience would be detailed in my latest book, The Blind Blogger’s NYC Adventures, How You Can Make Your Dreams Come True. In between those two books I wrote a book called ‘It’s Not the Cookie It’s the Bag’ it was about my progress before, during and after having successful gastric surgery. I lost over half my body weight and I continue to stay healthy.
In 2017, I would go on an adventure that would include my first speaking experience at Dreamcon in Philadelphia and my first book signing at Dog Ears Books in Buffalo, New York. That covers how I started writing and speaking. As for being interviewed on podcasts and hosting my own show that started in February 2013 when I did my first radio interview on the Brian the Hammer Jackson show on blog talk radio. I put my hand up and said pick me when he asked for small business owners to share about what they do. At that time I was focused on the Midway Marketplace, but I would eventually use similar shows to share my experiences as the blind blogger.
That first interview went very badly. My 979-215-1770 dropped the call, and then I hung up on him when he called me back. He would finally say, ‘what! are you blind or something? To which I said yes. There was silence, something deadly to live radio, but I laughed, then he laughed and we had a great conversation. He invited me back the next week, and that lead to a regular spot for six months. Finally, I would realize that there had to be other shows out there I could go on. So, I started researching them and pitching them. As a result, I’ve been on over two hundred podcasts and radio shows. That led to two more opportunities. First, people started asking me how I got on all those shows, which led them asking me to show them how to get booked and that led to people saying Max how about I hire you to do the work so all I have to do is show up and have a great conversation.
So, I now help others get on to podcasts, radio shows, virtual summits, and even TV shows. Later on, people started asking me when I was going to start my own podcast. I told them that I couldn’t see myself managing the tech while having a mindful conversation. So, I said as soon as I find someone to handle the geeky stuff, I’d do it. Eventually, my friend Frederic Bye from Canada would come along and do just that. He was my co-host on No Excuses for about a year before he pushed me out of the nest to go solo. The show is now called What’s Your Excuse? And I primarily interview people who have overcome adversity or thrived in spite of difficult life circumstances.
The show relaunched on Apple podcasts, stitcher, tune in, etc in July of last year, it just went over two thousand downloads. So, how did I get here? By taking on bigger and bigger challenges and more interesting opportunities. When people said Max have you thought of trying or I think you would be good at, I listened. In most cases I said heck yes and went for it. As I have often said, the best thing that can happen is to have a really good friend double dog dare you to do something that scares you.
3. As the Blind Blogger, what are some of the Highs and Lows of your journey so far?
Publishing my first book and the feeling of holding the printed copy in my hands for the first time. Standing at a microphone and confidently sharing my experiences to encourage and even inspire an audience. Having people leave comments on my blog about how if Max can do it, then what’s their excuse. Hearing that people have taken steps towards being an even better version of themselves because of something I did, said, or wrote about. Singing at Niagara falls. Heck! singing anywhere, especially online, because it’s something I used to be embarrassed about and scared of and now people tell me I have a great voice and can inspire others with songs. Having people I don’t know reaching out to me to have me on their podcast or radio show with words that make it sound like they think I would say no.
As for negative. My worst as the blind blogger was in the fall of 2018 when I got sick while on a speaking trip. I had underestimated how much money I needed to have and over estimated how much I might make from book sales and new consulting hires. I ended up in New York City sicker than a dog, smooth broke, and about to be homeless. Thanks to friends online, I was gifted with a night in a hotel and a train ticket home to Houston.
I was worried, actually scared, and I don’t get scared. Not the homeless part, I was so on mission to find a solution that fear wasn’t part of, but when I got home I was so sick that I could hardly talk, I couldn’t sing, and my balance was off. It turned out I had become so dehydrated that it was effecting my balance. It took weeks to get my speaking voice back, and months later there were songs I used to sing all the time that I couldn’t sing. Never having had a great vocal range, it was frustrating not being able to at least hit the notes I knew I should be able to. I really thought I had ruined my voice, and as a speaker, coach, publicist, podcaster, etc my voice is my livelihood. Thankfully, I got well, and I learned my lesson. Since then, I only travel out of the area when the organizer can pay my expenses. I also won’t stay with people who are sick. And I do the basics to stay healthy, such as taking vitamins, getting my sleep, and drinking plenty of water.
4. Please share with us one of the greatest lessons you’ve learnt in the course of your life. How has it influenced the way you live your life today?
The most important lesson I ever learned was naturally something I got from my dad. He used to say ‘If you don’t ask they can’t say yes’. I know some people say if you ask, what is the worst that can happen? Or the worst they can do is to say no, but I always thought my dad’s version was much more positive. He actually taught me this while I was helping book the carnival. We had a small show of seven to eight rides with no actual thrill rides in a big state of Texas. Everyone else had more rides or newer ones or more exciting ones. So, I got told no a lot, and sometimes I’d get frustrated and want to quit, but he would remind me of our motto and tell me to make the next call. I use this all the time. In fact, I got this article by asking about speaking at Leap and Shine Conference in 2021. I won the Writer in Residence by submitting a form even though I felt unqualified based on profiles of past winners. I have been on some of the biggest podcasts going because I’m not afraid to stick my hand up and say pick me. I met you Clara because I had the courage to reach out to Alex Okoroji and ask to be on her show The Naked Talk. She said yes, and the rest is history.
I have learned that asking isn’t limited to making a call, writing a letter, sending an email, or filling out a form. It includes prayer, meditation, and manifesting through the law of attraction. It includes conversations both online and in person where you let a friend or coach hear what it is that you are struggling with. I found my editor Lorraine after leaving a comment on Adrienne Smith’s blog. I have to mention Adrienne because she is my blogging mama and the first to see everything I was capable of. So, we not only have to ask for what we want and need, we have to have the humility to accept help when offered. We weren’t meant to go through life all on our own. And we can make so much more progress more quickly when we invite people to come along on our journey.
5. What are your thoughts when it comes to how to overcome obstacles to make our dreams come true? How have you exemplified this in your own life?
To me, overcoming adversity or obstacles is all about decisions. I think there are three key ones.
One, decide to find solutions instead of making excuses or decide to take action instead of listing the reason why you can’t. Recently, when a flight was delayed, and I thought I might not make it to a speaking event; I chatted up the guy pushing the wheelchair and sold him a copy of my New York City book. I was in a wheelchair because air ports are huge, and I probably wouldn’t make my flights if I tried to get there all on my own.
Two, deciding to ask for help and accept help when offered. I talked about this a lot earlier. While in NYC, I traveled all over that city by going from one person’s shoulder to another. I added to my experience by having conversations with people along the way, and when I would put on a smile and ask nicely, people would help. Another comment on this is for you to remember that when you refuse to ask, you rob the other person of the joy they would have received from helping you. Just think, you could be making their day brighter by asking.
Three, decide to find the positive in every experience, event, or person you meet. After selling a quarter of a million dollars used carousel and not getting paid, I was able to find the positive by making a list. That included validating my ability to sell such a ride by finding a buyer in only thirty minutes, increased website traffic, people requesting my help to sell or locate rides, and winning a small cash award from Mutual of Omaha for what they called an aha moment. Yes, after making that sale I thought yes I can do this, and I like to tell people finding the positive isn’t easy, you have to practice it and sometimes you have to make a list.
Staying positive is like finding the TV remote, you know it’s there in the house somewhere and you just keep looking for it until you find it. You may have to ask the family to help look and it may turn out to be in a really weird place, and the living room may be a mess; but you will find it. It is the same with finding the positive in life.
6. Tell us a bit about your NYC Adventures. What motivated you to take on that particular challenge?
The New York City adventure was my prize for winning the Amtrak Writer in Residence. They gave me the choice of going anywhere in the United States as long as I took my trip in the calendar year. So, I visited the Amtrak website to see what was available from Houston. I found that I had three basic choices. I could go west to Los Angeles and then up the west coast. I could go east to New Orleans and then north on the City of New Orleans to anywhere in the Midwest, or I could go east to New Orleans and then north as far as New York City.
I had decided beforehand to make this decision differently than many of my past decisions. I wasn’t going to do what was safe or easy. I wasn’t going to go where my friends or family would want me to go, and I wasn’t going to just go and turn around and come back. I was going to think about what would make me happy, what would give me the most joy. Something I never could do in the past because often I was responsible for the success or failure of the family and its business. My money really never felt like my own. This was going to be different. So, I selected New York City. Then I had to decide when to go and how long to stay. I had always heard that New York was at its best during the holidays so that is when I decided to go, and I chose to spend two weeks there including my train trip to and from the Big Apple.
Now, I should mention that Amtrak only provided the transportation and meals on board. I would have to come up with the money for all the living expenses. I still made the choice knowing how expensive New York could be and not knowing where all that extra money would come from. I knew it would all work out somehow, and it did. To find out how you will have to read the book.
7. There’s often a lot of talk and varying opinions about the concept of success and winning, although one size doesn’t fit all. What does Success and Winning mean to you?
I love this question. In my first book, I wrote about how we have to decide what success looks like to each of us. Far too many fail to accomplish their goals because they are chasing after things that are someone else’s goals. They are working at goals because they have seen these examples on TV or social media, or their friends, family, or followers have told them they would be good at something.
To some people success is a satisfying hobby that will never make them a living, for others it is service to church or some other nonprofit. To some people, it’s being a millionaire or even a billionaire. To some it’s being famous and having a large following.
To me, it’s about finding a place where I can help as many people as possible accomplish their goals while providing me a reasonable, reliable, sustainable income where I can live comfortably and support my family. That being my seventy-five-year-old mom, my younger brother Patrick, and my nephew Seth. I often joke that my online media work is my way of supporting my writing, speaking, and traveling habits. Yes, someday those will pay the bills, but right now it’s about helping other people get exposure while I grow my business. And our goals can change as we change.
For example, with my first book I wanted to make at least one sale and have at least one person work through the exercises. With each book I raise my expectations with the goal being to have my first Amazon best seller and then hopefully a New York Times bestseller. Those are goals, but I’m not going to be crushed if I don’t meet them or don’t meet them with my next book. I work hard to accomplish the goals while learning as much as I can in the process, and that brings me to another point. Having the goal and making the attempt is the important point. Just because you aren’t sure if you will ever get there isn’t a reason not to try. Too many people use the excuse of I’m too old as a reason not to try. And being included in this publication is definitely part of my definition of success.
8. If you had the chance to do something differently today, mention one thing that you might do differently if given the opportunity to go back in time?
Tallulah Bankhead once said if I had to live my life again I'd make all the same mistakes - only sooner.
You know that I only started my own business as an amusement equipment broker because my family’s carnival went out of business. I fought so hard to keep it going. I invested my heart and soul in it. I ruined my credit and almost ruined my health. Who knows how much farther along I would be in my career as an author, speaker, and publicist if I had accepted the loss sooner.
I would say that determination is great but at some point you have to accept that no matter what you do you aren’t going to receive the outcome you desire. I wish I had moved on sooner. I also wish I had been more professional about brokering equipment sooner. But the most important thing I would tell myself is you are so much more than a carnival owner and showman, and someday you are going to realize it.
You are going to find so many abilities you never knew you had and you are going to realize that when you want to, you can accomplish almost anything you set your mind to. My dad instilled that in me while I was growing up, but I forgot about it and had to relearn just how strong I am and the next thing was just to find what it is that I want to do.
About This Contributor...
Clara Rufai - The Shine Strategist is a Corporate Lawyer and senior Compliance Manager. She is the Editor-In-Chief of SHINE Magazine, President of the Shine Zone and Host of the Shine Capsules podcast. She is also the Convener of the Leap and Shine Conference, and Creator of the Shine Legacy Awards.