You’ve likely heard the stereotypes about millennials: They’re a generation of entitled misfits. They lack a strong work ethic. They’re only interested in activities that offer immediate gratification.
You want the truth? This generation isn’t going to wreck the world. They’re going to save it.
If millennials feel entitled to anything, it’s the opportunity to be passionately engaged in a vision they can pour their entire heart and soul into. Show them what success looks like, then get out of the way and watch what awesome looks like.
I’d like to introduce you to Joseph Sehwani, one of nine millennials I interviewed who have faced and overcome significant obstacles that stood in the way of their goals and dreams. It’s a privilege to share their inspiring life stories with you here.
Click here to see all the Millennials Rising stories.
Joseph Sehwani, born in 1994, is a student at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He is the founder of the Dreamscape Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people who are struggling with disease or disability.
It all started in my high school Spanish class on September 21, 2011. After rubbing my left eye, the words and colors on the whiteboard all blurred together. Panic welled up inside me. Given the terrible hereditary disease that ran in my family, I feared that I would soon be blind.
I quickly excused myself from class and called my parents, Davey and Rose. We drove straight to the eye doctor because my mom was paranoid about our family’s history with LHON (Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy), an incurable disease that causes the optic nerve to atrophy. LHON robbed my Grandmother Rose and Uncle Nicky of their sight. My grandma developed LHON at forty-five, but men tend to get it when they’re much younger; my uncle lost his sight at age eleven. There are only about a hundred new cases a year worldwide.
After seeing half a dozen doctors and having our hopes dashed that it was just a case of optic swelling, I flew to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to see Dr. Neil R. Miller, one of the only doctors in the world who specializes in LHON. He diagnosed me in late October and told me I had three to six months of sight left, although they reassured me that I would retain some peripheral vision.
Nothing could have ever prepared me for that moment. I felt so confused and lost, like my world as I knew it was being ripped away from me. Even though I had all the love and support I could have asked for from my family, for the first few days I felt like I was all alone. After all, I was the only one who was going blind; life would go on for everyone else like it always had.
As the initial shock wore off, I tried getting back to being my usual positive self. I even cracked some jokes because my family was so serious about what was happening. I didn’t want to be so lighthearted that it seemed like I didn’t care, because I did; but I didn’t want to be so over-the-top serious about it that I would end up getting depressed. Still, it didn’t take long before I started feeling sad, angry, and out of control. My whole life was crumbling right in front of—and because of—my eyes.
Perspective Brings Peace
Fortunately, a few weeks after my diagnosis, I remembered an incident that took place the summer before. My whole world seemed like it was falling apart then, too. In a week’s time, I learned that my parents were splitting up and that my grandfather—we called him Popa Andy—who I felt closer to than anyone in the world because of his unconditional love and encouragement, was dying of cancer. Popa Andy had taught me never to lose faith in God, but I was mad at God. I had been praying like crazy but everything was just getting worse.
Popa Andy was at Tampa General Hospital and the whole family gathered there to see him. My family lived in Sarasota and my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in Naples. I’m originally from Staten Island—we moved to Florida when I was almost three—and our family members who lived there also flew in.
We were all at a hotel restaurant across from the hospital. When our waitress asked why we were in town, we told her. She said, “I’ll pray for you. God was there for my sorrows, and I’m sure he’ll be there for you, too.” I thought she was just trying to cheer us up, but then she told us her story. She had been married with three children. One night, someone broke into her house and murdered her husband and two of her three kids. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She told us that the grief was so unbearable that she had turned to God and found comfort there. She told us she was grateful for the son she had left and that she had visited the murderer in jail and forgave him because she needed to do that for her own peace of mind. She said she’d pray for us and hoped that instead of feeling sad about Popa Andy, that we would be grateful for the time we had left with him.
That waitress’ caring attitude calmed me down and helped me cope with everything that was going on with my parents and Popa Andy. Now, more than a year later, the thought of her warm and comforting smile helped me cope with losing my sight as well. I thought, What am I complaining about? I could have it a lot worse. That woman was probably the happiest person I ever met, and she had lost her husband and two children to a horrible tragedy. All I was losing was most of my sight; I still had plenty to be happy about. (Fast forward to today, four-and-a-half years after we met that waitress: my parents are back together and Popa Andy, believe it or not, is still alive!)
A Dream Fulfilled
After I was diagnosed, we hoped for the best but were prepared for the worst. Even today, there’s a glimmer of hope; after three years of blindness, my Uncle Nicky’s sight was miraculously restored on Christmas Day when he was fourteen. I’m not going to pin my hopes on that and set myself up for disappointment, but it’s comforting to know that miracles do happen.
After I regained some perspective, I came to accept my condition. I figured if this was the hand I was dealt, I had a choice: I could let it control me or I could control it. I promised myself that LHON wasn’t going to stop me from doing great things.
When I was diagnosed in late October, I had 20/80 sight in my left eye and 20/30 in my right. As my sight worsened, my folks asked me what I wanted to see, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do. They were acting like the genie in the bottle, prepared to grant my wildest dreams while I could still see. They were shocked when I said, “I want my dream car, a Nissan GTR.” I explained that if we flew off to see Paris or Australia or Japan, I knew I’d be telling people, “I’m only here because I want to see Paris before I’m blind.” That seemed awfully depressing. I guess I was still a bit rebellious about losing my eyesight; in my mind, getting my dream car was not only a way to enjoy my sight for as long as I could, it would show people that I could still be carefree and even a little bit daring.
I got my new Nissan GTR on December 15, 2011, one day before my seventeenth birthday. I had it until I lost my driver’s license on January 3. I had the best three weeks! Having that car even for that short time meant a lot to me. Afterwards, my parents traded it back in so it all worked out.
By that time, my sight had dropped off the table. On January 3, I had 20/400 sight in my left eye and 20/80 in my right. Legally, in Florida, if one of your eyes is worse than 20/80, the other eye has to be perfect. That’s why I lost my license. By mid-February, I had 20/600 sight in my left eye and 20/200 in my right. The doctor’s prediction had been right: six months after my diagnosis, my world had gone dark.
Technically, I now have no central vision. If I hold my palm in front of my face, it’s completely blacked out. However, I do have my peripheral sight. It’s blurry due to strain from overuse and awkward to do, but I can see enough to function by looking out to either side. I can even operate a computer by using handheld electronic magnifiers and zooming software technology.
I’ve always heard that people are able to compensate in some way when they lose one of their senses. It’s true. In high school, I relied heavily on what little eyesight remained plus my visual memory. I could visualize where my classes were and I knew how many steps I had to take between them. It was very systematic.
All things considered, I thought I was handling my impending blindness pretty well. There was, however, one big exception: school. I was a junior, which is an important year; it’s when the SATs come around and college applications start going out.
Adjusting those first few months was super difficult. Just when I thought I could handle things, my eyesight would drop another notch. I was doing terribly in all my classes; it was ten times harder to read and do homework. As my sight worsened, homework became physically painful and exhausting.
I was enrolled in my school’s IB (International Baccalaureate) program—which is like AP (Advanced Placement) classes, only more advanced—and expected the IB teachers to be compassionate and supportive, but instead they were contentious. Every time I asked them for help, they said they didn’t know how. I’d say, “ Neither do I. I hope you’re willing to work with me on this.” They never were. Not once. In fact, I was told that everything I asked for was considered cheating. The principal of the program actually told me, “You can’t have extra time or use magnifiers because that would be unfair to the other students.” I mean, c’mon. Are you kidding me?
The SATs were a nightmare. College Board, which administers the SAT, refused to give me magnifiers, larger sheets of paper, a whiteboard, or any aid beyond a regular magnifying glass. So I opted to sit in a room for two whole days having a scribe read the test to me. Plus, I had all my classwork on top of that.
It all came to a head when I dictated an important paper to my dad. When I handed it in, the IB principal asked me how I did it. I told him I dictated it to my dad and he typed it. He said that was cheating and that he may have to expel me from the program. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was in a bad movie and couldn’t find my way back to reality. I was afraid for my future; as my grades kept dropping, so did my hopes of getting into a good college.
Legally, the IB program was out of bounds. They were ignoring the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Florida Division of Blind Services. Finally, the principal of the entire school stepped in and we came to an agreement that I would transition out of the IB program; any failing grades I got would be removed, or revert to a mid-term grade. Before I left the program, the IB principal told me, “You better prepare yourself because college might not be an option for you.”
I was furious at the time but now I’m glad he said something so outrageous. It toughened me up and made me determined to prove him wrong. Two years later, I made sure to include him in the e-mail blast I sent out announcing the formation of my foundation.
A Solid Foundation
As my months of remaining sight dwindled down to weeks and then days, the rest of my life came into sharper focus. I thought hard about what I wanted to do with my life, how I wanted to do it, and who it was going to impact. With every obstacle I faced—from classroom conflicts to financial demands to legal issues to medical concerns to locating the right tools and resources—my inner resolve grew to do all that I could to spare others from the psychic pain of dealing with so many unnecessary roadblocks and brick walls.
I knew how it felt to be taken by surprise by a sudden, rare disability. With every passing day, I became more passionate about encouraging and empowering other people who were struggling with disability or disease. I decided that starting a nonprofit would give me a platform to make a difference in the lives of others. I began brainstorming about what to call it and how to clarify its goals, mission statement, and core values.
After graduating high school in June 2013, I jumped right into fundraising with the “Dream 10 Program.” I had always been artistically inclined and was determined to continue developing my creativity in spite of my disability. So incorporating my art into my foundation was extremely important to me. Using Photoshop, I designed ten pieces of art and started selling them as poster prints, 8 x 10s, canvases and other formats. That raised a little more than $5,000, which was just enough to begin the paperwork process. I received notification on Christmas Day 2014 that the Dreamscape Foundation would be an official 501(c)(3) organization. What a great present!
If this foundation had existed when I was diagnosed, I would have had somewhere to turn to instead of feeling like I had to figure everything out for myself. Through donations and sponsorships, the Dreamscape Foundation offers medical and organizational referrals, assists with education accommodations, provides healthcare, supports career goals, and fulfills a wide variety of special requests.
For instance, we raised more than $2,000 to help with cancer treatments for a girl in Warren, Michigan, after the community sought me out. Over Christmas, we conducted a fundraiser and toy drive that enabled us to distribute toys and cash to local child centers, churches, individual families, and community organizations. I’m continuing to establish relationships with a number of organizations so I can direct people to the resources that can best serve their specific needs.
After graduating from high school, my dad found a new job in New Jersey so I moved there with my parents, younger brother, Matthew, and younger sister, Victoria. For the first two years after I was diagnosed, I wore dark sunglasses night and day because my eyes were extremely sensitive to light, especially natural light. My eyesight was still not completely stabilized at the time so I thought it was smart to be near my family.
I’m now a senior at Seton Hall University, earning my bachelor’s in business management and master’s in nonprofit management. I’m completely devoted to the Dreamscape Foundation—I stay on top of everything that’s happening with it all day, every day—but I’m excited to see where my business career takes me in the years to come and how it will create greater opportunities for the foundation.
My family and I run the foundation with lots of awesome volunteers who help with everything from social media to web design to grant writing to video creation to general brainstorming about how we can get even better at serving the needs of people who come to us for help.
Looking back, I can definitely see the gift in losing my sight. LHON has closed a lot of doors for me but it’s also created new opportunities. I’ve been able to overcome significant obstacles and make a positive difference in people’s lives because I decided to make the best of what I had instead of allowing my impairment to limit me. I’m on the move and ready to take on whatever life gives me. I only lost my sight, not my vision; and my vision is the Dreamscape Foundation.
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
If you feel more stressed than blessed . . . if you have more confusion than clarity about how to live your beliefs . . . if you long to live a richer, happier, more meaningful life . . . you will find a wealth of insight and guidance in Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World.
Through God’s Eyes is a road map for living a more peaceful, beautiful life. It’s the only book that explains how dozens of spiritual principles interact, how to weave them together into a cohesive worldview, and how to practically apply this spiritual wisdom to daily life.
Readers everywhere are discovering that when you challenge yourself to look through God’s eyes, the world around you changes, and so do you.
Who will benefit from reading Through God’s Eyes?
Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to be.
Anyone who loves life, or wants to learn how to.
Anyone who is happy, or wants to be happier.
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SEE EVERY MOMENT AS A GIFT
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Here is a two-minute video introduction to Through God’s Eyes.
• an overview of the book
• the complete table of contents
• the Foreword by Caroline Myss
• my Introduction
• chapter excerpts
• a sample end-of-chapter story
• endorsements from authors and thought leaders
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THROUGH GOD’S EYES PDF SAMPLER
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Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents.
Order it at GodIsLogical.com.
In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
• What is the secret to liberating yourself from other people’s judgments and expectations?
• How do you reconcile the “free will vs. Divine Will” conundrum?
• Why is there an exception to “Everything happens for a reason”?
Those who worship logic instead of God are only half right. Not only is it logical to believe in God and to live a faith-based life, the existence of a loving, benevolent God that governs all creation is perhaps the only systematic worldview that explains every aspect of life.
Phil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent authors and thought leaders he interviewed. The roster of storytellers includes Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Caroline Myss, Larry Dossey, Rachel Naomi Remen, Bernie Siegel, Dean Ornish, and Christiane Northrup. Sixty Seconds has been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories.
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