Inform and Connect logo. Headshot of Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall has been a National Olympic weightlifting champion, a successful investment broker, president of the Emmy Award-winning Narrative Television Network, and a highly sought-after author and platform speaker. He is the author of more than 50 books, including the bestseller, The Ultimate Gift, also a major motion picture from 20th Century Fox starring James Garner and Abigail Breslin. Five of his other novels have also been made into movies with two more in production.

For his work in making television accessible to the millions of blind and visually impaired people nationwide, The President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity selected Jim Stovall as the Entrepreneur of the Year. Jim Stovall has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, and has been seen on Good Morning America, CNN, and CBS Evening News. He was also chosen as the International Humanitarian of the Year, joining Jimmy Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Mother Teresa as recipients of this honor.


Melody Goodspeed: Hi everybody. This is Melody Goodspeed with the American Foundation for the Blind Inform and Connect Podcast. We are so excited to have you here today. And we have with us a very special guest who has done pretty much everything. And when I say that, we're talking about a major author and very much has been an extreme influence on my life of late, which we're going to get into our discussion. He's also done written books, speaking, is the co-founder of an amazing network and so many other things that will get into. Please welcome Mr. Jim Stovall. Jim, thanks for being here today.

Jim Stovall: Well, thank you for having me, Melody, and I am looking forward to our time together.

Melody Goodspeed: I am looking forward to our time together too. So let's dive right in because the times we've talked has just been so enlightening and fun for me. And I am just smiling ear-to-ear today being here with you. We're here with the American Foundation for the Blind. Our main goals is to creating a life of no limits for people that are blind and vision impaired. And just having you here today, can you take a minute or two to walk us through your blindness journey?

Jim Stovall: My story of losing my sight starts back in my high school college years. As a young man, I had really no ambition beyond being an all-American football player and going into the NFL and making my living playing football on Sundays. And that's really all I'd ever thought about doing, all I wanted to do, and the coaches, and scouts, and the people that monitor those sorts of things ensured me I had the size and the speed to do that. So I just thought it was a matter of time until I'm in the NFL playing for some team there. And then I remember one year before I went back to play a season of football, you have to get a physical. They make you get a physical exam every year before you play football and they want to make sure you're perfectly healthy before they take you out and try to kill you is the way this works.

And this particular year, I remember Melody, the physical was taking a lot longer than it had in previous years. And a doctor came in and he shined his light in my eye. And then he wrote something down and another doctor came in and he shined his light in there. And a third doctor came in and he ran several other tests. And eventually the three doctors took me down a long haul and sat me down at a table and said, "We're really not sure why and we're not sure when, but we are convinced that you're going to be totally blind and there's nothing we can do about it." And that was the beginning there of about a 12 year decline in my sight until just before I turned 30, I became totally blind. And I've been that way for three decades now.

And thankfully during those years I was the losing my sight, I switched from football and I became an Olympic weightlifter and I got to compete. I was the national champion and got to compete on the Olympic team. And I was very fortunate with that. And then at age 30, I lost the remainder of my sight and I had never met a blind person. I didn't know, there were people like you and the AFB out there and all these different things. And I was totally isolated and unaware of that. So I moved into this little room in the back of my house, a little 9 by 12 foot room I thought I would be in for the rest of my life. The thought of traveling millions of miles a year as we do now and talking to thousands and thousands of people in arena events or running a television network or writing 50 books or having eight of them turned into movies or talking to you on this broadcast right now that would've seemed as foreign to me as going to the moon.

So I sat in my little 9 by 12 foot kind of self-imposed prison in there getting more and more depressed and discouraged. And one day out of just sheer boredom sitting there, I realized that before I'd lost my sight that had been our television room. So I knew across the room from me there was a TV and a video player and my collection of classic movies. I love old movies, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. And so I put on an old Humphrey Bogart film and listened to that. I thought I'll just be able to listen to this and follow along and remember it. And it worked for a while, but then somebody shot somebody and somebody screamed and the car sped away. And I got really frustrated and I said, "Somebody ought to do some of about that." And that was the beginning of our company here, Narrative Television Network.

And we do description work for movies and television and educational programming. And we began in 1988 and now there's many people in the business, but in the beginning it was pretty much us and our friends at WGBH in Boston and got to work a lot of that. And then out of that we won an Emmy award for our first season on national television. I was asked to make a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters. The next thing I know I'm a professional speaker, I was backstage with several other well known speakers who encouraged me to be an author. So I took that challenge and did it. And out of that movie studios wanted to turn a number of my books into movies, which has happened for me. Now, those movies are described. So it's come full circle for me. And then I got to meet you Melody and my life changed because I got to be on this podcast today.

Melody Goodspeed: Thank you so much, Jim. I will take it. Thank you so much for sharing all this. There's so many things that we both share. I too lost my eyesight, had that news and it's a hard place to be. And you had mentioned and AFB was actually, I had no guide either. I mean, it was hard. I really want to thank you so much for bringing that part up because I don't think we talk about that part enough, quite frankly, in this world of, "Hey, you're going to go blind with all your dreams of what you wanted to do." And then boom. And AFB was actually one of the first places that I found in my sight loss journey.

So it's great. And your idea like going back to what you said about you were sitting in your 9 by 12 room turned on the TV and the ideas brought from there just really says a lot about how you just are so optimistic and take these opportunities. I've read your book, The Art of Optimism, and I love part where it just even talks about how optimism basically it's in every aspect of your life. That you can overcome financial problems, physical problems, disabilities, and personal challenges, which we all face. Can you talk to us just about optimism? Because I think it's so important, especially in this day and age that we're living in right now.

Jim Stovall: Well, I am as a bestselling author of over 50 books with 10 million copies in print around the world. And I'm embarrassed to admit to you and your audience that when I could read with my eyes, I don't know that I ever read a whole book cover to cover.

Melody Goodspeed: I didn't either. You're a good company.

Jim Stovall: I was an athlete and they really never encouraged me to study. So I never did. But after losing my site and discovering audio books and that you could listen to them at accelerated speeds, I have read literally thousands pf books. I read a book almost every day. That's what I do. Part of it's I love reading and part of it is that's my business now. But, I had really never read a lot of books. Well, one of the first books I was encouraged to read by one of my mentors was Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. And that book was transformational for me. Hill was born in the 1880s and wrote that book in 1938, it remains the best selling book ever in the field of personal development and motivation. And one of the principles he put in there was every heart back, every setback, every heartache, every defeat is endowed with the seed of a greater good.

So every problem has within it the seed of an opportunity. And when you really understand it, opportunities come to us disguised as problems. The whole world's praying for a great idea and they trip over one, about three times a week. The only thing you got to do to have a great idea, Melody, is go through your daily routine, wait for something bad to happen and ask yourself, how could I have avoided that? And the answer to that question is a great idea. And the only thing you got to do have a great business is ask one more question. How could I help other people avoid that? And the world will bring us fame and fortune and notoriety and legacy and success or anything you want if you'll just care about other people and solve their problems. Well, optimism is such a key to that because the key to finding solutions to problems is believing they're there in the first place.

And the pessimist, as I point out in my book are virtually, always wrong because they're always looking at the problems of the world today in the context of the current moment. And with my late great friend and mentor, Paul Harvey always used to say, "No one knows enough to be a pessimist." Because there are problems that are going to assert themselves into the world we live in, but the thing you cannot factor in are the developments and the solutions that are going to come to play in the coming years and decades that are going to help us solve those problems. And then the solutions to those problems will create other problems and that's the human cycle and that's where we live. But, I believe in being an optimist.

And there was actually, as I recounted in that book, there was a medical study done, a very in depth, significant study of people who are optimists and people who are pessimist. And they actually did medical research on what is the difference in their health, actual physical health, not a mental process, but physical health. And it was determined that being a pessimist, expecting the worst and believing in the worst, being a pessimist is more detrimental to your physical health than smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. And so, hey, if you're having trouble quitting smoking, just get a good attitude and look for positive things and be an optimist and the world will be a better place for you.

Melody Goodspeed: I love it. I love this. There's an acceptance in there that I really heard was accepting that there are problems in life. Because how many times do we try to avoid them? We're good at not tripping, but avoid it. I don't want to have problems today or I don't want to feel what's going to come along with that. But instead of looking them as roadblocks or avoidance, when we let that into our life it actually does help us grow. And I do love how you talk about that. In your book what I really like too is that we are naturally wired to be optimistic and we make the choice to be a pessimist. And that really hit me in a hard way. I know it's simple, but it did. It', out there on social media. It's in our news, it's in our culture. It's just to be and then how much energy it takes and what it's done to us as people.

Jim Stovall: I mean, we are born optimists. We are born fearless. I mean, the only thing that infants are afraid of is falling and loud noises. I mean, if you drop them or create a loud noise, they have an innate fear. But other than that, they're not afraid of anything. And if you can imagine you and I are going to go on stage in an arena, there's 10,000 people out there. These are adults, business people, or career people out there, 10,000 of them. And if I ask how many of you can come up here on stage, sing a song, dance, and draw a picture. If you got five volunteers, I would be shocked. They would say, "No, I can't do that. I have no talent. I can't sing. I can't dance. I can't draw a picture."

Now let's change only one thing in that little scenario. Let's have 10,000, seven year olds there. We have 10,000 seven year olds. And if I ask how many of you can draw a picture, sing a song, and dance. Every one of them believes they can. They know they can, they do it all the time. They believe the world is anything's possible. And so we really have to learn how to be a pessimist. Being an optimist is something that, that really we're born with. It comes naturally.

Melody Goodspeed: I love that. And it's right. And I keep thinking now, I've got this great picture of a bunch of seven year olds having a party, but that seven year old lives within us, right?

Jim Stovall: Yeah. Just as an aside, I was on a flight not longer in go and it got delayed and we're sitting on the runway for a long, long time. And there was a family across the aisle from me with a little kid, probably around six or seven. And her mother says, "I'm sorry, we're going to have to wait a little while. You will have to be patient. Wait." And she said, "Wow, we get to stay on the plane longer. What a great thing." And all of a sudden I realized, "Wow, a flight delay is a great thing." I never thought about that.

Melody Goodspeed: I never have either. But I love how you pointed out how we can kick habits by being smart. And then looking at how fun it is for a kid to be on a flight. I love it. Anything can be flipped?

Jim Stovall: Yes. Anything can be positive. It's a matter of how we look at it and where we see. And all things are not good. I mean, losing my sight was not in and of itself a positive thing, but when I look at all the good things that have come into my life because of it I have to say overall, I'm optimistic. I meet people and particularly people, if they're coming out of a bad relationship or a bad marriage marriage, they're are getting divorced. And they say, absolutely nothing good came out of my relationship with that person. And I always say, "Well, tell me about your three kids." And all of a sudden they realize, I went through whatever I had to go through, but I got these three amazing little human beings in my life. And that's a big deal.

So sometimes life seems like this utter chaos we're going through and nothing makes sense and everything's hard and painful, but occasionally you'll get to a plateau in life and the clouds will clear and you can look back on where you've been and you realize, "Wow, as weird and difficult and chaotic as that was, there's no other way I would've gotten from there to here." And you realize that a lot of those problems brought with it some great benefits and real blessings in our lives.

Melody Goodspeed: I love that. And you're right. I feel the same way about my own personal blindness journey. And so do any of us that go through something traumatic. It not, it's sticky, it's ugly, it's scary it. But I mean, I think one point that I even myself struggle with is even on the days that, I mean, we can't be happy, go lucky all the time. That's just not feasible. And I look at that acceptance piece that you talked about is understanding that. Like for me, some days I have bad days, I just call them. I'm having a blind day and my family knows that I'm having a hard time with it right then.

Not being able to see my kids or get in the car and drive like I used to, or how did I get here? What advice would you give our listeners just with anything they're dealing with their life that they'll realize that these moments are still very much part of life and how to work through them. That it doesn't mean they're pessimist, that they're just having a rough time. Because I think sometimes we tend to go from one extreme to the other on the pendulum and not understanding there's a whole middle ground too.

Jim Stovall: Well, I think we have to realize that that is not unique to those of us who deal with blindness and we need to be very cautious in identifying ourselves as a blind person or thinking that that is who we are. That's something we deal with, but that's not who we are. And everybody, whether you're having a blindness day or someone else is having a jerk boss day or a bad weather day or I don't feel good day or whatever it is, people will always deal with those things. And we're only as big as the smallest thing it takes to divert us from where we should be. But we all have those things. And one of the real blessings I got in my life, I don't talk about it often, but I'm my parents' third child, the first two died.

I had a brother that died of cystic fibrosis and a sister that died of leukemia and anyone out there that has seen the movie, The Ultimate Gift based on my novel, Abigail Breslin played a little girl dying of leukemia. And that was based on my sister. But because my sister was sick when I was a little kid, my parents took her all over the country to doctors and specialists. So I had to spend a lot of time with my grandparents. And I'm in a different state and I don't have my toys and my friends and my dog and all the things that you like when you're a little guy. And I was, I guess, in a bad mood. And my grandmother explained to me, she said, "Now we have a rule here at our house. You can complain all you want right after you fill out your golden list."

And I said, "What is a golden list?" And she said, "It's very simple. All you got to do is write down 10 things you're thankful for." Well, I wasn't even old enough to write so she wrote it down for me. And I wrote down 10 things I was thankful for. Well, all of a sudden I'm having a great day. And from that day to this day, almost 60 years later, I do this every day. I think of 10 things I'm thankful for every morning. And I'll tell you, it is virtually impossible to think of 10 things you're thankful for and then go out and have a bad day. You really got to work at. And if you start to feel those feelings or those thoughts, if you'll just go back and think, well, let's think of all the things I'm thankful for and you can really impact and change your attitude. And we change our life when we change our mind. It's simply a mindset of how we deal with things.

Melody Goodspeed: I feel like we're at a mic drop moment here. It's so true. And I'm going to start doing that myself and just recanting those things. And it really is hard to be in a bad mood. When I get that way, sometimes I just sit there and I smile while I'm in a bad mood because you can't be angry if you're smiling, it's really hard to do. It's almost like you're having that battle with yourself. Thank you so much for this, Jim. And I know we could keep talking for hours and we still are going to because you're just so amazing to be with, but we are at our 20 minutes already and I can't even believe we're here, but we're not done yet. We're going to bring our public relations manager, John Mackin in for some fun times with us and some questions to answer. But again, thank you so much for this lively discussion. I've really, really enjoyed it.

Jim Stovall: Well, thank you. And I look forward to the questions and as I tell my live audiences, I only have two rules on the questions. Don't ask anything I don't know the answer to. Because we have a rule here at my company that says, Jim should never look stupid. We don't always succeed, but we try. And the only other rule I always tell my live audience is when you're dealing with a blind guy, don't raise your hand. Because when you do, bad things are going to happen and you're going to feel dumb and I'm not going to call on you. But anyway, that's my only rules on the questions.

Melody Goodspeed: John, can you handle that?

John Mackin: Well, Jim here at the Inform and Connect Podcast, there are no wrong answers.

Melody Goodspeed: I love it.

John Mackin: What really struck me during this discussion was you talking about reading and a little bit about writing. Well, just as far as you being an author. So I would love to know and I think our audience would, what are three books you would recommend to our audience and why?

Jim Stovall: Well, I mean, I recommend anybody who wants something in their life they don't have now, if you want more success, more relationships, more anything. I think Napoleon Hills book Think and Grow Rich is the most profound. More successful people in every walk of life have read that single title than any other book. And it's different than any other book because Napoleon Hill was a newspaper reporter, a very young man. In fact, he was there the day the Wright brothers flew the first time and he was sent out to interview Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world. And he ask Carnegie the same question you and I would, how do you get rich? How do you become successful? And Carnegie said, "No one has ever quantified the science of success. But if you'll dedicate the next 20 years of your life to it, you'll be the one to reveal that to the world."

And Carnegie introduced Napoleon Hill to Thomas Addison and Henry Ford and JC Penney and over 500 of the most successful people in the world during that era. 500 of them. And he took all of that information and quantified it into a book called Think and Grow Rich. So it's not really one guy's theory. It's the synthesis of 500 people who are already successful. And so first I always recommend people read, Think and Grow Rich. And then if you're talking about my titles, my book, You Don't Have to be Blind to See, is my story of losing my sight and becoming an Olympic athlete and starting Narrative Television and all the things that have happened in my life. So that's kind of my story.

And then the other one's The Ultimate Gift. That's a novel, a short novel and really the audio book on it was done by Tom Bosley of Happy Days and Father Dowling Fame. He's Mr. C. He did an amazing job on that. And that novel created my first movie with James Garner and then it became a movie trilogy and it's created a phenomenon around the world. So if I had to pick three time titles, it would be those.

John Mackin: You call The Ultimate Gift a novel, but it's largely autobiographical. How do you blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction?

Jim Stovall: That's a great question. I mean, it is a fiction story. I made it up, but so many of the things in that book happened to me, the lessons that I attribute to Red Stevens, the patriarchy in that book, most of them came from my grandfather and my grandmother. And if any author is truly honest with themselves and anybody else, they would say there's no real true fiction. It's just different people and places that you play a little game. What if I did this? What if I did that? And you start knowing things about people and doing things and you put that together and you tell a story. So my friends and my family, whenever I have a novel come out or a fiction book come out, they want to know, well, is this about me? Is this about me? And in part it is. But the cool thing about it is you can take the best parts of all your friends and make it into a good guy, or you can take the worst parts of everybody you know and you can turn it into a villain anytime you want.

John Mackin: I love that. You practically took the words out of my mouth. You can form your own heroes and villains from the attributes that you know from the real world people. I could talk about this all day. I also want to back up a step because I agree with you. I confess that I have read, Think and Grow Rich, and I thought it was fantastic. And what I really appreciated about it, and I'm just curious about your take on this, is he was at the end of the day, Hill, a boots on the ground journalist. I mean, I confess I haven't read a ton of his journalism works, but he must have been pretty good about it because he just gathered a wealth of all of these stories of these highly success people and put it down in one place. So you're really reading like a treasure trove of knowledge when you read that book. I'm very-

Jim Stovall: Just a brief thing about that and Hill was so unique in that as a journalist. I mean, he started Success Magazine and did that. And as a young man, when I was getting out of college, I had a mentor that taught me most of what I know about business named Lee Braxton. And he made me read that book three times before he would even talk to me. And he was very old at that time and I was just a young punk kid. But later on, I wrote about that in a book I did called, A Millionaire Map: My Journey From Poverty to Prosperity. And the head of the Napoleon Hill foundation called me and said, "I loved your book." He said, do you realize that your mentor Lee Braxton was Napoleon Hill's best friend. And he gave the eulogy at Hill's funeral and they sent me a file of letters, probably two inches thick, that Napoleon Hill and Lee Braxton exchanged during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s up until Hill's death in 1970s. So it's kind of this weird connection I've always had with him.

Melody Goodspeed: That is an amazing story.

John Mackin: That is fascinating. And I'm sure Melody did too, probably chuckled a little bit when you referred to the younger version of yourself as a young punk, because one of the questions I did want to get in here was, and I ask this frequently of our guests, if you could go back and give your 18 year old self one piece of advice, what would that be?

Jim Stovall: Say yes more often and don't be afraid. Rarely in the final analysis, do we look back and regret the mistakes we made, as much as we regret the things we were afraid to try. I would try more things. I would venture out more and risk more. I'd other make a good mistake than never try.

Melody Goodspeed: I need to tell my own self that. No, I agree with you. And I think we all do that. It's like, "Oh my gosh, I wish I would've done that." We're so afraid we're going to look stupid or not do it right.

John Mackin: They say that, I don't think this was Hill, but it was maybe a similar text. There was something that if you're not successful, it means you haven't failed enough. And the takeaway I believe was don't be afraid of failure.

Jim Stovall: I have a friend that wrote a book, Gary Richardson. It's called Fear is Never Your Friend. And there are things that we should be cautious about. Now, please understand that. But fear is that overwhelming aversion to anything that's unknown to us. We need to be cautious when we cross the street, we need to be cautious when we deal with real crises in our life, but we should never let them control us. We need to control those things and don't let them control us.

John Mackin: Couldn't have said it better. What do you think Melody? Do we have time for one more?

Melody Goodspeed: We do. I'm really not ready to end this though.

John Mackin: Jim, if you could have coffee with any historical figure, who would you choose?

Melody Goodspeed: And it can be a coffee or tea party, because we've done that here too. People can't make up their minds of what. Usually I want to join.

Jim Stovall: If I could have coffee with one person in history, it would probably be Jesus Christ just because there is so much mystery. There's so much unknown. But he is a transformational person in the world. And I don't mean necessarily in a religious context, I'm talking about a historical context because when you look at the major religions or philosophies in the world, he seems to be there. And I was shocked when I read Quran the first time, that he's one of the five great prophets in the Muslim faith. And how he's seems to be in the center of everything. But there's so much confusion about who was he? What did he say? What did he mean when he said that? So he would be one I would love to meet with, and then just on a personal deal, as a great speaker, a great leader, a great thinker, Winston Churchill would be among my favorites.

Melody Goodspeed: I would want to know about both of this too. And reminded me of our previous conversation. You were talking about Jesus and loved how he pretty much he walked on water. That should have been the mic drop, but he didn't stop there. And that was fun.

Jim Stovall: It's always interesting to think about who these people are. But one of the great things you know through audio books I have discovered is I can go meet just about anybody I want. And then I have found that to be an amazing thing in my life, because among my 50 books, I write things about myself and it's translated into several dozen languages and I put my phone number or my email address in all of my books. So I hear from thousands and thousands of people around the world and it's amazing how much they know about me and I'll actually go back and research something in my life or my family before I write a book and I'll write about it. And then 15, 20 years later I've forgotten a lot of it. There are people that call me, they know more about me, my life, and my books than I do because they've studied it. Well, I can do the same thing with Gandhi or Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt or anybody I choose.

Melody Goodspeed: I love that.

John Mackin: Very true. I think on that note, it's a good place to call it a day here. Jim, can you let us know, let our listeners know where we can find you online. We want to learn more about you. Where do we go?

Jim Stovall: S-T-O-V-A- L-L.

Melody Goodspeed: Well thank you so much. And I highly recommend, and I'm going to add the Art of Optimism during these times by Jim Stovall as well. It is a good read that just really filled my heart and has just, I want to thank you for that one. I'm going to read the rest of the series too because it's just been back to what that philosophy of helping others. And we all are capable of doing that. And I thank you for teaching us that too. Because I think we are losing sight of these small, but yet vital ways to live. So thank you and I am going to go try and help somebody today. Maybe a couple.

Jim Stovall: Well, you are great. I want to thank you both for allowing me to be on here. When my books or movies come out, I do literally several hundred of these kind of interviews with radio stations and TV stations. And very rarely do I enjoy one of those as much as this. This seems more like a conversation between friends rather than an interview. So I thank you both. You guys do great work.

John Mackin: Oh, wow.

Melody Goodspeed: Thank you. Thank you so much. Yes, that's sweet. I love it. Thank you.

John Mackin: I speak for us both when I say it was an absolute pleasure.

Melody Goodspeed: Yes. So thank you so much. Thank you. To our listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. Remember we're going to create a knife, no limits for people that are blind division peer to AFB. If you want to learn more about our programs and what we're doing, all you'll need to do is visit and learn about our initiatives. Thank you so much for being with us today. Bye everybody.