Embracing disability is one of the hardest things we have to learn. In my last post, I echoed one of my old man’s go-to sayings, “Maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses.”
That should be simple. Most of us know from an early age what we are good at. Am I better with numbers or the pen? Am I a three sport athlete or the first chair in the band? By the time we get out of school, we have somewhat of an idea of what value we bring to the table. But how can we create value with a disability? Let’s face it, having a disability is a pain in the ass. Besides convenient parking spots and the occasional free drink, this whole handicap thing could be a real downer. Think of all the things you wish you could do but can’t due to your disability. The list is pretty frickin long, ain’t it?
For some reason, no one understands how long the list is, quite like potential employers. If you need a refresh on what’s on the list, just go on an interview. They will most likely rattle them off with ease. The fact is there are things you can’t do that others can. The key is to identify the things you CAN do instead. All our lives, we focus on avoiding the negatives of our disabilities. The job search is the perfect time to realize the skillset we develop to adapt to having a disability. For example, since I can’t speak, I have been forced all my life to sit back, observe life, and wait for the perfect time to jump in. Whether it is going up to a girl or selling myself to an executive I want to work with, I get one opportunity to reign them in. It is imperative for me to hone in on what makes them tick and grab their attention. It might be in remembering that someone’s daughter was getting recruited for softball and asking them where she wound up? Or remembering they recently moved and asking how they like the new house? Whatever small detail I could use to ensure them I have the capacity to carry a conversation. That one little detail could spark a conversation that leads to exchanging emails that might just lead to a job. There is something you do better than anyone you know. Find that thing and let it be your best weapon. Other people will begin to notice and start leaning on you.
For example, my coach at Peddie noticed my observational skills during the first year I worked with him. It was only his second year running a program and the job was pulling him in 15 different directions. He needed someone to observe how his student athletes were responding to his staff. Since I was the only coach who didn’t have practice responsibilities, I quickly became his eyes and ears. I would key in on how certain kids would respond to criticism, interactions with their coaches, and mistakes. I would then report back to the head coach, who would then take my observations and deal with it. This would eventually lead to me sitting down with every player before preseason to discuss their goals for the season and help them develop an action plan. I blended my observation skill that I was forced to develop from being non-verbal with my understanding of the type of program my coach wanted to build and created my own value. If you are looking to get a foot in the door, identify what other people do not have that you had to develop due to your circumstances.
What skill(s) did you develop to adapt to life with a disability and how could you use it to launch your career? Please share in the comments. Your experience could bring value to our community.