Knowing Your Strengths as a Professional with Disabilities

My old man, god love him, has the tendency to cycle through old sayings with the best of them. Most of the time they are met with eye rolls but one of those folksy sayings has stuck with me. Especially when it comes time to make the next move in my career. 

“Maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses.” 

I have always loved the idea of hosting my own radio show; talking college football, playing one hit wonders from the early 80s, and ranting about politics. It would be the perfect job for me. I am quirky, opinionated, I like to talk to people, and I have the face for radio. But one tiny hurdle stands in the way… I can’t talk.

This has been an overarching theme in my career. I could overcome my disability just as long as I don’t let it get in the way. I had a hard time coming to the realization that there are some things I just can’t do. Let’s rewind to 2016. 

Feeling comfortable that I have my writing job of 2 years down to a science, I decided to dive into a new hobby that will undoubtedly turn into a lucrative career, coaching football. I just landed a sweet entry level gig at a prep school in New Jersey. There will be a time in your career when you go on an interview and immediately think, "this fits." I immediately clicked with the head coach. He actually had a plan to get the most out of me. I started that summer being the low man on the totem pole. I was of the mindset that I will cut my teeth for a few years before I eventually get a coordinator job. SEC here I come! Little did I know, my coach had a different plan.

I came into the next year with the intention of coaching my own position. But I ended up doing recruiting, scouting, and operational work instead. I was relegated to being behind a desk. Little did I know it fit me like a glove. I was responsible for identifying prospects, breaking down film, and connecting the dots for the coaching staff. At first, I was crushed. My vision of coaching was rolling out of the tunnel on Saturdays, calling plays, and throwing my headset on the ground after a bad call. What my head coach soon made me realize was there was a career in football for me. It just wasn’t what everyone sees on College Gameday. All FBS programs employ what they call, Support Staff. Or what I call, the West Wing of College Football. They hired guys who would specialize in one specific role, such as, Director of On Campus Recruiting or Director of Scouting. Some of these roles are the first to be filled by a new Head Coach. Thanks to this, I might have a career in college football after all. 

I learned that when you have a dream with a disability, you often have to reshape that dream to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, as my dad would say. Think of your dream job and consider how your disability might present obstacles and then begin to carve your own detour. Maybe you always wanted to host SportsCenter but you have a speech impediment. Maybe producing podcasts is the way to go. What we as professionals with disabilities need to understand is that sometimes we don't fit into a box, we need to be creative with how we could contribute and help build our own job description from there. 

Leave a comment. What is your dream job? How would your disability get in the way? Let’s brainstorm some alternatives to getting to the same destination.