The White Stripes are a cutting-edge band that creates some of the most complex, loud rock-and-roll music that you’ll ever hear, filling stadiums with bigger-than-life sounds – and, it all comes from only two people, playing a guitar and a set of drums. “Because we’re so limited, we have to be creative in what we craft,” says Jack White, guitarist, lead singer, and song writer.
Disability experience can prove a lot like playing in a two-man band, trying to compete with bands of more members and instruments. At what point, though, as the White Stripes prove, do limitations breed inspiration and success, on levels where one finds a way to turn seeming restrictions into liberation, where a lone musician can rival the power of an orchestra?
In many ways, limitations encourage focus, and focus is what’s needed to achieve success – all of which often takes place within the realm of living with disability. You’ll encounter those with disabilities who have experienced tremendous hardships, yet have achieved tremendous success in many areas of life. Indeed, it’s a seeming contradiction that hardship and tragedy – facets of many disabilities – allow or foster success, just as with two musicians filling a stadium with sounds that can only come from multi-piece bands. And, yet, time and time again, limitations – disability and otherwise – provide the focus needed to achieve success.
When Richard Pryor recently died, his widow said that Pryor’s multiple sclerosis brought clarity and comfort to his life that he’d never known, where disability encouraged him to look at himself and others with a new perspective, one stemming from understanding rather than angst. And, limitations have such an affect on many, where they’re often encouraged to see what they may have previously overlooked or ignored. Limitations, in fact, narrow one’s field in a way that clarity and focus are all but demanded, where one inherently maximizes potentials. In Pryor’s case, his focus was more demanded by circumstance than idealism, where he was always running, chasing drugs, chasing women, trying to flee his demons. However, once he literally couldn’t run anymore as a result of multiple sclerosis, he had to focus on himself and those within his family – his physical limitations created emotional focus and growth. In this way, Pryor achieved greater success as a husband and father under the limitations of his disability than previously without, proving that limitations can inherently empower.
If limitations can inherently empower, then even more remarkable success is achievable through consciously knowing how limitations can foster success. In working with many wheelchair users over the years, I’ve witness countless specialty control needs, where a user must only use a single body part and movement – a finger, foot, or tongue – to control his or her powerchair, where with focus, creativity, and tenacity, expansive mobility is achieved. The same conscious effort that goes into maximizing physical abilities – working with constraints to achieve success – applies to so many aspects of life. If a stock broker, for example, applies the same creativity, tenacity, and foresight to maintaining portfolios as one does in addressing one’s disability – identifying potentials amidst limitations – he’s bound to succeed. The key to success in all aspects of life, then, is to consciously focus on the sole areas of opportunity that you have at any given moment, and work them to fullest potentials. If your disability relates to your legs, what can you achieve with your upper body and education? If stocks as a whole are tanking, where is a sector of potential growth to enhance your portfolio? If your relationship isn’t fulfilling, in what steps can you identify that will improve it? There are ingredients to life, ones that are never constant or equal – and, it’s in assessing the ingredients in your life at any point, recognizing what can be created, that breeds resiliency and success – it’s where single instruments are played to fullest potentials.
For the New Year, all of us – disabled or not – have the chance to view our limitations as opportunities, where we can fully assess the potentials that we have, thriving and empowering our roles. You may have a few less instruments in your band than others, but play them with more skill, talent, and creativity than most others – and you will fill stadiums with the sounds of your success.