By Mark E. Smith
The terms disability and courage are forever linked in mainstream culture. After all, there’s rarely a disability-related story in the media where we don’t hear an individual with disability labeled as courageous. The two terms are so intertwined at this point that many people even label those with disability as courageous upon mere sight, where a stranger in the grocery store, knowing nothing about you, might even pat you on the shoulder, noting, “You’re courageous.”
Yet, there’s nothing intrinsically courageous about disability. When one acquires disability, courage does not come with it as a package deal. And, we see this clearly when we think of those with disability who have no willpower or desire to do anything with their lives but feel sorry for themselves, believing that the world is one big injustice. Nope, there’s no courage there.
However, the media does have an absolutely correct point: If you’re going to succeed with disability, you must practice courage. In fact, in much of life, regardless of disability, courage is essential to success. Whether it’s starting a business, speaking in front of a group, asking out a dream date, or dealing with addictions head-on, countless areas of life require courage. And, succeeding with disability is no different – it takes courage.
I recently learned of an acquaintance, a quadriplegic, who interviewed for a fantastic job two states away from where he lived. He drove out to the interview with an attendant, toured the company, and immediately received a job offer – a remarkable opportunity in today’s tough economy, and even more impressive when one realizes that the unemployment rate among those with disabilities is upwards of 65%.
But, he promptly turned down the job. When I inquired why he rejected the remarkable job offer, he explained that the move would simply be too difficult for him due to his disability. At 26, he didn’t own a home or have a wife or kids, but he did have an apartment and established attendant care, and he didn’t want to risk his seeming security by moving two states away for employment.
I had to bite my tongue during that conversation, especially since he’d already turned down the job offer – my challenging him on his decision would have been pointless. However, it’s unquestionable in my mind that the reason why he didn’t take the job was because he simply panicked, letting fear get the best of him. Really, he initially had the motivation at some level to apply and interview for the position, but when he actually received the job offer – that is, when life actually presented him the rare opportunity to rise to the occasion – he failed to pull the trigger, he lacked the courage to move forward.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Mark, you’re being too harsh. It’s not that easy for someone with a profound disability to just pickup and move two states away for a job.”
And, you’d be absolutely right – it’s not easy for someone with a profound disability to just pickup and move two states away. I’ve been in similar situations, and make no mistake, it’s an intimidating proposition. But, that’s where courage comes in. As I would tell my best friends, I don’t care that you have a disability. When you’re unemployed, and you’re offered a fantastic job two states away – and you have courage – you confront any fears in healthy ways, contact the independent living center in the new area, and begin planning the move – it’s that simple. See, courage is when you’re emotionally strong enough to actively move your life forward despite any fears, and you’re able to cope with adversity in order to find success. Courageous people acknowledge the challenge, determine what needs accomplishing to address the challenge, and then take action to overcome the challenge. It’s an elementary process intrinsic to successful living.
Interestingly, courage isn’t a strength that we always possess – again, it’s not intrinsic to disability. Courage is a tool that we accept or deny when life presents it as an option. However, a fascinating aspect of courage is that when we do rise to an occasion and accept courage, it sets us up toward greater successes in life, building upon itself as exponential growth. If the gentleman with the job offer, for example, made the move two states away, starting his career with a very courageous life change, he would have quickly learned that his independence was intrinsic to him, not limited to a subsidized apartment and care. If he’d made the move once, he would have set himself up for the ability to make a second, third, and fourth career move down the road, possessing the courage to go wherever in the world that opportunity called him. Imagine how his career opportunities would have blossomed with the inspiration gained from accepting courage. Instead, he chose to pass on a terrific opportunity, electing to stick to the familiarity that he knows – and it will likely limit his life, geographically, economically, and emotionally in the future unless he overcomes his fears and embraces courage when needed.
Still, none of us have to shun courage when it calls. Again, the first move toward embracing courage sets us up for success long after that initial dare. We don’t graduate college without having used courage to enroll. We don’t raise children to become successful adults without having used courage to address our own parental coping skills along the way. We don’t overcome addictions without using courage to face our fears in the process. And, we don’t succeed with disability without using courage to rise above the adversities that we encounter. Courage, it’s clear, is where all of life’s opportunities for growth, reward, and success begin.
In my own life, I’ve let courage lead me to some fantastic opportunities, having put myself through college, changed career fields, moved entirely across the country, spoken in front of thousands, met the President, traveled extensively, and on and on. Without a doubt, I’ve found that accepting courage opens doors of opportunity that always improve my life. In fact, I’ve learned to use the call for courage at turning points in my life as a barometer for recognizing the opportunities that I should not let pass, no matter how scary – that is, the more intimidated that I feel toward a life event, the more courage I know that I must demonstrate to embrace it, as it’s a sure sign that I’m heading toward a remarkable experience. Till this day, when I get calls to travel cross-country alone, meet with someone famous, or speak in front of thousands, of course I’m initially nervous; yet, more importantly, I kick in my courage, close-out any apprehensions, and know that it’s game on – that is, I play my C Game, the “C” being courage.
As you approach the New Year, I hope you’ll join me and vow to embrace courage in your own life when the occasions arise. No, I don’t know exactly what opportunities the New Year will bring for you, but every day will present moments for you to accept or deny opportunities of courage. Maybe some of those moments will be on a grand scale, a job offer cross-country – so, pack up and go! Or, maybe some of those moments will be on a smaller scale, as with enrolling in community college – so, go down to campus and sign up! Or, maybe some of those moments will be emotional, confronting an addiction or unhealthy relationship – so, seek the support services that you need, and get your personal life on track!
Put simply, in 2009, opportunities for personal growth, reward, and success will present themselves to you everyday – some relating to disability, some toward your career path, others toward your relationships, and on and on. When these opportunities arise, don’t let fear or complacency get the best of you. Rather, embrace courage, and pursue all opportunities – you’ll always find success when you play your C Game.