By Mark E. Smith
We call my friend, George, “MacGyver,” nicknamed after the television show, because he can make anything mechanical work within very little time, even when presented with limited resources. When I watch George work, his process is fascinating in that when he encounters an obstacle, he’ll often step back, assess the situation, think for a moment, then get right back to work, embarking on Plan B. What I’ve witnessed is that the way George works is that he only focuses on the resources that he has, and he fully utilizes them till he makes a task work. In situations where others would get frustrated, make excuses, or give up, George simply uses what he has to get the job done.
Whether George realizes it, his problem-solving process proves that he knows a fundamental to successful living: If we worry less about what we don’t have, and focus on fully utilizing what we do have, we succeed beyond expectations. This principle is especially important for those of us with disabilities, where we need not worry about what we don’t have, but focus on what we do have, making the most of our circumstances, disability and all.
I suppose that some might look at my having cerebral palsy, and immediately project a list a mile long of what I can’t do – you name them, from as obvious as my not being able to walk to as obscure as my inability to play a guitar, all in a list of thousands long. And, they’re right – there are likely thousands of activities and tasks that I can’t physically accomplish due to my disability. However, what such people don’t realize is that, despite my clear limitations, I’m still equipped with far more potentials than I ever need to succeed – just as we all are. Again, it’s not what we don’t have that matters; rather, it’s what we do have that counts.
I can’t walk, but wheelchairs have allowed me to graduate schools, maintain a rewarding career, and raise a family.
I don’t have the dexterity to write with a pen, but my ability to type with a single finger has allowed me to author a host of books, write countless articles, and run a leading web site.
My speech isn’t perfect, affected by my disability, but it has allowed me to reach thousands upon thousands on stages across this land.
Maybe I don’t have all of the physical abilities that others have, but I don’t need them – I have precisely the potentials that I need, and by simply utilizing what I have to the fullest, it allows me to succeed to a tremendous degree every day.
Among the traps of disability experience is when one becomes stuck in a cycle of dwelling on what one can’t do, what one doesn’t have, or what one has lost:
If only I could walk….
If only I wasn’t ill….
If only I had the abilities that I used to have….
However, such thinking gets one nowhere but in a rut of depression, complacency, and denial. Such thinking really keeps one in a mode of excuses, shunning accountability, defeating one’s potentials for success. When one only focuses on what one doesn’t have, one is really looking for permission not to do anything with one’s life – one is taking the easy way out.
A friend of mine is presently dissatisfied with his job, and when I inquired if he had his resume’ out on the market, he said, no. “It’s among the worst job markets in the history of the U.S., unemployment pushing 10%,” he explained. “Why would I go look for a better job now?”
“…Because millions of people probably share your negative outlook toward the job market,” I said. “Everyone’s so focused on the lack of opportunity and the bad economy that many aren’t even bothering to look for better jobs. If you’re the one guy who ignores the mass negativity of job loss numbers, and focus on the opportunities that are out there, I bet you’ll be amazed at the opportunities you’ll find. Don’t worry about what jobs aren’t available, focus on the ones that are.”
This same approach applies to disability experience. If we focus on all that we don’t have – that is, the limitations in our lives – we’re not focusing on the potentials that we do have, which is a mind set that holds us back with greater force than any physical limitations. Again, whether you’re like Lance Armstrong, able-bodied to seemingly super-human strength, racing for an 8th Tour de France title, or Ed Roberts, paralyzed from the neck down by polio, but went on to found the independent living movement and serve as a government official, you have all that you need to succeed – you need merely to recognize your strengths and potentials, and harness them.
Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, proclaimed that all men are created equal. And, despite his intent of legal and social equality for all, I believe that he stopped short of a far greater meaning: We all have an equal opportunity to reach within ourselves and live up to our fullest potentials, whatever they may be. Let us not focus on or regret what we don’t have; rather, let us recognize the amazing potentials and gifts in our lives, then strive to utilize them to the fullest – with tenacity and perseverance – toward success. Put simply, we’re all equipped with what we need to succeed on our individual paths – we just need to acknowledge our good fortunes and put them to greater use. We need to look toward the positives in our lives as conduits for success, not dwell on the negatives. What we don’t have in the way of physical abilities is far less consequential in the grand scheme of our lives than many realize; rather, it’s our present abilities and potentials that make all of the difference in our lives. If we can’t run, walk; if we can’t walk, let us use a wheelchair – and what we’ll find is that getting to our dream destinations remains entirely possible, just a different mode than some others use. That is, we always remain equipped for success – we merely need to use all that we have to pursue it.
No, I can’t walk, my speech isn’t perfectly clear, nor can I physically perform countless tasks. Yet, it hasn’t hampered my successes or quality of life. Why not, some may wonder? …Because I always know where to look for solutions: My equipped potentials.