By Mark E. Smith
I’ve spent my whole life not being enough. Truly, from my birth, onward, I’ve never been enough. The doctors declared me a vegetable who should be institutionalized. My father was so ashamed of my disability that he refused to push me in my wheelchair in public. Mrs. Robinson, my third-grade public school teacher, fought to keep me of her classroom because I wasn’t physically on par with the other students. My prom date wouldn’t dance with me because I used a wheelchair. Waitresses have refused to serve me, and even in 2014, I still occasionally face discrimination because in the eyes of some strangers, I am not enough.
And, it remains the case, that in so many situations and perceptions, I am not enough. However, I want to share with you a very fitting story about what it’s like to face such a struggle, what it means to be labeled, to go through life as never being enough. See, when I was around 13, I desperately pursued my physical independence, knowing that in a world that didn’t view me as enough, I was in a race for survival, avoiding the potential of ending up in a long-term care facility because I couldn’t care for myself. And, so as part of enhancing my physical strength toward independent living skills, I began going out every day after school and pushed my manual wheelchair along the street in front of my house. I was severely spastic, with terrible coordination, and used a power chair, so pushing a manual wheelchair was a tremendous struggle. I fought to get both hands on the push rims, and gave a single thrust of the wheelchair, throwing my body into spasms – then, as the wheelchair coasted to a stop, I started the process all over again. It took me over an hour to go down the block and back.
However, it wasn’t physically pushing the manual wheelchair that was the biggest challenge. Rather, it was the literal voices along the block. A few neighborhood boys of my age taunted me every day, calling me retard, mocking me with spastic gestures, telling me I was not enough, that I couldn’t even push a wheelchair correctly.
Nevertheless, every day for that school year, I put myself in the line of ridicule and humiliation and pushed that wheelchair up and down the block, literally being told I wasn’t enough with each challenging push of the wheels. It was a set schedule: at 3:30 every day, I pushed my manual wheelchair, and the other kids followed along humiliating me. It was painful and scary and enraging and embarrassing, but I had to endure it for my greater good.
That one year taught me a lot about not being enough. In pushing that manual wheelchair, all the while being mocked, I didn’t merely improve my physical abilities, I developed perseverance, determination and autonomy. I wasn’t pushing to be enough to the other kids or the rest of those who discounted me. Rather, I was pushing my own race to become more than enough.
The fact is, I’ll never be enough. Heck, my own father went to his grave unquestionably ashamed of me, I had a ex-girlfriend give me a written list of why I wasn’t worthy of her love, and I still face public discrimination and humiliation from time to time. I will never meet certain standards or be enough as a person in the eyes of some.
So, then, how are many aspects of my life explained? If I was not enough to my parents, how did I go on to successful careers in the mobility industry, writing and speaking? If I was not enough to my third-grade teacher, how was I able to go on to college and grad school? If I have not been enough of a man in the view of some strangers, how have I succeeded in raising a beautiful daughter as a full-time single father? The list goes on and on, but the point is, despite my never being enough in the eyes of so many, how have I, to the contrary, had so many successes?
The answer is universal. We should never strive to be enough in the eyes of others – it’s a low bar to measure ourselves. Instead, we should ignore the false ceilings that others place upon us and instead push to our own best abilities. And, in that process an amazing transformation occurs: we eclipse never being enough by actually becoming more than enough.