Your Life is Your Gift

For years, I clung tightly to a fairly narrow idea of what constitutes success. I subscribed to the notion that success is to be found externally, through the accumulation of achievements and accolades, and the receipt of recognition and approval. I held the idea that I had to prove myself, prove myself worthy, lovable, and ultimately, “normal.” I yearned for acceptance, and I wanted more than anything to no longer be seen as different. I carried the idea that if I just achieved enough, people would no longer see me for how I move through the world, but for whom I am beneath the exterior.

I live with a permanent physical disability as a result of acquiring brain damage shortly after I was born. I have Cerebral Palsy, a disorder which typically impacts one’s muscle tone, bodily movement and coordination. Fortunately, the way in which it has impacted my body is contained to my legs, meaning that I cannot walk without the use of assistive devices, and that I rely on the use of a wheelchair a majority of the time. Living in a body which appears different from those of most others, was in and of itself never a significant issue for me. For this, I am very grateful to my family, who never allowed my disability to influence their treatment of me. They made pointed efforts to foster a sense of independence and unlimited capability within me, which had a significant bearing on the development of my self-perception. As such, I have never seen myself as inherently limited or “different.” Rather, I have always seen myself as a “normal” person, who simply moves around the world a bit differently. My disability was and is a very small part of my identity. I live with a disability. I am not disabled.

As much as my self-perception is not aligned with associations of weakness, limitation, incapability, helplessness, powerlessness and so forth, it has been my experience that this is generally not the case in regards to societal perceptions of disability. There have been countless times that I have been placed in something I refer to as the “assumption box” by those with whom I am newly interacting. By “assumption box” I am referring to the preconceived notions people carry in regards to those who may fall outside the realm of “normal,” and it is this “box” that I spent years trying to get out of by accumulating achievements and chasing recognition. That was, until one of the people from whom I so badly wanted approval told me in a round-about way, that I would never receive it from them. As utterly devastating as that was to hear at first, it remains the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. For the first time, I felt truly free. I realized that I had been spending my life chasing that which was not in my control and that by placing my happiness at the discretion of others, I was inadvertently keeping myself powerless, while trying to prove my power. 

From that moment that I decided to no longer wait to embrace the life I have been gifted, or to wait on the permission of others to feel good enough. I decided to embrace my imperfections in their fullness, began to redefine my perception of success and decided to make my definition of myself the only one that matters.  

When people ask me about my disability, I am always quick to tell them that I am thankful for it, and that I wouldn’t change it even if I could. As much as I may have resented the constrictive societal perceptions of disability in the past, I have always known that my disability was given to me for a reason. It has been the catalyst for numerous reflections and insights, and has helped to come into full realization of my life’s purpose. That is, it was only though truly recognizing that I am the only one who holds power over my own life, and consequently giving myself permission to shine unapologetically, that my passion for helping other people come into loving relationships with themselves was fully realized. As such, my motivations for achievement are no longer externally driven. Rather, I am driven by an unrelenting desire to more fully express what I feel I have been put on this planet to do.

I devote my time to spreading a message of unapologetic self-love, and empowering others by getting them in touch with that which is blocking them through counseling, teaching and writing. I absolutely adore the work that I do, and I wake up each day indescribably grateful that I have the privilege of witnessing the beauty that is the human experience in such an intimate way.

And so, what follows are my tips for success. I invite you to take what resonates and leave the rest. 

Make it about Expression and Fulfillment.
True success, in my opinion, is all about nurturing our gifts- making our personal evolution our top priority.  Honoring ourselves by allowing individual expression to be what we ultimately strive for in all that we do, and in all that we create. It’s no longer about “them”, and when it’s no longer about “them”, authenticity shines brightly, because we are freed from feeling we need to seek external validation. We can fill ourselves up. Success is about selfish fulfillment- a good and beautiful selfishness that serves to uplift the planet. 

When we practice selfish fulfillment, we become happier, gentler, and softer, because we recognize that we are here to give of ourselves. That we are in fact, gifts to the world just by being who we are. We recognize that personal expression is, in and of itself, an act of service. We move away from a mentality of competition and move into a mentality of contribution. It becomes about how much we can give, not about how much we can get. It’s about where we are now, not where we’re going to be. 

Recognize the Power of Imperfection
Imperfection, and the necessity of it in our lives, is one of the most profound lessons that living with a disability has taught me. If you were to look for words synonymous with “imperfection” you would most likely find words like defect, deficiency, blemish, fault, weakness, limitation, and so on. Words slanted with negativity that tend to inspire feelings of shame, and self-judgment. Words and feelings that foster a sense of disconnection, and give strength to the fear that often makes us retreat and isolate. But here’s the thing: Imperfection comes with being human. We all have unique imperfections, visible or invisible. Imperfection is inexorably intertwined with the human experience. Imperfection is universal, shared, and normal, and it is by truly recognizing this, that the negativity we often associate with imperfection is dissolved, and rendered devoid of its power to keep us small. Instead, imperfection becomes the basis of personal authenticity and connection- it becomes abundantly powerful.

Embracing imperfection frees us. It fosters a sense of gentleness and self-compassion within us that allows us to take chances and ultimately, partake in our own evolution. Consciously embracing our imperfections gives us permission to make mistakes and separate our global sense of worth from any mistakes or failures we may encounter. That is, it allows us to externalize our mistakes and failures and not become wholly defined by them. Instead, mistakes and failures become an expected part of the journey, and become indications of a willingness to take risks and live fearlessly. 

Get Comfortable with Fear
Fear is not inherently bad. We need it in order to survive and thrive, because without it we would have no way of identifying threat or danger. It protects us- it is needed, normal, and healthy. However, fear becomes problematic when it begins to take on a life beyond our control. When it begins to control each and every decision we make, and thus, prevents us from living life with the zest that we would like to. It can dominate our deepest yearnings by blocking us from fulfilling them, which ultimately truncates the size of our lives, and leaves us with perpetual feelings of dis-ease, dissatisfaction, and discomfort.   

Here’s the thing: discomfort is really the name of the whole game. Discomfort will be present in the act of submitting to our fears as well as in the act of embracing them. It’s simply a matter of choice. Discomfort can either function as a mechanism which keeps us small, or a mechanism which allows us to push, embrace, and ultimately shine…and that is what fearlessness is. It is the understanding that we can give discomfort the power to foster growth and personal expansion, and that often, it can be used to serve us rather than to hinder us.

Your life is your gift, and only you hold the power to decide what you will do with it. Remember that, and you hold the key to success.

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