My Unexpected Career Path as a Person With Cerebral Palsy
My early life consisted of three operations, leg braces and countless hours of rehabilitation therapy. I never really understood it as a child, but knew I was different from all the other kids. I asked myself “why me?” so often, and also repeated that question to my parents, friends and family. I just wanted to be “normal.” I wanted to run with the other kids, play sports with the other kids — not be different. Doctors said, “You can’t do that; you shouldn’t let your son do that.” To a certain extent they were looking out for my well-being, and sadly I would have to learn to adapt to and overcome limitations as I got older, especially when certain situations presented themselves.
The years passed quickly. With an overwhelming amount of support from friends and loved ones, I began to push these limits. I began to knock a lot of the things many thought I could not do off that “list.” I walked. Walking turned into running; running turned into playing recreational baseball and basketball for local town leagues. I was by no means an all-star, but I had made it. I overcame and I adapted. I was out there with the “normal kids.” Sure, some probably thought I didn’t belong, and people stared and laughed, but I was exceeding my own expectations, the expectations of my friends and family, and hopefully inspiring others.
Let’s jump to my college years. I probably should have settled for a desk job, but for the last 18 years of my life, I had been living life on my own terms. I developed a passion for cooking and restaurants in high school, and decided to pursue that in college. My initial goal was to become a chef. However, upon consulting my family and doctors at the time, I tweaked that thought process and applied and got accepted to Johnson & Wales University in the fall of 2005 with a minor in restaurant management and a major in food service management.
I used this time to not only grow intellectually, but also socially. I began to network and build friendships with other students and professors alike over my four years. I am fortunate to be able to tell you that some of these people are still very close to me, and continue to help shape me into who I am today.
I successfully obtained both my degrees in the spring of 2009. I was on top of the world — another mountain conquered. The job search proved a little difficult, to the point where I probably did not pursue certain positions as hard as I could or should have. I worked for a McDonald’s franchise all through college, and that is where I am currently employed today.
Is it the best job? No, but I am thankful for it. I have worked my way up to the position of assistant manager, and am also in charge of hiring for a restaurant that does over 3 million in sales annually. I have also had the opportunity to build my own reputation, as well as network with some great individuals over the last 15 years. Perhaps my greatest accomplishment is lasting in an environment that people thought I should avoid, all while paying my own bills and doing it on my own terms for 15 years.
This is just a brief portion of my story, and I consider myself very fortunate to be afforded the opportunities to accomplish what I have over the last 32 years. I hope this story brings you a little bit of inspiration. The truth is, the limitations will always be there, and sadly so will the doubters. They will always want to tell you what you cannot do or what you won’t accomplish. I beg you to make those decisions for yourself. Listen to your loved ones and doctors, as they will have your best interest in mind. However, you know yourself better than anyone. Your energy and determination will often carry you farther than you ever thought possible; it sure has for me.
As you’re breaking down walls and climbing mountains, you can build quite a following of friends and colleagues that follow your lead and look up to you. You may not know it, but they will be there. You will need them and they will need you. These are the people that will feed your fire and believe in you, even on the days when you don’t believe in yourself.
Cerebral palsy was not a life I chose, and is certainly not an easy thing to deal with every day. However, with the right attitude, I am confident that you can live a life worth living and do something you’re proud of. Don’t look at your CP as a curse, problem or roadblock. So many people chase money in this world or other kind of goods. Live life on your own terms and let your name be worth more than your bank account!
Getty image by Filiphoto