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How Working Hard Can Look Different When You Have a Disability

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The day I learned hard work didn’t always yield desired results, I was 10 years old and I had a few friends over to play. After a while, we complained about being bored. My father overheard the complaints and offered us all something to do. He said if we all raked the backyard, he’d pay us each $10 if we completed the job.

As 10-year-old kids, that sounded like a fabulous offer, so we raced outside to rake the backyard! We had a fairly large wooded yard at the time, and raking all the leaves up wasn’t an easy task. After less than an hour, my two friends began to question if it was worth it or not. I insisted that we wouldn’t get paid if we didn’t finish, so we shouldn’t stop. However, they were no longer motivated, and they left. I finished the remainder of the yard myself.

When I went inside to tell my dad, he gave us all $10. Later, I asked why they’d also received the promised amount when they didn’t finish the job. He explained that their parents are close family friends, and he didn’t want to upset them. My father said I had a better “work ethic” than they do, and therefore will be more successful.

Because I also got paid, I wasn’t overly upset about the unfairness of it then — especially because my father would frequently make comments about how if I was a hard worker, I’d have lots of success in all aspects of my life. I would get a great education, have a high paying career and lots of people would always want to be around me. However, if I was “lazy” and “unmotivated” like my friends at the time, I would have extreme difficulty in life as I got older.

Well I’m older now, and would still categorize myself as a hard worker. When I am motivated, I am really motivated! I do have a job I love, and a few good friends, and I would attribute both to hard work. However, I also have autism and I have to work incredibly hard just to be operating on a “normal” level. Often my hard work yields mediocre results, and that’s actually something I am frequently happy with, because I’ve done my best. 

In a large group of people, I may have a lot to say, but it’s off topic or inappropriate. I am often bored with others’ conversational topics and have to remind myself to look interested and respond accordingly. If I’ve managed to do all that, I’m usually happy with myself, because that’s a lot of work for me. Despite working really hard on certain interactions with people, I still don’t have many friends or people I can go hang out with.

As an adult, I am often faced with my performance in many circumstances as not being enough to result in the most desired outcome. I’m proud if I manage to behave like those around me and not offend anyone. And that’s great, but it doesn’t typically result in close friendships, romantic relationships or job promotions.

When you have a disability, you might have to work hard at things others don’t have to. And sometimes your hard work can feel like it’s not enough. Despite being a hard working individual, there are still a lot of things I haven’t achieved, but it’s not because I’m not motivated enough. And just because I’ve not yet achieved them, doesn’t mean I won’t at some point. It may just look different or take a little longer, and that’s OK, because I’m still moving forwards.

Getty image by Serr Novik.

Originally published: July 23, 2018
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