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Why I Focus on My Amazing Dreams, Not My Disability

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I have an amazing life. I had an amazing childhood. I had an amazing college experience. I continue to inspire people through writing and speaking. I’m a loving husband and the proud father of two beautiful boys. I have great friends, long dinners and fun trips. I have many amazing experiences.

There is a problem. I have a pesky disability.  To be honest, my disability is more than a pesky nuisance. I was born with cerebral palsy. I use a wheelchair to get around. I need help with getting ready in the morning.  I need people to help me eat.  I cannot drive a car.  I speak with a speech impediment.

There is a battle between my disability and my desire to live out an amazing life. Throughout my life, I had the option of making my disability the heart of my life or making my amazing dreams the heart of my life.  Every time I made my amazing dreams the heart, I was happier and more successful. Without question every time I make my disability the heart of my life, I’m not happy or productive.

This idea was ingrained in me from almost the day I was born.  My amazing parents did not make my disability the heart of our lives. Rather, we wanted to make our family experiences amazing despite any challenges due to my disability.  I am blessed that I was immersed in this way of thinking. I often see my disability as pesky and not a big deal. In reality, it is a big deal. I believe a big component of success is exploiting the opportunities and the blessings, and minimizing the impact of one’s limitations, and in my case, my “pesky little disability.”

The first time I did not make my amazing dreams the heart of my life was when I turned 20.  My friends were moving out of their parents’ houses. They were getting independence. They were dating and going through the coming of age process.  At the time, I was living at my parents’ house and attending community college.  My dangerous assumption was that I could not move out of my parents’ house. The reason was simple, and to me overwhelming. I was uncomfortable having anybody else help me in the restroom, take a shower and other intimate activities.

I started to daydream about what my life would be like if I were not disabled. My disability was consuming many of my thoughts and it was the heart of my life at that time. It was eating at my soul. My friends from community college who just transferred to the University of Southern California called me and told me what a good experience it was. After I got off the phone, I started to cry.

My dad wanted to know what was wrong. All I could say was, “I’m going to USC and I’m going to find a way to live on campus.” To be frank, I had no clue how I was going to do any of it. I decided to make my amazing dreams the heart of my life. I made it a reality, and I graduated with a business degree less than three years after that moment.

The easiest narrative I could have had is that since it’s challenging to understand me, it’s foolish to become a speaker, or since I can’t type fast, I cannot write. Instead I became “the speaker who can’t speak and the writer who can’t write.” I use an interpreter on stage to inspire audiences and I dictate articles, books and other writings to my team. I have a team to help me run a business. At the heart of my professional life is my ability to inspire and my desire to connect with others.

In my 20s, I often wondered if it was right for me to have children because I was afraid I could not be there for them in the way I wanted or in the way they deserve. I now recognize that I have gifts to offer and wisdom to pass on. I made the latter the heart of that decision.

Making your desires the heart of your life does not mean you ignore the challenges. In fact, I believe it is necessary for anybody to weave their challenges into creating an amazing life.

Acknowledging my challenges has always been a fact of life. When I was a child my parents did not ignore my disability or not deal with it.  When I decided to go to USC, we put great effort into finding assistants, coordinating with professors and working out the logistics. My business processes are a reflection of my disability. I face challenges as a father that are unique to my disability.

While it’s true that my disability is and will always be a part of my life, I realize that in order to for me to have a full life, my disability cannot become the focus of my life. And while there are some moments when my disability becomes the heart of my life, I make sure to quickly turn it around. This keeps my amazing dreams the heart of my life.

Originally published: December 24, 2018
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