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When I Stopped Comparing Myself to Others as a Person With a Disability

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What is success? How is it measured? Who measures it? Unlike other topics, I could not get my mind off these questions, so I Googled it.


noun: success; plural noun: successes

the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

“the president had some success in restoring confidence”

synonyms: favorable outcome, successfulness, successful result, triumph; Hollywood ending

antonyms: failure

the attainment of popularity or profit.

“the success of his play”

synonyms: prosperity, affluence, wealth, riches, opulence

antonyms: poverty

a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.

“I must make a success of my business”

synonyms: triumph, bestseller, blockbuster, sellout

After scanning through the top three results, I was left with lingering questions. Success is defined as someone who achieves desired aims, popularity or profit. Still, who is the one to say that is the true definition of success? I know I have a lot of questions and not many answers, but I can provide a personal viewpoint toward these definitions as well as give input on how success is measured and who measures success.

The measure of success is portrayed, publicized and sold in very specific ways. People can be quick to overanalyze their own level of “success” and compare their own accomplishments to others. I don’t believe this mindset will ever lead to overall fulfillment; rather, an individual will be stuck on a never-ending ladder of disappointments, because even if one reaches a specific goal, it is never good enough. Instead, if you are able to take a step back and realize where you were and how far you have come and celebrate your accomplishments, that could be a good way to strive for a goal continually.

Unfortunately, many people have a hard time recognizing and promoting all the achievements they have reached over time and instead harp on what they have not accomplished. I am speaking from experience, because at times I tend to struggle with this myself. As an individual with a noticeable disability, I found myself comparing my circumstances to others from the get-go.  From youth to adulthood I was always complaining internally: “Why didn’t I this,” Why don’t I that.” Specifically when it came to school and not being up to par with my peers. School never came easy. It took me so long to graduate college that there should be the title Dr. or “Rocket Scientist” before my name. For years I watched my friends and acquaintances graduating and landing jobs with money — the kind of money that got you out of your parent’s house, which was where I was at that time, and an area I consistently compared to my peers!

Society absolutely factors money as a measure of one’s “success,” and if you refer back to my in-depth investigative Google search, one of the definitions referred to the amount of profit one attains as a direct driver of “success.” My mind bought in to that definition and led me to obsess over the need for a more “successful job.” This continued up until a few years ago. I was so preoccupied with not having the “successful job” that it hindered me from realizing yet again what I had. This kept me from realizing the opportunities within my own employer.

Man with a microphone outdoors wearing a blue polo shirt
Richard holding a microphone

A few years ago, while temporarily employed, I sat on my parents’ couch surfing the Internet for a more “successful” job. I applied for a position with Ability Beyond in Bethel, CT. Ability Beyond is an organization that provides resources for individuals of all levels of (dis)abilities so that they may attain personalized independence. We worked with clients to build upon their personal strengths and enhance their weaknesses so that they become better equipped to land a career position in a role they would enjoy excelling at. My clients loved me, my colleagues respected me, my manager was always there to provide constructive criticism and most importantly, I was getting my clients jobs. You would think I’d be happy, but I began to slip back to my negative outlook at where I was in my life. I was not making enough money, and all I had in my head was that Google definition about money being the driver toward ultimate “success.”

As I plugged along in my position, internally lost, I worked face to face with clients of all ages, status levels, education levels and abilities. One day out of nowhere it just hit me. It was like I had finally Googled the definition and answer to my life! For months I sat across from individuals who met with me for assistance and guidance on how to make personalized improvement, and as I educated them, they were educating me.

Success is not something anyone can measure with definitive accuracy, because a true definition of success is personalized. It is not something you can search for and find; it is created. In the past, when I was harping over what others were doing in life. I was only focusing on tangible items that society marked as status symbols and not actually questioning if obtaining those things would truly make me feel fulfilled. When I was not satisfied with earlier jobs, I was quick to think that the only logical solution was to search elsewhere for “success.” You have to evaluate what you yourself view as a successful goal and create attainable milestones. As you reach each milestone, celebrate it and cherish your accomplishments.  This will provide momentum and help you to realize that you are much further from where you were and even that much closer to where you strive to be.  This is easy to write but not easy to maintain.  I find myself slipping up from time to time, but with practice and redirection it could be the difference between a life of fruitless outcomes and a life of promise and progression.

I began to practice what I preached, and within less than three years, I had three new roles within Ability Beyond. I could not be more thankful for this organization assisting me in my personal and professional growth. In my current role as Founder of Talk the Walk, I provide strategic resources for school systems, companies and communities to attain all-inclusive environments. Our overall goal for each client we work with is focusing on ability beyond disability. Every capable and qualified individual willing to work should be provided an opportunity to showcase their ability. Everyone deserves to create their own definition of success.

Man giving a speech, wearing a suit
Richard giving a speech

A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Originally published: March 17, 2016
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