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Navigating Friendships and Business With a Craniofacial Disability

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I was born with a craniofacial disability and grew up experiencing hurtful remarks from my school peers; bullying had me hanging by a thread. This lack of love and support led me to begin collecting friendships from an early age. It seemed every week at school was a new theme; I had a new best friend. I was going through friendships more than your daily pair of underwear, and I was financially paying for it too. We may fail to take notice that this same pattern often follows us into our adult lives.

This rare form of a relationship is one we can often attach ourselves too much to if we are not careful. Friendships can be destroyed and then later forgotten, although a piece of you will always hold onto what you treasured. Think before you act, and think before you speak, because not all friends are real friends. A true friend subjectively listens and then gives honest feedback. If you can’t take that, then you should not be in the market for any friendship.

We are indeed all flawed human beings, so when something goes down with a friend, it’s best to step back and examine before impulsivity ruins everything you had. Then comes the mean girls talk and gossip. Everything that you had aimed to avoid is now front and center of the stage. You are now the exact replication of every other failed and bad friendship; you’re now in a different category. When this happens, a grudge is being held against you that will likely never die. One of you is likely to forgive sooner, but sometimes it goes both ways. Either way, often, the grudge is so strong that you can’t possibly forgive what was said and how it made you feel.

Action is something to consider in friendships; while words can shatter your world, it is the person’s action that denotes their true character. However, people with disabilities who have a history of being bullied may have no sensitivity filter when communicating. You cannot get upset at a friend, who you love, and then lash out at them in the same way that bullies lashed out at you. Words are sharp, and they hurt. These communication types make a toxic combination and show your friend a different side they have never seen.

On the contrary, this may happen to you; therefore, the coin is flipped, and perhaps your friend has some soul searching to do. Another possibility is that the two of you are failing to see that it goes both ways. Friendship is an art of miscommunications that need constant fixing. Some require more maintenance than the changing of oil in an expensive car. In that case, you will have to consider if this friendship is really worth your time.

We have to remember that a friend has expectations because they trust you to feel how they feel. Leveling out with your friends is not always easy. No matter how significant your friendship is, you still need to allow time for space. A friend cannot think clearly when you continue to berate them over the same situation. Feelings will be even more hurt. However, perhaps they will be resolved if you just wait a few weeks or even months before moving the needle up any further.

Sometimes we have to treat our friendships like business relationships if we want any chance at sustaining them. It is important to be honest and communicate from the heart, but do it professionally and in a way that doesn’t come off as offensive. When we are hurt, we can respond negatively; however, just because we feel hurt doesn’t mean we need to reciprocate those feelings either.

Despite coming from a traumatic childhood where I endured bullying at school and then sexual, physical and mental abuse at home, I persevered. Today I manage a successful corporation of 85+ students. However, I have still been flawed in the realm of friendships. My first freelance hire was one of my best friends I had met at a previous place of employment 10 years ago. I was so excited to work with my “bestie.” We even unnecessarily invested in four thousand dollars’ worth of technology to get things started in exchange for her first month of training.

If you think of any job out there, most require expertise or for you to prove yourself before any significant incentives are even considered, let alone during the “training process.” But this was my best friend, and I felt that she needed to have it all at our expense; in my eyes, it was an investment for the long-term, just like our friendship. It wasn’t until I realized that this situation is no different than when I bought my friendships during my childhood. I had been repeating history without even clearly seeing it.

Fast forward to one year later, when it all came to a screeching halt. While we accomplished many successes together, there was a severe lack of communication and then came the hurtful words exchanged. COVID-19 caused my best friend to leave and find another source of income, which I initially understood. But then, some feelings were never expressed, which eventually boiled over between us. In many ways, I feel hurt and betrayed; I am sure she does too.

While I have no regrets, I do look back and see that I overlooked my first hire. I lacked the confidence to move forward without needing to “work” with a best friend. I mingled business and play, which may have affected a friendship I truly valued. If I regret anything at all, it is that. Life is a narrow tunnel of lessons that we continuously learn from.

People with disabilities who aspire to be entrepreneurs are already in the minority; therefore, making crucial and wise business decisions is critical for success. Keep your “best friends” where they belong, and be fragile with their hearts. We all come from a place of need, so we should demonstrate kindness and love towards each other.

Be sure to call and catch up with your friends when you have time; otherwise, you might lose that chance; I know I did. I was so busy running corporate operations and working with my “bestie” that I forgot to follow-up with one of my childhood best friends Shala who just passed away this Saturday. I didn’t even know she was sick. She was so smart; she even had a master’s degree in business. I can’t help but think if I would have taken the time to nurture our relationship meaningfully if things would be different. I guess I will never know, but I have spared myself from any regrets, and I’ll always remember Shala, my best friend who bullied the bullies to protect me.

Take the time to nurture your relationships when you can. However, don’t feel in deficit if you aspire to do great things in this lifetime. Don’t hold back, and don’t attach too much to your friends. My last piece of advice is if you are seeking to become a business owner, especially as someone with a disability, “don’t hire your friends.” Otherwise, you just may lose them, and there is more at stake than that if you are not careful.

In memory of my childhood best friend, Shala Rosebeary-Williams

In honor of Shala Rosebeary-Williams and Cynthia Cherise Murphy

Getty image by Daisy-Daisy.

Originally published: March 5, 2021
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