We all want life to be simple. We want certain things to come more easily than others, but sometimes we don’t know a good thing when we see it. Or we have too much of a good thing, and end up wasting it trying to figure out if it’s actually beneficial to us.
We can regard life as something to teach us a lesson. We might even think of it as an opportunity to find the best parts of ourselves. With that comes a responsibility to recognize what we can do for other people while sharing the best parts of who we are.
By the beginning of 2013, I started to get the sense my writing wasn’t just doing something for me anymore. I could tell it was doing something good for those who read it, as people were e-mailing me with comments equally as thoughtful as powerful. I was simply grateful I was able to write so freely – and do so with Cameron’s expertise and guidance.
I was balancing my time between The Altoona Mirror and The Good Men Project, making sure everything I wrote was up to par. I slowly weaved things I learned from Cameron into my column for The Mirror – and vice-versa. It was a chance to bring two parts of my world together. Most importantly, it was something I wouldn’t have known how to do if I hadn’t built a solid foundation early on in my career.
I learned very quickly that predicting how others respond to what’s put in front of them is nearly impossible, especially if it’s in the public eye. I also understood it wasn’t my job to tell people what to think, but I still had a responsibility to give them something to think about. I wrote my articles with that in mind – and it clicked. People began to connect with my work in their own ways, and it sparked a feeling of personal pride in me.
I wasn’t writing about world problems or how to solve them. Nor was I trying to change their minds about anything in particular. I was simply sharing my experiences living with cerebral palsy, and researching disability-related issues to write about.
My writing and topics were enough for people to not only keep reading, but to also look forward to when my articles were published. I knew my initial goal of helping others feel comfortable talking and interacting with me was starting to come full circle. The decision to fully incorporate my disability into my writing, however, was a tough one.
I was skeptical because my circumstances are very personal to me. I keep them close to my heart for that reason – and because they’re not things I have the luxury of forgetting about. I knew cerebral palsy is one of the most common disabilities out there, but like everything else in the world, not everyone reacts the same way to the stigma attached to having a disability. I also thought about vulnerability becoming a factor if I put myself on display. Or even parts of myself.
I was already vulnerable by default. The questions then became, ‘Should I risk making myself even more vulnerable by telling my story?’ and ‘Would that make me brave – or just foolish?’ The last thing to cross my mind was my effort to make my writing public. I spent so much time trying to figure out what I’d do if my work was ever read by anyone outside of my family and friends. What would happen if someone didn’t agree with something I wrote?
I was in a position where I could now find these things out for myself. I had gained a decent following on a local basis with my column in The Altoona Mirror, which seemed to be growing. Now, however, I’d been writing for The Good Men Project long enough for readers to follow my work there as well.
This was completely surreal because these were people who I didn’t even know. Not only that, but they weren’t from my small town of Altoona, Pennsylvania and most likely never read my column in The Altoona Mirror. The deeper I delved into the subject of disability, the more appreciation people showed for my work.
In a moment of honesty, I realized I didn’t plan for any of this. The plan was to tell my story if I ever got the opportunity to do so. I didn’t have a blueprint for what happens when I’m praised for something I love to do. I did know by now, however, I wanted to bring everyone with me on this part of my journey – regardless of whether they had a disability or not.
You might not have a lot in your pocket. You might not be powerful or famous, but it’s important to set your mind on doing something worthwhile. When you set out to do it, make sure to bring as many people as possible along for the ride.
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