Copyright © 2005 Dale S. Brown
People need a purpose for their lives. As human beings, we function better when we have goals- and a reason for being on this earth that goes beyond keeping ourselves alive- and beyond making money and acquiring the things (i.e. cars, houses, stocks) that our society uses to measure us.
Figuring out our mission- the reason for our being is an extremely difficult task. But it dramatically improves our power, our effectiveness, and our happiness. More and more people are realizing this. All over the country, people are reading self-help books, listening to tapes, attending classes and seminars, and thinking deeply by themselves.
Are people with disabilities in this country daring to dream and finding their purpose? More important, are you?
A Few Ideas to Get Started
This article briefly discusses the process of finding your purpose, then speaks to the challenges we face as people with disabilities- and gives a few ideas on how to overcome these challenges.
The small space of this article can only hold a few ideas on how to find your purpose. They might help you get you started. Here they are;
1. List the things that you are good at. Choose the ones that you do cheerfully and with enthusiasm. Where have you succeeded? When have you been happiest? When you enjoy something, it usually means that you do it well and should share the results of the activity.
2. Imagine yourself in the future. Do this even if your disability may cause your life span to be shorter than average. Imagine yourself five, ten, twenty-five years from now. Dream big! Imagine what you would ideally like to be doing- not what you "realistically" think you might end up doing. Write or tell someone what you imagine. This may mean sitting yourself down, picturing a huge television screen in front of your eyes- and convincing yourself to create a TV show of your life. Or it might mean noticing the daydreams that you tend to devalue. You may be imagining the things that are the true desire of your heart. And in those wishes might be your purpose.
3. Develop a mission statement for your life. List your core values and what you want to contribute to the world. Some people find it helpful to imagine their own funeral- and "hear" what their friends and coworkers are saying about them. What legacy do you want to leave? What do you wish would change as a result of your effort? Are there people you served who are grateful for what you did for them?
4. Answer the following question, "If you knew you could not fail, had the resources you needed, and were supported by your family, friends, and your community, what would you do?"
You may have trouble following these suggestions. You may feel hopeless even reading them. You might find yourself thinking, "I tried this already and didnít get anywhere. I only got more discouraged."
Issues for People Who Have Disabilities
As a person with disabilities and a person who works to build our community, it has become clear to me that this process is harder for people with disabilities. The reason is the oppression that we experience because of societyís negative attitudes.
As an analogy, pretend your purpose is a needle. For many people, the needle has always "pricked" them. They were aware that it was there. They might have been raised in a family that helped them find it. A parent who found them mentors in their field of interest. Or they always wanted to do what their father or mother did.
Some people may have had a higher power show them the "needle." For example, Justin Dart looked into the eyes of a young Vietnamese orphan- and realized he wanted to bring more love into the world.
Other people, however, find the "needle" is buried in a haystack. These people have to work at developing their dreams and finding a purpose. They attend seminars, write mission statements, take time alone to quietly reflect. And they need to consciously become aware of the shovelfuls of hay that are covering their purpose- and remove them.
Those of us with disabilities must work hard to find our purpose. We must remove the "hay" that is covering the "needle"
Here are some "shovelfuls of hay:"
Because of your disability, you have never been considered a contributor. If you were disabled as a child, you may have had others do things for you, but were never asked to do much for others. When you were young, nobody (or very few people) asked you "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Or said, "My you are so good with your hands! Do you want to be a surgeon?" If you were disabled later in life, you may have been encouraged to retire from your job "on disability" or even been forced to prove you were disabled in order to get the money you needed for medical care.
A. If you are working or going to school, but are not, in your opinion, filling your highest purpose, you may need to figure out how to give yourself the experiences that society denied you. Get a coach, counselor, teacher or mentor that pushes you to do the exercises mentioned earlier, and that encourages you to dream your dream and make it come true. You may want to join or form a support group, possibly of people with your disabilities. The support group should help its members set goals and reach them.
B. Realize that you are important. You deserve to live a passionate and exciting life. The message which says "people with disabilities are takers of charity rather than givers of gifts" is a lie. Talk back and take back your life.
C. If you are currently in a slump, figure out one or two things you can do to serve other people. Call non-profit organizations and ask how you can help. Or, simply look for problems that are in need of solutions and take care of them. It might be as simple as calling city officials about neighborhood problems- or as complicated as filing a pro se lawsuit because a business does not meet ADA requirements. Or, think of someone in your neighborhood that needs assistance. You could tutor a child, babysit, read to someone who is elderly, volunteer to coordinate the prayer list at your house of worship....the possibilities are endless.
There are stereotypes of what people with your disability are supposed to do with their lives. You are encouraged to do certain things--and get a lot of approval when you do them--- but they do not make you happy and you donít think you are doing them well.
A. First of all, recognize the stereotypes. They may be very obvious. For example, your entire special education class might have been taken to hear the head of custodial services. Some stereotypes are shown on TV, in the movies, and in books. If they arenít obvious, you can usually figure them out by asking other people with your disability. An example of a typical stereotype is that blind people are often considered good musicians. Quadriplegic and mobility impaired people are encouraged to be computer programers- and people with mental retardation are supposed to work in food service, horticulture, or custodial work. People with all kinds of disabilities are expected to be counselors, social workers, and other human service professionals. Frequently, youíll find yourself steered towards "careers" such as telemarketing, clerical work, and other jobs with low pay and no benefits. You may be pressured to work only with people that have your specific disability. There is nothing wrong with doing that! But make sure it is what you want to do.
B. If you are being pressured to fulfill a stereotype, do everything mentioned in this article to figure out what your true, non-stereotyped purpose is....and follow the recommendations we will discuss under "Challenge 3".
You lack experiences that would ordinarily help you create your mission. Many people with disabilities have had to stay in their house for long periods of time. Others have to work so hard on caring for themselves or learning that they have very little time for anything else.
A. Join clubs and other voluntary groups. Travel - or take a day trip somewhere that is interesting. Use Internet if you have a difficult time leaving the house to join electronic "forums."
B. If there is a type of experience you want, try it. So, if you want to be a writer, write an article for this website. If you like working with your hands, fix the next thing that breaks in your house- or better yet, take a class on fixing cars, plumbing, or home repair.
C. Get internships or volunteer positions. Most large cities have volunteer clearinghouses. Your library has many books that can help you locate internships. You also might simply ask a person in an organization to hire you for free. Or you could ask if you could "shadow" someone and watch them work for a day.
Your disabilities hide your strengths. You have a specific ability that would lead to a purpose, but your disabilities are not accommodated, so you are unaware of your own talents. For example, you use a wheelchair and have never been exposed to sports for people who use wheelchairs. So you think that you are not athletic. People turn away from you because you look different or have a speech impediment. So you donít recognize your social skills.
Research accommodation possibilities for anything that you find difficult to do because of your disability. Job Accommodation Network provides a national database of over 200,000 accommodations. Their counselors are available through calling 1-800-526-7234. Just explain to the person who answers the phone what you want to do and the nature of your "functional limitation" (the difficulty caused by your disability.) After your accommodation needs are taken care of, your strengths may flower.
You have difficulty writing. Books, seminars, and tapes that help you figure out your mission often require you to write down your thoughts. If you have difficulty writing, consider using a tape recorder or, better yet, find a listening partner. Have someone ask you the questions that are listed in the workbook while you answer them aloud. Talking to someone improves your thinking. Ask the person take notes.
If you are reading this and believe that you have found the "needle" of purpose in the "haystack" of life, congratulations. However, you may be struggling. If so, pick one simple thing that can help you find your purpose. Then do it. It might be getting a pad and a paper out so that you can start writing a mission statement. Or you might call a friend, share this article and begin a discussion. Or, you might think of one little action that you can take to contribute to another person or begin solving a neighborhood problem. The key is getting started.
"Purpose" provides power for your life. People with disabilities have been denied so many things - and some have never begun to dream. Some took a few tentative steps towards their dream but were pushed back.
You deserve to have a purpose and to make your dreams come true. Most of what stops you is from a society that did not give you what you needed to think of yourself as a contributing member. Through deep thought and hard work, you can find that needle in the haystack- and experience the power of purpose.
Dale S. Brown has written five books that encourage people with disabilities to find jobs and live a high quality life. She is a well-known speaker in the disability arena and was recently in California twice, speaking to the National Employment Counselorís Association and the Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities Association
Check out the Authors Latest Book! Job-Hunting for the So-Called Handicapped
Dale Susan Brown is co-author (with Dick Bolles) of Job-Hunting for the So-Called Handicapped. (Ten-Speed Press). She is a nationally-known expert on getting people with disabilities to work. She has written four other published books and hundreds of articles on the topic. She has won numerous awards for her advocacy, including the Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award given by the US Jaycees ...more
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