To my delight, I have been asked to be the keynote speaker for Enable’s Pink Wheels Conference on October 7. Enable is the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) affiliate in Syracuse, NY. Pink Wheels Work is a role modeling and mentorship program, run by Enable, for high school girls and young women with disabilities who are preparing to enter higher education or the workforce. The conference gives young women, ages 16 to 26, a chance to interact with positive role models who can inspire them to realize having a disability and a career can go hand-in-hand. For more information on the conference, please go to the Enable website.
About a month ago I sat in on a conference call with the event organizers to gain a sense of what they were looking for in the keynote address. Undoubtedly, and with most keynotes, the general intention is to motivate and offer hope to these young women embarking on a career path. I can certainly do that. As we talked further, the conference committee wisely recommended I may want to include how I began to think about a career in high school and college. Well….I can do that too….it’s just as the years move me further and further from that time in my life, my memory fades. I hate when that happens!
As I began to think about my ideas of work and career back 20 – 25 years ago, I realized the theme my keynote would probably take would be opening to the possibilities. My most vivid memory of being a young woman with career aspirations was I wanted to be a writer and a journalist. Being a counselor was definitely not in the picture. When it came time for college, pursuing a degree in English/Communications made the most sense. My college years were easy and blissful – why this was is a subject for another post. For now, let’s just say in college friends, teachers, and other students seemed to very easily accept my disability and different ways of doing things. In my memory, my disability seemed like no big deal. I thought this would transfer to the work world. I was wrong.
My disability was something perspective employers noticed immediately and it became a concern about whether or not I could do the job. Ummm…..I had to figure out how to address this and have it work for me. I needed a job, I wanted a car, and a place of my own. I was 22 and raring to go. Through a process of realizing to use my disability as an asset in the work world and a tip from my brother, Dan, I got my first professional job in public relations (PR) three months after graduating. It was for a disability related organization. They were interested in me because of my disability, which is a story or two in itself. Nevertheless, I got a paycheck and a chance to write and edit their publications.
I got a lot more too. In my three short years at that job, my eyes were opened to the often heart wrenching stories of people born with disabilities who were abandoned by their families as children. They were left in institutions which were known decades ago for their abuse and maltreatment of people with disabilities. Although my PR job was on the peripheral lens of services to these people, I was fortunate to get to know them and learn their personal stories. As I came to learn how deep the wound of being left behind by the very people who were supposed to love you the most was, I wondered why in all the services they were receiving counseling was not one of them. In that wonderment, I found the answer for what my career was meant to be. I wanted help people have emotional healing to the sometimes traumatic experiences of living with a disability.
Fast forward 20 years, I am a counselor entering my 10th year in full-time private practice. I have been blessed to have scores of people allow me into their hearts and souls to see not only their wounds and heartbreaks but also their joy and determination to live the life given them. No other career could ever fulfill me like this. And the interesting thing is what I am doing at this exact moment – writing. Remember my career aspirations in high school? To be a writer. Here I am with a book, blog, and countless ideas for articles. I’m a writer! I just had to find my niche for the subject of my writing. I had to be open to the possibilities that in the best careers, it’s our heart, interest, and abilities that shape our path. This is what I can offer to the young women of Pink Wheels.