“I’m here and I belong,” is a simple, yet powerful statement we talked about last week. It captures your sense of acceptance about what you have to offer, living with a disability.

Today I want to talk about the message it sends to others. In our deep dive into acceptance, it’s about the dynamic integration of self acceptance, along with acceptance from others. But the two are not equal – at least if you’re living a confident and empowered life.

It’s human nature to want acceptance from others, but as we discussed last week, we can’t allow it to define us. Some people may never accept you and that’s true for ALL people, disability or not.

Many more people, though, accept you readily once they see how you accept yourself. It helps them ease into your comfort with you. I have found this consistently true in my life.

As I seep more and more into the acceptance of who I am, my obvious differences, and my particular passions for how to live my life, it both draws people to me and distances others. The latter group I find want to hold tight to their perceptions of me and when I don’t quietly submit to that, rejection follows.

It’s all good, though, and this is so important to hear:

Every rejection frees us a little more to be who we’re intended to be.

…and most effectively advocate for the life we want.

One of the workshops I offer is Advocacy from Within. The concept for the workshop came from years of going to various conferences and hearing presentations on advocacy issues for the rights of people with disabilities.  At the risk of saying something unpopular, I have to admit I often walked away from such presentations feeling empty.

Naturally, we need to advocate for our rights and privileges.  After all, our improved lives and services have been made possible largely due to advocacy efforts. And in today’s political climate, advocacy is essential.

What left me feeling empty, though, was this very subtle message I inferred that advocacy was something  one changed outside of himself, rather than from within.  It made me reflect on my experiences of advocating in my life – going to a “regular” school at a time when children with disabilities were sent to segregated schools, gaining social acceptance from my peers, being treated as an equal in the workplace, and even with my supportive family years ago, advocating that I could own a house as a single woman.

The times when I was most effective and  felt the other person really understood that my disability did not preclude my ability to fully participate in life was because I evolved into what I was advocating for.

Let me explain. Let’s take gaining social acceptance from peers.  Like all young children, I wanted to be liked by my peers.  Having a visible difference as a child certainly added a challenge to other children feeling free (from their own perceptions mind you) to engage with me. For a  while in my childhood, I was angry about this.

I came from the perspective of “My disability doesn’t matter, you should like me anyway.”  Yes, this is true.  When we are advocating for anything, our disability should not matter.  But  my thinking was wrong.  Worse than that, I was giving others my power, rather than drawing from my own well.

I was focused on the actions of others and what they should and should not do, rather than looking within to all the qualities that made me likable and drawing that forth. Once I did so, I found the social acceptance I had been looking for.

Now, I am not at all suggesting that you encounter an unfair employer or a need for an environmental accommodation, you close our eyes and just look within. Sometimes you need to take concrete efforts to change stagnant systems.

What I am suggesting is that it can be helpful to think about why you want the change you’re seeking and what we have to offer when the change happens.

I’ll be live on Facebook tonight at 8pm (EST) to talk about this and have it be an interactive discussion. Tune in, share your thoughts, or message me on Facebook ahead of time.