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The Cheering Section Silences The Self-Critic

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Are you tired of feeling so invisible?
Are you sick of silencing your voice?
Do you still have hope that peace is possible?
My friend, oh you are not alone

You Are Not Alone | Songwriters: Emeli Sande / James Poyser / Salaam Remi

Squashing The Self-Critic

I hadn’t planned on doing a blog post today because I have two back-to-back speaking engagements this weekend. Seriously, I must be having some sort of out of body experience since I SHOULD be practicing instead of writing. However, when inspiration strikes I have to trust my gut and go with it. So here we go:

I am so excited about the events on Friday and Saturday because I get to do what I love—advocacy! Talking about the value and abilities of people with disabilities makes my heart want to explode. Well, maybe not explode because that would kill me, but you catch my drift. So anyways, the thought occurred to me, while in the shower I might add, that none of this could be possible without my cheering section.

My self-critic, I call her Cruella, as she’s quite cruel, is a monster. Fun fact: Cruella de Vil is also my alter ego who I adore because she’s so deliciously evil, but I digress.

Cruella the self-critic is constantly chattering non-stop in my head telling me I can’t do this, that or the other. Some days the noise is so loud I have to stop what I’m doing and take a nap, she wears me out so. However, today, while showering I heard another sound, it started out small then grew tall. To my delight, I discovered it was my very own cheering section. Honestly, I couldn’t help but get a little misty-eyed because the cheering section silenced Cruella.

Thank You To My Cheering Section

You know who you are! You’re in the arena with me and accept me as I am, flaws and all, unconditionally. I’m so thankful to have you in my circle.

Robert, the braille and large print booklets you created are phenomenal. Kathy, the braille mugs are perfect. Vicky, the powerpoint presentation with audio cues exceeds my wildest expectations. Amy, offering to manage the BBB Facebook page has been huge and I can’t thank you enough. Carla, you are no longer with us yet your voice is one of the loudest and most supportive. Becky, and the Giggle Girls, I will carry you in my heart while sharing my message on the importance of inclusion and representation. Gigi, your constant encouragement has meant so much to me. Holly, Maria, Chelsea, Max, Nasreen, George, Cate, and Jose our friendships/partnerships are so meaningful and you are extraordinary people.

There are so many other people out there who’ve supported me and I am so grateful for our connection. Thank you for being there for me, you’re the BEST! ~Steph

During my talks, I’ll share my recipe for social entrepreneurship and limitless possibilities. If you happen to be in the area you can catch me here:

  • Disability InSIGHTS – October 18, Erie, PA
  • SPARK Saturday (Self-confidence, Peer support, Accessibility, Resources, & Knowledge) – October 19, Harrisburg, PA (Pennsylvania Council of the Blind Annual Conference)

On a side note, Emile Sandé is one of my favorite artists and here’s an awesome song from her new album.

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From Despair To Captivating A Podcast

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The naysayers said you couldn’t succeed. What they didn’t know was their definition of success was not your definition. Creating your path by believing in possibilities has brought you to where you are today and will continue to guide and sustain you.

From “Dear Stephanae”

Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in? For most of my life, I knew I was different and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t “normal.” Then I read The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney and to my surprise was thrilled to find I’m different, not abnormal.

If you’ve been following Bold Blind Beauty for a while I’ve remained on message partly because of my introversion. The other reason why I’m consistent is because of the path I’ve been forging for myself.

A few months ago I was honored with a scholarship to attend a life-changing Daring To Own Your StoryTM retreat. The retreat, for blind and visually impaired women, opened the door to reveal a side of me I didn’t know existed. One of the tasks we were asked to complete on the retreat was writing a self-compassionate letter to ourselves. Needless to say, the introvert in me seized up and I was unable to finish my letter. Thankfully, I made a promise to myself to finish it at the right time. That time was yesterday and the opening paragraph to this post is from my letter.

Creating The Path

The thing with creating your own path is there is no blueprint or navigation system to direct you—only your gut. Outsiders won’t understand and will try to convince you that you’re delusional. Your inner self-critic incessantly keeps you second-guessing yourself and you’ll feel so lonely and afraid.

It cannot be a coincidence that this quote from my childhood has remained my favorite:

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead

where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s no coincidence that the people I’ve connected with on my journey would be instrumental in keeping me on my path. Today, Thomas Reid of Reid My Mind, sent me the link to the podcast we recently recorded and it warmed my heart.

In the interview, Because We Are Captivating, Tom and I talk about the path I’ve created and he did such a great job pulling it together. The timing is perfect as I’m preparing for two speaking gigs next week and am solely focused on the upcoming events.

I’ve included the direct link to the podcast below.

When you have a moment check out Tom at Reid My Mind who is sharing his talent as host and producer of the show. Thank you, Tom, for featuring me a third time on your podcast—it was a blast!

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Positive Change Begins With Action Through Advocacy

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“We rise by lifting others.”

~Robert Ingersoll

I’ve blogged (another form of advocacy) for nearly 5 years and I’ve been an Abilities Crusader (advocate) for most of my life. While my advocacy journey has been lengthy, my purpose wasn’t fully clear to me until 2016 during a flubbed speech. Thankfully, my persistence to help people understand the value of people with disabilities enabled me to learn more about me. Kindness, compassion, and a deep desire for social justice are central to who I am; these are my values. Bold Blind Beauty was born out of a personal need for empowerment that I wanted to share with others.

The Ripple Effect of Advocacy In Action

I love the work I do however there are times when it’s lonely and I feel like I’m not doing enough to create real change. Being an introvert, I’m comfortable working in a distraction-free atmosphere but one drawback is relying too heavily on my internal processes. Recently I learned a valuable lesson on how I sometimes get it wrong and can unintentionally hurt people. Being independent is great, but in advocacy, there’s no room for ego.

In preparation for two speaking gigs this month I requested some custom materials from a good friend of mine. Since the cost of producing the materials is rather high I offered to pay—a huge MISTAKE! When I received the quote I nearly passed out and had to eat some rather tasteless crow. Long story short, an email prompted me to make a phone call that resulted in me being told: “Don’t rob me of my blessing.” Then I was told how much my work means and how our collaboration is benefitting many people. I don’t mind sharing that as he spoke I broke down and cried. To have someone believe in me like this was so incredibly touching, humbling, and unbelievably motivating.

Advocacy isn’t a solitary venture and what I love about advocacy is its simplicity—identify something that needs to be done, then do it! Many people are highly skilled at identifying problems however when we don’t take the next step to become the solution, well, nothing happens. Take Blind Beauty, for example, I noticed there weren’t any fashion magazines who featured blind women so I created one.

I’m only one person but when I share my message of empowerment with another this starts the ripple. Like a chain reaction, when the message is relayed to others it becomes a small movement.

The Necessity of Awareness

While broken crayons may still color, as humans who are we to determine who’s broken? Frequently when we talk about people living with disabilities it’s from a point of view that there is something wrong. When in fact having a disability is only one of many traits that make us different not broken.

Through the years the number of awareness days/months has increased which makes sense as our population continues to grow. What’s so exciting to me about the explosion of awareness events is being able to witness the beauty of our differences.

During the month of October, there are numerous awareness days among them are:

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have two speaking gigs this month:

  • Disability InSIGHTS – October 18, Erie, PA
  • SPARK Saturday (Self-confidence, Peer support, Accessibility, Resources, & Knowledge) – October 19, Harrisburg, PA (Pennsylvania Council of the Blind Annual Conference)

Now that I’ve finally figured out how to get from Erie to Harrisburg I’m so fired up! The themes, “showcasing the accomplishments of others with disabilities” and “Peers Challenging Beliefs” are straight up my alley. Promoting awareness by breaking down barriers while creating meaningful connections is what advocacy is all about.

Advocacy is 24/7/365 and it begins the moment we ‘leave our homes.’ To be clear, leaving our homes could be as simple as sharing our stories online.

People will probably always leap to the wrong conclusions about us and that’s okay. It’s not our job to convert people who aren’t open to understanding that all of us are temporarily abled. Our job is to live our lives to the best of our ability and continue to build awareness.

Building Community Through Our Shared Experiences

I feel like one of the luckiest people on the planet because I belong to a wonderful community of people. My life is so enriched mainly through the people I’ve connected to within the disability community.

I’ve befriended some of the most amazing people who are driven to make the world a better place by breaking down barriers. Ironically, one of these people, Kristin Smedley, a mom, speaker, author, and one of my heroes I’ll meet in person. As a matter of fact, Kristin will also be speaking at the SPARK Saturday event in Harrisburg. Oddly enough, I recently won a Kindle version of Kristin’s book Thriving Blind. So I asked her if she would provide a blurb for me to share here on Bold Blind Beauty:

Blindness. A tough topic to discuss? Not anymore. In this groundbreaking book, readers will see blindness in a whole new light. In fact, the compelling and entertaining stories will not only change perceptions of blindness, they’ll make readers forget the people featured are actually blind. Thriving Blind will transform your idea of what is possible for people who encounter a devastating disability or life challenge and will catapult your motivation to set extraordinary expectations for your own life.

I’m both excited and scared silly to share a speaking engagement with Kristin. What will help me get through it? Two things: My why and the knowledge that I’m not alone.

Bold Blind Beauty’s mission is to improve humanity by changing the way we perceive one another. When we place the focus on abilities versus disabilities – anything is possible!

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When Passion Is Palpable One Must Pursue It

“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

~Neil Gaiman

Advocacy can occur on many levels from creating a massive movement to a simple blog but it all begins with a passion for positive social change. When I was asked to participate in an upcoming event to bring awareness to the abilities of people with disabilities I couldn’t say no. 

Disability InSIGHTS is a seminar designed to increase awareness of the abilities of people living with disabilities. I will be one of 7 speakers who will share stories of triumphs, obstacles, and breaking down barriers. More on this in a moment.

Typically when we hear stories of people who are on the front lines of social justice the conversation revolves around passion. There is something that ignites the fire within us to create positive change. While it’s true passion has a defining role in our advocacy efforts we seldom talk about another major player—fear.

Working Through Fear

Fear is universal and yet many times when we talk about success fear isn’t a major topic of conversation. I’ve lived a life of fear and a life of overcoming. Losing my eyesight was one of my greatest fears that I never thought I’d be able to accept. However, it was my fear of blindness that in part prompted me to create Bold Blind Beauty. 

Fear was the reason why I declined an all-expense-paid trip to Kansas earlier this year. Even though the opportunity to empower blind & visually impaired youth was seductive I just couldn’t let go of my fear.

The thought of traveling out of state on what would be my first solo flight after my sight loss terrified me. Questions swirled around in my head like:

  • would I know where to go once I was dropped off curbside at the airport?
  • what if the assistance I requested ahead of time wasn’t available?
  • would I have a panic attack because everything I see is indistinguishable?
  • what if I had to use the restroom, would I get lost?
  • would the flight attendants show me to my seat?
  • since my trip connected through another airport what would that be like?
  • what would I do if I encountered problems because people doubted my disability?
  • how would I handle the prospect of being stranded?

With all these questions and more, you’d think I’d be satisfied with declining the trip but I wasn’t. Truth be told I was still unsettled yet I couldn’t articulate why. Thankfully, I was given another chance, this time I said YES! and I went to Kansas.

The Cumulative Effect

The Kansas trip was only the beginning of all the wonderful things to come this year as a result of my work at Bold Blind Beauty. While I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve questioned myself as to whether this is a fruitful effort. Then last year I partnered with advocate extraordinaire, Chelsea Nguyen, and together we founded CAPTIVATING! Magazine, a free, accessible online lifestyle magazine. CAPTIVATING! provides monthly content about culture and style for people of all abilities proving that inclusion is limitless.

As a result of my partnership with Chelsea, and my work with Bold Blind Beauty I’ve enjoyed these amazing experiences:

Next, in the lineup of this year’s events are:

My trips to Kansas and Utah were sublime. CAPTIVATING!’s award from the Texas Rehabilitation Association was a delightful and totally unexpected surprise. Then filming the behind the scenes story of Bold Blind Beauty last week was extraordinary. 

I’m eagerly anticipating the Disability InSIGHTS Seminar where I can share my tips on the path to social entrepreneurship. This event is being held in recognition of International Blindness Awareness Month and National Employment Disability Awareness Month. It will take place on October, 18 from 11 am – 3 pm at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Erie, PA. 

Seeing The Beauty In People

I believe everyone has value. I also believe our perceptions of people can get in the way of our ability to appreciate their value. For far too long we’ve looked at people who are ‘different’ from ourselves and immediately leap to conclusions without knowing their story, without knowing them. When we add disabilities (visible and invisible) to this equation we become ‘experts’ in determining their worth and it isn’t fair nor is it right. 

We all have moments of insecurity, uncertainty, and fear. I nearly let my fear keep me from life-changing events where I’ve learned so many valuable lessons. None of this means I won’t ever feel uncomfortable or downright scared. However, when I ask myself why inclusion, accessibility, and representation are so important my passion will continue to help me push through my fear.

Courage is contagious and when we share our vulnerabilities it empowers others. How about you? Can you think of a time that fear nearly prevented you from meaningful achievement? 

Disability InSIGHTS Information:

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