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:
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!
A stunning black and white abstract illustration of the head and left shoulder of a woman. She has both hands on her shoulder and her head is slightly tilted downward. What makes the image so magical is the trees blended into her face and background.
“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.”
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:
Kansas trip to empower blind & visually impaired youth
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?
Not too long ago I laughingly shared the above post on Facebook. At that time I was gonna look into prospects of becoming a juggler, because, you know, balls in the air. Then l had to admit that I was dropping more balls than I was catching because I had too much going on.
Juggling Perfection and Efficiency
There’s a thin line between perfection and efficiency both of which I struggle with constantly. I know perfection is highly overrated yet I still become paralyzed when I feel I haven’t given my best. As a life-long abilities crusader (fancy title for advocate), I understand how important it is to be selective. Focusing my time and efforts where they will do the most good is an essential skill. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, desiring to do too many things makes me less effective because I become overwhelmed.
I love the following quote because it reminds me:
my efforts are fruitless when I’m overwhelmed
it helps me to refocus on my ‘why’
While advocacy is around the clock, work, a friend reminded me that we should plan our work around our lives. Advocating for Accessibility, Inclusion, and Representation is why I do what I do. However, to be effective, I have to reassess, narrow my focus, and let some things go. Afterall there are over 7 billion people on the planet and none of us have to go it alone. There are many great causes in the world and plenty of opportunities for everyone who so chooses to make a difference.
The Internal Struggle
I cannot be the only person in the world who thinks there is way too much of everything around us. A simple example that comes to mind is light bulbs.
Not too long ago I was looking for some light bulbs online—simple right? Wrong! A quick search returned over 50,000 results. Of course, there are options to narrow the search and even options within options like brand, color, temperature, usage, wattage, size, shape, brightness, and features to name a few.
Geez, all I wanted was some bulbs to light my home and it ended up becoming a research project. I learned far more about light bulbs than I ever expected or desired, not to mention the time wasted. At one point I got so frustrated I had to take a nap and resume my search later.
Anxiety over buying light bulbs sounds silly, I know. But, when I multiply this one choice by all the others, made within one day I can easily feel paralyzed. The simplest tasks become complicated burdens and losing focus because of overstimulation rules the day. As a result, clouds of guilt, shame, and a sense of unworthiness smother me and I feel like a failure.
Placing way too much value on my work and not enough on myself is destructive and I have to change. I love what I do here on Bold Blind Beauty and I love the connections I’ve made. This community means the world to me and I’d be lost without you so I’m taking a stand.
Taking A Stand To Create Meaningful Change
When clarity begins to fade pace something has to give. Because I’m adaptable and very low maintenance it’s easy for me to declutter. Self-compassion however, is a more challenging process that requires an overhaul. Here are some of the steps I’m taking to reclaim my clarity and overall sense of wellness:
Self-compassion: Being kind to myself is the only antidote to self-hatred and unworthiness. Craving acceptance is what led me to believe that my work was the only measure of my worthiness. A recent reassessment of my life revealed the cause of this toxic thinking. Practicing self-compassion and mindfulness are the keys to restoration.
Flexibility: Embracing flexibility has been one of the best gifts I’ve given me. Changing direction at any given point is a welcome escape from being so rigid and it feeds my creativity.
Adaptation: Life is constantly evolving and so are we. Recognizing I am not the same person today as I was yesterday means doing things a little differently. Being low maintenance along with the ability to adapt breeds contentment and balance.
Simplicity: I do not need lots of anything. Cutting the cable a few years back was so liberating. Limiting time spent in other areas like, say, social media can also be freeing. With the exception of Instagram, there isn’t any other social media on my phone. Being connected 24/7 has never been particularly appealing to me.
My Voice: Remembering my values while remaining true to who I am, keeps me grounded.
The Way Forward
I’ve begun shifting my workload to restore my sanity. Some of this involves asking for help from others and some of it means letting go. While focusing on self-compassion will be my primary goal, for Bold Blind Beauty there will be a renewed emphasis on:
I began this post in a lighthearted way to help anyone who is feeling overwhelmed. When you add the need for perfection into the mix it can do a number on your psyche. Please know that if you do feel this way from time to time you are not alone. Sometimes the best course of action is to drop some balls to improve our juggling skills. Here’s to ball dropping perfection! 🥂
A woman in business attire is juggling a house, alarm clock, cell phone, sippy cup, and laptop.
Selfie of me, in my bald glory, wearing a white open back top and my grandson is peeping over my left shoulder.
“Pay attention to the things you are naturally drawn to. They are often connected to your path, passion, and purpose in life. Have the courage to follow them.”
Birth of an Advocate
When I was growing up I remember feeling so small, powerless and insignificant. From an early age, kindness, compassion, and more importantly, the need to do the right thing was always important to me. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to make the world a better place. Accomplishing this goal would be a challenge without a roadmap to follow.
One thing I was really good at though was making poor life choices. Bad decisions like turning down a scholarship to marrying quite young and more, became my MO. Depression, poor self-esteem and emptiness derailed me more times than I care to acknowledge. Thankfully, my negativity was balanced by my tenacity and the desire to challenge myself to become more.
At the outset, I had everything against me. I was the product of a broken home, poor, black, female and I had an unhealthy portion of self-hatred. My childhood wasn’t the best and I learned early on that life wasn’t fair and to always be on guard. From my point of view, serious changes were needed but I couldn’t make change happen–I was just a kid. Even so, being a kid I knew injustices when I saw them.
Knowing my personal values were key components for me in becoming an advocate. Long before I worked for one of the “Big Four” accounting firms I defined my success. For me, success was always more than a cushy job, fancy title, or social status. Being able to adapt no matter the circumstances, to me, is a success.
When my three sons were small it was tough being a single parent. It was even tougher working full-time when one son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Looking back now it almost seems like the struggles with my son Devon was a bad dream. Today, Devon is such a joy and he is also a great source of strength to me.
My Three Greatest Accomplishments
Raising three sons to adulthood with very few support systems and even less in the way of material things. Adapting by going without became our protocol and we did alright.
Advocating for Devon by working with daycare centers and school districts was another full-time job. This meant learning everything I possibly could about special education and spending hours on end communicating with school officials. To this day I still have the 3-inch binder filled with IEPs, transcripts, etc. This doesn’t include the back and forth email communications and phone calls almost on a daily basis.
My third greatest accomplishment was advocating for my disabled mother who was denied disability benefits. Her last denial spurred me to begin a massive letter writing campaign to my legislators. The outcome? My mother received disability benefits in a matter of a couple of months.
My greatest achievements have nothing to do with employment, wealth or material things. These successes have everything to do with creating positive change by challenging a system.
Challenging systems or societal norms with a laser-focus to make life a little better for others is who I am. Ultimately it’s my ability to focus, a systematic approach, combined with a thirst for learning; that propelled me into advocacy.
Coming To Terms With Who I Am
As a die-hard introvert, my most comfortable place of residence aside from being at home is inside my head. While sometimes being inside my head can be a scary place to be it’s also where the magic happens. Ideas and dreams of a world where people of all abilities embrace one another despite our differences are my passion. Having respect for other’s opinions and being open to the idea that every person has a unique walk in life has expanded my world.
For so many years I tried to figure out who I am and what my purpose is only to find I’d been living it all along. Sure I made many mistakes and I think the greatest was not listening to my gut because I wanted to fit in. Today, I’m no longer concerned with conformity and I’ve found contentment.
Terms others placed on me like a buzzkill, intense, and quirky, used to bother me but no more. I am all of these things and more and it’s okay. While I’m not sentimental I find gratitude in the smallest of things.
It’s no accident I’m an advocate, after all, I’ve tried to pattern my life after my favorite childhood quote. This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson remains my favorite today:
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Never in a million years would I have imagined I’d lose my sight. Learning to navigate the world with a white cane and adjust to blindness is an ongoing process. However, my life is so much more enriched largely due to advocacy and empowering others.
Path To Passion, Purpose & Identity Featured Image Description:
I’m wearing white jeans with a gray Steeler tee with our black and gold team colors. I’m standing in grass with a tree behind me wearing tan flats and of course my color coordinated gold #WhiteCane slimline cane.