One of the biggest obstacles to success in life may be the low expectations of others. Letting those who don’t understand you define you is a choice but be aware that defining something gives it meaning. However, if the definition stems from a low expectation then the result may be less about meaning and be more demeaning.
The right of every person is basic human dignity but that is not always afforded everyone as a matter of course, but may be enhanced through education, employment, participation in recreational activities and giving back to society through volunteerism. However, in order to make these things happen we may be dealing with people who have challenging attitudes which may stem from jealousy, fear, prejudice or just ignorance, leading to determining others as inferior, incapable or inadequate. Consequently, the first step is to determine our own expectations of ourselves.
Whether one has a disability, such as my blindness, belong to some other poorly understood minority or simply have too many nay sayers in one’s life, we need to recognize our own strengths and abilities and be determined to be the person we are inside – follow our dreams and aspirations. This will require a commitment to doing our best and only we can be certain of what that is. As my old teacher said, if our best is an A we should not accept a C, but if our best is a C, then we should not expect an A. As long as we know we have done our best it is enough, and this will bring us peace of mind.
For the next two ways to not let other’s expectations define us, we must return to kindergarten and “show and tell.” Never assume that a person has knowledge, understanding or experience in your situation. Even with all the books and variety of media available nowadays people are shockingly unaware of most things outside their own sphere.
Although some people resent being asked a lot of questions, I don’t often miss an opportunity to explain, tell, how I do things, what my guide dog can and cannot do for me, while throwing in a few of my achievements for affect. Of course, it can get a little tiresome on a cruise ship when 1,500 passengers all ask the same question about my dog. The answer is, there is a box of grass on one of the decks but after about 1,000 times I offer humour like, on the poop deck or, I hang him over the rail. Most people are grateful to be engaged in conversation which may answer questions they have had for a long time but never had the opportunity or courage to ask. I don’t look upon it as an invasion of my privacy but, rather, allowing me to educate, and this may occur anywhere from a waiting room to a board room.
Showing what you can do will often start in small ways. As I punch in my pin on a credit card terminal, I frequently hear, “wow, you are amazing!” This is not flattering and I try not to let it irritate me but if there are not a hundred-people lined up behind me, I take the opportunity to explain that this is, in fact, a simple task, having used a push button telephone keypad since childhood. I don’t bother to explain the more complicated dial phone. If the person expresses interest I will let them know that I have a Master of Science degree completed on a computer which talks to me. I often take out my iPhone and show the accessibility features which gets an even bigger, “wow!” Of course, applying for post-secondary education or a job will require even greater show and tell but the more we educate the less those who are following us will have to do.
I have found another way of influencing other’s thinking is through working collaboratively. This can occur in a classroom, work project or community initiative. It is helpful if the others in the group represent a variety of abilities and disabilities, ethnicities, genders and generations. This will reveal your strengths and abilities while developing a network of support going forward into other opportunities. However, sometimes you may have to work a little harder than the others to be accepted as an equal participant but don’t be resentful, be prepared. This was my experience during my Master’s degree which was taken online in a virtual classroom. The university was in England with a variety of health-care professional students from around the world. Although the technology was lacking, my classmates were willing to accommodate me as I was eager to participate in every aspect of the course, no matter how difficult for me personally. They came to expect as much from me as everyone else and mutual respect evolved which resulted in friendships.
The fourth thing we must do is remember that we are not alone. Some people, in trying to prove themselves, can become very chippy or resentful of anyone suggesting they might need help. As I learned when I was a teenager, part of being independent is knowing when to be dependent. Often it takes greater courage to admit you need advice or assistance, while many people appreciate an opportunity to be helpful.
I stood alone early one Sunday morning on a subway platform with a white-cane in hand. I heard footsteps rushing by me and asked that person for assistance onto the train. After an explanation of what I meant, the young man offered his arm. He smelled bad and his sleeve was ragged. If I could have seen him I might have never asked for his help. He was shaking as he guided me nervously aboard the train. He left me in a seat and walked away. Just before I got off he returned to me to ask if I needed any further assistance. The nervous boy had suddenly developed some confidence. He had helped me a little and, I think, I helped him more. What would my expectations of him have been if I could see?
Remember as you define yourself that you are a piece of the bigger picture and without you the picture is not complete nor able to reveal the fullness of its beauty. At the same time, we must afford others the same respect and opportunities as they, too, are worthy.