As a child I remember playing make-believe, pretending that I was a teacher, a doctor, a veterinarian, a marine biologist, a secretary. I would imagine what it would be like as an adult in one of these careers. I imagined myself swimming with the dolphins with a whistle, teaching them how to jump and spin, but my wheelchair and ventilator didn’t appear in those dreams. That desire to be a marine biologist followed me through junior high, eventually leading me to choose classes in the sciences with a plan to pursue veterinary medicine in high school. I was looking at my interest in working with animals but not at the bigger picture of who I was and other ways I could fulfill those dreams.
Through a prolonged process of self-awareness and self-acceptance, I would finally realize that potentially swimming with the dolphins was not the ideal career for me, but I never gave up the passion for working with animals. However, I realized that I could fulfill that and other passions through other means. I needed to step back from my immediate situation and look at the bigger picture. Why did I want to be a marine biologist? It had nothing to do with swimming (frankly, I am terrified of water), and it had nothing to do with performing. It was about caring for and training animals. I then had to look at my entire self, including my disability (which was something I did not like to do at the time), and consider how it would play a role in my career. Due to my physical disability and extremely limited physical ability, I had to come to the realization that my body was probably not going to play a significant role in my job; rather, it was little more than the vessel for my mind and soul, so my career had to reflect that.
Today, though I am not employed in working with animals, I am still able to do that in my personal life and volunteering. For me, that passion did not disappear and I did not abandon it. I found my calling and career when I was able to pull together my passion for helping, my experiences, my strengths that have come with my disability, and the barriers I have faced due to my disability.
I remember a story from one of my previous coworkers, who was the mother of a young man with Down syndrome. Growing up, he repeatedly told others that he wanted to be a doctor. Many parents would have dismissed this interest, seeing the goal as nearly unobtainable and forcing him to find a more “realistic” goals. His mother, however, recognized the importance of passion and how it can be used to fuel a successful career. As the family started to prepare for transition, his mother decided to further pursue understanding why her son wanted to be a doctor. He replied, “Because I want to help people.” He knew that he was passionate about helping people, and he knew that’s what doctors did, but he did not see the multiple avenues that he could take to achieve this. His mother decided to introduce him to other careers where he could help others and use his strengths. For over 10 years now, he has been working at a grocery store and helps others every day. He is able to use his skills and passion to serve the community and live independently with his wife.
In the sphere of employment, disability, and success, we all must consider our passions and our unique strengths and weaknesses, and determine how we can use these to serve and be employed. This can be done through a process of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and career exploration or discovery. There is no one way to fulfill our passions and childhood dreams.