There are ten things that require zero talent, things that any of us can easily achieve. Some of these include being on time, having passion, and being coachable.
Easy peasy, apparently. I saw this meme years ago when it made the rounds on social media, and recently, it’s started circulating again. I’m not here for it. Memes like this are ableist. Period. As a person living with two chronic autoimmune diseases, there is absolutely nothing about this meme that motivates me to live my best life and appease others’ expectations.
Being on time.
Being on time is a privilege that requires money and accessibility. Not everyone has access to reliable transportation to arrive early or right on time. Punctuality is certainly important, otherwise one person’s tardiness can cause a domino-effect of delays for others. However, those of us who are differently-abled often have very valid reasons for running behind. For example, if my blood sugar is too low to drive, getting behind the wheel could be dangerous or deadly. There’s been many times I’ve had to call my kids’ school or a friend I was supposed to meet and let them know I was running late while I waited for my blood sugar to rise to a safe level.
We have all heard the “value of hard work,” but what does that mean. (Cue old man saying, “Working hard or hardly working?”) If a person has the privilege to get to their place of employment on time (see the first point), then they are expected to have a good work ethic. However, what is “good” and expected isn’t always what someone is capable of. If I’m exhausted from a night of roller coastering blood sugar levels, my work ethic may appear to be lacking when, in fact, I have a great work ethic. I’m just too exhausted to put it front and center on that particular day.
We always tell our children to try their best, whatever that is. But because each person has different abilities and skill sets, one person’s effort won’t be as valued as the next (the able-bodied person). For a child with ADHD, only getting out of their desk at school twice on a given day during instruction instead of ten times may very well be “good” and their best effort. Telling people with special needs that they need to “put forth more effort” is ableist.
I’ll never forget the episode of the The Office when some of the women of the office tried to teach Dwight, a hyper-masculine character, that nodding and offering a gentle smile would show to a client he was listening. The dude just couldn’t get it right. He came across as disingenuous and creepy. Some body language can be taught, but some, like a guy I know with Mobius syndrome, have a fixed facial expression. It cannot be changed. Yet, he’s one of the most friendly and kind people I know. My vote? Don’t judge a book by its cover.
I live with two autoimmune diseases, and I’m tired a lot of the time. My body has to work extra hard every day to function well, and there’s not enough coffee or positivity in the world to change my energy level. I’m no less of a hard worker just because I don’t show up bouncing off the walls and ready to roll. Assume that when I show up, that may be my greatest effort I can offer that day.
I do believe we have control of our attitude, but you know there are days when we really just need to be real, sit with our emotions, and ride the waves. I’m not a “fake it until you make it” kind of person. Stifling one’s struggles, based on their physical and mental situation, isn’t healthy. Instead, it’s avoidance. Now, this isn’t a free pass to be rude, but it is okay to struggle when you’re trying to balance illness with life.
Some people just aren’t passionate. They might be dealing with anxiety, and all of their focus goes into managing their illness. Just because someone isn’t extroverted, loud, eager, or gushing, doesn’t mean they are less-than. When you live with chronic ailment, sometimes your disability requires all of the passion you have, leaving you with little to give anyone or anything else.
I do believe we should all have enough humility to put our pride aside and learn from others. However, who the “coach” is matters. When people are reliant on their able-bodies and the endless privileges that come with that, they aren’t the best leadership for those who are coping with disability. That’s why so many of us who are “ill” find support and encouragement from those who have the same diagnoses that we do. Our chosen coaches are relatable and empathetic, not superficial or way off-base.
When you live with a chronic, autoimmune disease like I do, some days my very best is to do the bare minimum. If I don’t stop, drop, and rest when I sense my symptoms coming on, I will suffer the consequences, majorly, in the near future. Doing extra, also known as going the extra mile, is a privileged option that able-bodied people have.
I’m a type A personality, and I thrive on organization, predictability, and a heads up. However, having a chronic illness means that my best laid plans don’t manifest a lot of the time. If I have a night of restless sleep because of disease symptoms, I’ll likely cancel my plans the next day. I think what’s more important than being prepared is to learn to be flexible. There are so many curve balls thrown at people who are differently-abled.
Let me be clear. None of these are excuses. They are explanations. I understand that it’s hard for those who are “well” to understand why some of us can’t meet these motivational expectations. After all, they sound reasonable and productive, right? Sure. But they are exponentially easier and attainable for those who are able-bodied. People like me don’t want your pity, but we would appreciate that you believe us when we tell you we are doing our best. And remember, not all disabilities are visible. Your best bet is to offer every person the benefit of the doubt, and tame your ableism.