Last week I was asked to facilitate a workshop on what it is like living without sight in a visual world at Tygerberg Hospital. When the event organiser and I arrived at the hospital we walked to the nearest bank of lifts, only to discover that they were not working.
No problem – we just went to the next bank of lifts… and they were also not working.
Finally, after walking around the hospital building for around 15 minutes checking each lift we passed without success, we eventually found what felt to us like the only working lift in the entire (huge) hospital.
I know many of you will be asking why we didn’t just take the stairs… Well, my workshop was on the 11th floor.
Enough of my story – why am I telling you this?
The fact is that as we were rushing from one lift to another I could not escape the thought of what this must mean for a hospital, where people often need to be moved by wheelchair or in hospital beds, where people may be on crutches, are aged, or simply do not have the same degree of mobility as I do. Not to mention the vast number of visitors, staff, doctors, nurses who need to navigate the 11floors of the building.
How on earth was that possible with so many lifts out of service? What implications resulted from those lifts being out? And how many unnecessary problems arose because people could not freely move around the hospital? That was when I came to realize that, though I may be blind, at least I have the gift of mobility and though I would not have enjoyed climbing the stairs to get to the 11th floor; at least I had the capacity to do so.
In my speaking, I tell the story of what happened in the aftermath of being told by the doctors that I would be blind for the rest of my life. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had a choice – to go home and give up, and be angry, bitter, dependent and depressed for the rest of my life… Or to go out there and see what life still had to offer me. Obviously, I chose the latter option.
Often I have been asked how that decision was so simple for me – why I felt it was the only decision that was possible for me to make.
I believe there were 3 main factors that influenced that decision.
- A naturally positive attitude that fuelled my desire to keep moving forward
- My refusal to let the blindness dictate my options, and to take back control of my life.
- My belief that my skills, strengths and resources would help me to deal with the inevitable day to day challenges of being blind.
In the next few articles on this thread, I will look at each of these in turn – starting with my positive attitude.
It’s a little over 14 years since I was declared blind. In that time many people have asked me how I coped when it happened, and how I continue to cope as a blind person living in a predominantly sighted world.
Looking back over the years I can’t recall much of what I was thinking at the time, but I do recall feeling overwhelmed and confused because I didn’t even know how to start building the skills and knowledge I knew I would need in my new life – or where to turn to find that information.
A speaking colleague, Aletta Rochat, said recently in a workshop (and yes, I’m paraphrasing) that feeling overwhelmed is not a sign that we do not know what to do, it is rather a sign that we do not know what to do next.
I think that can be adapted to be a useful strategy when you are facing a challenge – you don’t need to find a solution to the entire problem… you simply need to figure out what you need to do next – and take it one step at a time.
Remember the old adage of how you eat an elephant? You do so one spoon at a time. Well, I believe that overcoming challenges is a bit like that.
So that’s the approach I took to overcoming the challenge of learning to live without sight– I didn’t try to figure out my entire life, what I was going to do, how I was going to do it, how I was going to solve the day-to-day problems that arose. Rather, I sat down and tried to figure out what my first steps needed to be… and just focussed on taking those very first steps.
Next time you’re facing a challenge and feeling overwhelmed by it, remember that you don’t need to figure out what to do… it’s that you need to figure out what to do next… and take it one step at a time!
The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker
by Patrick Schwerdtfeger
As a relatively inexperienced professional speaker, I was interested to read Patrick Schwerdtfeger’s latest book, Keynote Mastery.
As the author indicates clearly, the book is primarily a memoir of his own journey, and he discusses both his successes and his failures in a candid and human manner.
I found the book very readable. The style is conversational and relatively informal, and makes use of anecdotes and personal stories to bring home the tips that the author shares with his readers.
At times I felt the author shared a little more of his family history than was necessary, but it did not detract too significantly from my overall engagement with the book.
I found the details of the way the speaking industry operates in the USA interesting, but felt that this might be confusing for inexperienced speakers from other countries where the industry may be set up in a slightly different way. Nonetheless, the inclusion of this type of detail serves to demonstrate the importance of understanding the industry, wherever one is based.
Overall, I found the insights and helpful tips for aspiring speakers very valuable and particularly enjoyed the way the author used his personal stories and experiences to reinforce the value of each lesson. Also useful were the 16 worksheets on the author’s website that are further aids to assist aspiring speakers on their journey.
(review copy provided by Netgalley)
I spent much of last weekend working on the final touches so I could submit my book for the final edit. For some strange reason, this time round the final items included deciding on the title and chapter headings. I had a lot of fun playing around with various ideas, and here is what I landed up with
Title: A Different Way Of Seeing Sub-title: My Life Without Sight
- Chapter 01: Who, How And Why (my basic story)
- Chapter 02: Covering The Basics
- Chapter 03: At Home
- Chapter 04: Putting Myself Together (clothing, make-up, etc)
- Chapter 05: Bits, Bytes And Snarls (using technology)
- Chapter 06: Earning My Keep
- Chapter 07: …And In My Leisure Time???
- Chapter 08: Supercanines Are Go! (about my guide dogs)
- Chapter 09: Out And About
- Chapter 10: Seeing the World… Or Not??? (travel)
- Chapter 11: From The Outside In (chapter written by my husband, Craig)
The title and chapter headings are not set in stone, so they may change before I finally publish the book, but that’s what they are for now. In the next two or three weeks, while the book is being edited, I need to complete the cover and investigate printing. Sooo close now…
Last weekend a visually impaired friend of mine went to Gold Reef City to ride the rollercoasters. Imagine her amazement when she was told that she could not ride because she as blind. When she posted about the experience on Facebook it turned out that this had happened to other visually impaired people over the past year or so – that it was policy.
I am very aware that I do not have all the facts beyond a very brief explanation given by my friend on Facebook, and that there are always two sides to a story, but still, I find myself in something of a quandary.
In principle, I agree wholeheartedly with the outraged comments from other visually impaired people at the apparent discrimination of this policy. But I want to know more details before I add my voice – I admit that I cannot think of a good reason why a visually impaired person should not be able to go on the rides, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. And if there is a valid reason for the policy, then our outrage might be inappropriate.
I think it is important to get all the facts… to see the whole picture… so that we can be sure we act on the correct conclusions. Responding when we have only part of the information can be inadvisable at best, and dangerous at worst.
As an addendum: my friend has just reported that Gold Reef City are willing to meet and discuss the policy, so perhaps this will have a happy ending after all.
It takes me a long time to start using a new application on my iPhone or computer. I had a Facebook profile for years with nothing on it, before I sat down and worked out how to find my way round the basic features. LinkedIn was no different –I had a very basic profile set up, but just never seemed to get round to learning how to use it.
My main reason for procrastinating about technology is that there is simply no way for me to quickly scan the application to figure out how it operates. I have no choice but to read every single word of every single line so I can see what options are available to me, and that takes time. As a result, often I just don’t bother.
In August 2015 I attended a workshop on LinkedIn for Speakers run by Charlotte Kemp and that gave me the skills… and the courage… to start working on my profile. And I (cautiously) started using LinkedIn.
About a month ago LinkedIn updated the iPhone application and suddenly it all became unfamiliar once more. I can honestly say that I no longer know where to find anything and that once more it is too much of a bother to try and figure it out… at least for now. I still haven’t gathered up the courage to open LinkedIn on my computer in case that has changed too.
I know I will get round to it at some stage soon, and I know that updates are necessary and are often beneficial… but unfortunately knowing that by no means diminishes the frustration I experience when having to start from scratch and relearn an application after an update.
When I started writing my book explaining how I accomplish everyday tasks, it seemed that the first step – the initial creation of the text – happened very quickly. From there everything seems to be taking a whole lot longer and there are times that I wonder if it is all worth it.
I know I suffer from chronic procrastination and that it has had an impact on my progress, but I also feel that the initial act of creation was fairly easy – all I had to do was sit down and write. Now, as I review and incorporate input from my first readers, add new chapters to fill gaps in my initial text, and move certain parts of the book around into additional chapters, I observe that it is taking me a lot of mental energy… and a whole lot of time. On the other hand, I know that my final book will be a lot better than it would have been had I simply taken the easy route and just published what I originally wrote.
So, I reassure myself with the knowledge that, though it may seem like I am not making progress, I am still moving forward… step by step. And I will get there eventually!
Sometimes we may feel like we are not making progress, or that a task is simply too much effort for us to continue. But I’m pretty sure that if you take a step back and look at that seemingly never-ending task, that you may not be able to see how much you have progressed, or how much what you are currently doing (no matter how slowly), is benefitting your project.
After all, don’t they say that slow and steady wins the race?
I’ve never been one for New Year Resolutions. For me, the term resolution infers a closing, an ending, – “We managed to resolve the problem!”. So I have never sat down at the start of the year and made copious lists of what I wish for the year.
Having said that, there are several things that I would like to accomplish in the coming year:
- to finish and publish my book on how I accomplish tasks without sight,
- to run a few professional workshops on both disability awareness and communication
- to continue developing my own skills as a speaker and facilitator
- To write more regular articles for this blog.
- To build on the foundations of some of the tasks I began last year – my website, my LinkedIn profile, my Facebook pages
I know that these are not SMART goals (specific, measurable, action-orientated, , realistic, time-based), but for me they are a guideline to help me prioritise my activities over the coming year. Maybe I should plan to revisit this post in January 2017…
A few days ago I had an unexpected epiphany about the book I’m writing and the consequences of going back into my memories of my personal journey.
It’s almost as if recalling some of the experiences I’ve had in the past has opened a floodgate of other memories. I will be busy with a task – sometimes writing, sometimes something totally unrelated to my book, like making a cup of tea – and suddenly I will start thinking about something that happened ages and ages ago… something I haven’t thought of in years, if not decades!
But here’s the truly unexpected part: all of these memories are of joyful times
It may be that I am focusing on the more humorous anecdotes from my life as a blind person, it may be that I have always more easily been able to recall the positives and forget the negatives – but whatever the reason, the result of this entire writing process and its unexpected consequences is that I find myself in a very light and positive state of mind these days.
And that is just awesome!