Thinking back to my years in college, as a young man with a disability, I found that my life goals at the time were simple. Get an education and survive comfortably, living independently from my parents.
Of course, as a person living with a disability, my concept of independence was far different than what other young men and women at that age considered independence. I knew that there were practical reasons I could not thrive without the support of others. In some cases, this meant hiring paid staff who would come in and help me bathe, eat, and dress for the day. Other times this meant asking for help from classmates, friends, and acquaintances.
I also knew that as much as I needed support for myself, I also needed to find ways to balance that and give back in some ways, to contribute to the lives of those supporting me.
What I found throughout my life, in reciprocating the support that was given me, was how my network grew both in size and in their commitment to continue their support whenever I needed it. More importantly than what I did however, was what I heard time after time in conversation with them.
No matter how trivial, they found that when after speaking to me, they had a greater desire to see the horizons in their own life.
I remember one year in particular, I had a personal care assistant who had come to work with me after dropping out of college. He left school for financial reasons and took a job on my support staff to make his own way. He was a great guy with a wonderful heart, and was almost always on time. There was one afternoon, however, where he was late for a meal that we had set up. I waited for several hours.
When he arrived, nearly two and a half hours late, he explained he just walked 7 miles as his car had broken down and was not able to get it towed. I was astonished, and over the course of my meal, we spoke about where he was in his life and the frustration that he was feeling about barely making ends meet. I empathized, made some suggestions and asked him to let me know what happened with the car. I called a cab for him to get home and covered the cost.
It was not long before his car troubles were resolved, and our meetings resumed as usual. Yet, about three weeks later, he came to me and said, “Barton, I’m going to have to stop working with you. I’ve decided to return to my hometown in Kentucky and return to school and finish my degree.”
To his surprise, I was thrilled for him, happy to see that he was choosing to follow his dream for a greater and more fulfilling life.
Honestly, I have no idea how much influence our conversations had on him, three weeks prior. But I like to think that it was a small piece of what allowed him to expand the possibilities that he saw for himself and embrace a larger horizon.
The decision to embrace a path that leads to a more fulfilling life can be both daunting and scary. Any path is filled with its unknowns and uncertainties. And yet, the sense of fulfillment many of us receive from accepting the journey to reach toward a broader horizon emboldens us to face life’s challenges with deeper passion and an eagerness to persevere.
We want to hear from you! When was a moment that you realized your leadership had an impact on someone else? What did you learn that you weren’t aware of before?
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