That 'I-word' Irks Me

Forget the dictionary definitions, and that goose-bumps moment you get after hearing a motivational speaker, or seeing a moving piece on a local hero on the 10 o'clock news. I want to know what it means for you to be inspired; what does it mean when you cross paths with someone inspirational? Here is what it means for me:
When I am inspired it means that I am encouraged and motivated to try harder. It means that I believe in myself a little bit more than I did a few minutes ago, it means that I have just witnessed an example of someone else trying harder - and the outcome of what that led to. It means that I have just been lucky enough to add another instance of possibility to my archives of possibility examples. So when I flip back into my brain and come across the word 'Inspire, Inspirational' the little card in my mind reads: Please see 'possibility' ... and then like a Google search hundreds of hits on moments, images, individuals, and life experiences pop-up in my mind.

When I first set-out to write this post my initial goal was to explain why I, personally, feel very uncomfortable when I am told "You are such an inspiration.." or "you have inspired me.." or "your life is an inspiration to me.." Usually my gut reaction is to blush like mad, smirk a little, and then awkwardly shrug my shoulders.. followed by a quiet "thanks."

So, why do I feel uncomfortable?
Why do I squirm inside of my head when this happens? Why does my stomach feel like it just got sent reeling up into my throat? Isn't this a good thing to be told? Isn't this something that I should make my life's mission?
For some people I guess it is their life's mission, and that's fine. But it's not for me. At least not in this mid-20's stage of my life!

My life goals include being happy, being productive, being engaged in my community, caring for my family & friends, to be as healthy as I possibly can, to achieve milestones both big and small, to learn as much as I can, to make a positive difference for at least one person, and to have fun!
And as weird, eclectic, bizarre, and a little neurotic as I can be - from the conversations I have had with family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, strangers, acquaintances...these are not life goals that are all that inspirational. From what I have gathered these are pretty normal and sane life goals.

But Sandy, it's the fact that you do things with all that you have got going on...
This is something that I get told often. And in my mind I am always thinking and don't we all have a lot going on? I have just chosen to try to be more like you. I want to live a life like the ones that surround me! I also want to meet those social norms that are upheld by the communities you and I live in. Of course given 'all that I have got going on' I need to approach those benchmarks on my own terms, and in my own way - but tell me, isn't that exactly what you are doing as well?
When I was younger - middle school and high school aged - I was always confused when I was told that I was an inspiration. I broke my femur four consecutive times in the 7th grade, but I still wanted to go to the school dance and worried about whether or not my crush would ever ask me! For me to show up at the school dance with a long leg cast, and getting told "you are an inspiration" made me wrinkle my nose in confusion. I looked around and hoped that all my other friends were told this when they walked into the gymnasium, but a gnawing feeling in my stomach told me that they had not. In my mind I didn't try any less harder than my friends to look absolutely pristine for that school dance.
During my year of service in AmeriCorps these instances happened quite a bit! Colleagues at the community college I was serving at were quick to say things like "I can't believe you're giving a year of service with all that you already need to deal with, your ability to care is such an inspiration." Ummm what? My disability impacts my skeletal frame, it impacts the collagen in my body, it interferes with my ability to walk and hear. But it has no bearing on my ability to care, to feel, to achieve, to volunteer, to give, and to have stamina towards my personal goals. Most of all it doesn't stand in the way of how I choose to live my life.

If I am an inspiration because someone else realizes what's possible, then that's awesome! Interacting with a diverse spectrum of what is possible is what I like the most about humanity. That spectrum is an infinite source of motivation! But if I am an inspiration because someone else wants to compare life challenges & achievements with mine, then please just don't even bother. You'll be lucky if I even give you the time of day, if that's the case.

When people acknowledge that they have been inspired by me - in one way or another - I can't help but wonder, what are they really saying? (In my over-active analytic brain) Is it because they don't understand what it means to live with a disability? Is it because they want to point out the fact that we are on different playing-fields? And...assume my playing-field is much harder to score a goal on? Do they feel the need to blow-up my egotistical brain by feeding me compliments? Or they're putting me on some fluffy and undefined status in an attempt to bridge the differences between us? Do they feel bad that I have other challenges I need to work around, in order to live a 'normal' life? Maybe they don't realize that 'those challenges' aren't even challenges to me - because this is the life I have always known! Are they uncomfortable with the way they have been living their own lives?  

The point here is that I can't change the way people feel or think. I can only let my own opinions be voiced, and stand firm by my thoughts and to support them however I know best. I will also stand firm by the fact that I am always encouraged & motivated by each one of you, in order to try harder for myself. 

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One Response to That 'I-word' Irks Me

  1. I read some of your posts and sometimes wonder if you have crawled into my own head and this is one of of them! I might be nearly 10 years older than you, I could not have said it any better and I still feel the exact same way in my mid 30's as I did in my 20's about this. The only thing that I have come to realize in the past 10 years is what you have already said and it's this, "Are they uncomfortable with the way they have been living their own lives?" I am pretty sure this hits the nail on the head. They see us fight a bit harder for the "normal" things we have in life. For us, it's second nature and often don't even realize we are working harder to get where we want to be in life. I think that they see us as an inspiration to get over the trivial excuses they have made up over the years for not accomplishing what they want to do in their own lives.


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