How I Turned My Disability into Desirability with a Simple Perspective Change

“Stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of possibilities.” ~Terry Josephson 

When I was just six months old, I contracted the fatal poliovirus. It causes most people to die. It is still incurable. I was able to survive, but it took me away from my ability of walking.

I learned to crawl on the ground, lift my legs with my hands and use prosthetics. Then, twenty years later, I was able to walk with crutches. Post-polio syndrome afflicted me as a child, causing my other organs to become weaker.

In the rural Indian region where I lived, forty-five year ago there was no medical or educational facility. This hampered my ability to get any education. Prosthetic braces that weighed forty-five pounds were the only option for me when I was old enough to attend school. This was much more than what my body could bear. They made it extremely difficult to walk with them. I couldn’t even take one step while wearing braces.

Experiencing Victim Mode

My classmates bullied me, teased me, and left me behind. Sometimes, I was forced to carry my iron-plated leg alone more than a mile home using only my stomach muscles. This used to take two hours and felt like it took a lifetime. The cycle was repeated many times over the years. My emotional pain only grew.

Every time, I asked, “Why me?” The more I asked, the more unpleasant the answers got in my mind.

Fighting Mode: Stepping into Fighter Mode

I was able to turn my misery into an inspiration and a fighting spirit. I remember that many of the motivational books I read stressed one thing: “Break the walls.” So I secretly subjected myself to the harshest physical exercises, torturing myself, hoping someday I would get better at my disability. But the more I tried, the more my emotional and physical problems escalated—to the point of a breakdown. I tried my best to fight the wall, but I didn’t realize it was possible that I had been fighting the wrong wall. I failed.

Now I realize that the real wall that was restricting me wasn’t my physical disability, but my own self-limiting beliefs. I had made up unreal, perceived walls in my mind, thinking that I wouldn’t be accepted unless I walked like ordinary people.

They were my real barriers. I was doubly disabled—externally and internally.

Identifying the Windows

Every time I was left behind, I made a pact with myself: If I couldn’t walk with my legs, I would walk faster with something else. The big question is: With what? But then, a simple perspective shift I call “Through the walls, windows” changed my life and put me on the path of personal transformation to achieve excellence.

Gradually, I began to realize that my disability was giving me many gifts that I had not recognized before. There were no interruptions in my social life, spoiler friends or mobility. These three factors allowed me to have plenty of time for my work, and it was an extremely rewarding environment. How could I use this leverage to my advantage?

While confined in my chair, reading books was what I found the most enjoyable. Dale Carnegie’s first book, which I recall was far ahead of me, was my first. While reading every book that I could borrow or buy, I quickly learned poetry, philosophy, palmistry and physics.

At the tender age of 21, I was a trained engineer and, a year later, a technology scientist. This was something that shocked people, who didn’t believe I could achieve it. The hunger to learn faster led me to earn two doctorates, more than 100 international credentials, and some of the world’s highest certifications.

“I couldn’t walk with legs—now I teach people how to walk faster in what they do.”

I was slow and became obsessed with learning it. It was this unique knowledge that got me where I am today. Performance scientists are people who help improve learning and performance.

However, this allowed me to leverage my abilities and learn from others. I quickly made friends with the most important people in my life and this helped me overcome my social isolation.

Because of my situation, I was able to have daydreams which fueled my imagination. I began to realize that there was a writer in me. At a young age, I began writing stories, poems, dramas and articles. Although I couldn’t afford one book at the time, I now have twenty.

While glued to that chair, I had similar leverage as other kids—that is, my hands. Since then, my talents in drawing and painting have been developed and I was honored with an award from the International Art Society.

When I look back, it is clear that my disability was not a hindrance to my ability to achieve these goals. It actually made me more efficient. My disability, crisis and limitations were not walls I needed to break. Instead, I chose to spot windows among them—windows of opportunities, leverages, and advantages. I’ve leveraged everything my limitations ever offered me.

Two Important Lessons

Two lessons I have learned in this journey were very important to me.

It is possible to break down all of the barriers that appear to be restricting us. First, we need to identify the wall which is actually limiting us. Then, we must break it.

Second, we don’t always need to break every wall because some have Windows. We all need to focus on the windows, no matter how difficult the situation.

When we look at things from a different perspective, it’s amazing how many benefits we see in our difficulties, our desire to live with our disabilities and the leverages we have in our limitations.

Are we Enough?

Sometimes we can feel more depressed after a loss than we do when it happens to others. That’s okay. The crutch that I use to aid me in walking sometimes reminds of my disability. But that’s okay because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it was not for my disability. My disability and my loss define who I am, today, tomorrow.

However, some of us have been groomed to chant motivational mantras like “I am enough.” It is like convincing our minds that the glass is full, so our minds might stop looking for possibilities.

When we see that our glass is empty, we feel hungry for opportunities to leverage our failures and limitations in order to make it fuller. That’s when we create new possibilities for ourselves.

Leverage Your Losses

Consider the loss you’ve suffered from your failures or adversities. You can use these losses as a way to become a teacher for others, instead of feeling inferior.

About Dr Raman K. Attri

Dr Raman K Attri is the world’s leading authority on the science of speed in professional learning and performance. The permanent disability he suffered as a child made it difficult for Dr Raman to overcome his limitations and use his expertise to help others walk faster. Raman is the prolific author of over 20 books across multiple genres, holds two doctorates, over 100 educational qualifications from around the world, and has been featured in more than 100 media articles. His TEDx talk can be found here.

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