Photo of double rainbow, arcing above a green meadow. A river is in the distance, covered in gray storm clouds.

Does It Inspire You to Action?

Inspiration. What is it? According to Merriam -Webster, it is:

  • 1. An inspiring agent or influence
  • 2. The quality or state of being inspired
  • 3. The act of drawing in – specifically the drawing of air into the lungs
  • 4. The action or power of moving the intellect or emotions

People find inspiration or become inspired in many ways. For some, a sunrise can be inspiring. Others are inspired by observing an act of strength or sacrifice. Words inspire me. They have the power to move my emotions and influence my behavior.

This weekend I had the privilege to listen to several inspirational speakers as part of the Rotary Empire Multi-District President Elect Training Seminar (MD PETS). Social gathering restrictions meant this year’s seminar was held virtually rather than in-person. While this reduced the opportunity for spontaneous fellowship, it allowed the planning committee to invite amazing speakers from across the globe who would not have been able to attend if our event had not been virtual. At the end of the seminar yesterday, I made a list of the steps I can take to be a stronger leader in my Rotary club and professional life. I started to imagine how the words of inspiration could translate into new activities.

Whenever I feel inspired, I challenge myself to look deeper. I try to identify how I can convert my feelings into at least one new action. This activity was caused by my own emotional reaction to nondisabled strangers calling me inspirational. My automatic responses to what was intended to be a compliment were limiting my chances for meaningful discussions.

I am an open person, not shy about sharing my personal stories in my writing and public speaking. I want to be an accepting, humble, and grateful person. I am proud of my accomplishments but I don’t see myself as having done great things “in spite” of my disability. Rather, I have completed many tasks, activities and adventures as a woman who happens to be disabled, just like I happen to have brown hair. My disability has always just been a part of who I am, not something I have had to “overcome” in order to live.

But when nondisabled strangers labeled me as inspirational, I rushed to judgement without giving them the benefit of the doubt. I internally rolled my eyes, assuming they found me inspiring because of my disability rather than taking the time to question them about their statement. I closed myself off to a possible dialogue or the gift of connection because it was easier to group that stranger with people who gave compliments to make themselves feel better about themselves. After all, doesn’t everyone know disability is a fate worse than death? Instead of taking the time to learn why a stranger offered me what might be construed as praise, I would jump to cynicism.

Once I realized what I was doing, I began to examine the reasons why. If friends or family called me an inspiration, they often told me the reason. This meant I did not doubt their motive or intent. So, I started to ask a follow-up question whenever a stranger told me I was inspirational. Instead of automatically assuming intent, I began to smile and say, “What have I inspired you to do?” or “How have I inspired you?”

The responses to this question have been varied and revealing. Only a few people told me they were inspired because my own disability made them feel better about themselves. One brave person actually said, “If you can do everything you do being so disabled, I don’t have any excuse.” Some people are stunned, shocked at my response. A few people have felt challenged and become brusque, responding with comments such as, “Well, I was just trying to be nice!” or “Can’t take a compliment?”

Then there are the people who redeem my faith in others. They tell me they are going to advocate for inclusion. They are going to stop holding public events at venues that aren’t accessible for everyone. They are going to start captioning their YouTube videos. They are going to stop assuming all disabilities are visible.

When we rush to judgement, we lose the chance for meaningful discussion. If we act on our incorrect assumptions, we never have the opportunity to be blessed with insight about ourselves. My quick dismissal of the “inspirational” label applied to me by others robbed me of a gift. My own story could have an impact in meaningful ways, just like I am moved to action by the words of others. Some of these may be related to disability, but not always. Why did I continue to assume the worst for so long?

I continue to struggle when others call me inspirational. There are times I feel unworthy of the praise. But I am still doing my best to try not to rush to judgement and indignation. Asking questions has helped me understand I can be viewed as inspirational for non-disability related reasons, even by those who do not know me well. And when I offer the word to others as a compliment, I tell them why in case they are internally rolling their own eyes.

30 Days of Thanks Day 7: Rotary

Tuesdays used to be awful days for me. Mondays I could tolerate, but Tuesdays were the worst! Nothing ever went according to plan. Nothing positive ever happened on a Tuesday.

Then my Rotary club changed their meetings to Tuesdays and all of a sudden Tuesday became a better day! My club, the Colonie-Guilderland Rotary Club, meets Tuesdays for lunch. Although attendance is not mandatory, I have attended almost every meeting since July 1, 2016 because I am president of my club.

I became involved in Rotary when I joined my high school Interact club. Rotary sent me overseas for a year as an exchange student when I was sixteen. Rotary changed my life for the better and now I have the opportunity to give back and provide service in my own community.

Whatever is happening in my world, in our city, in our country, or in the world, I know that on Tuesday afternoon I will be able to sit in a room with people who are “doers;” people who see a need and say, “I want to help make a difference.” The positive energy and optimism that pervades the room lift my spirits and makes me enthusiastic about whatever else I need to accomplish on a Tuesday.

The Rotary motto is “Service Above Self.” Are you looking for a way to be of service to your community and the world? There are Rotary clubs in cities and towns around the world, including e-clubs!

30 Days of Thanks Day 11 – My Favorite Veteran (and Veterans Everywhere)

You were so kind earlier this week when I wrote a repeat post about my mother. I decided to push my luck and focus today’s gratitude post on my wonderful father Sebastian, or Sam as he is known to everyone. Yes, I’ve written about him before. Rather than repeat what I have already written, I hope you will read this post or this post to learn more about him. Most of what I know to be true about service to others, I learned from Sam.

My father taught me everyone has the capacity to be of service, to do something to improve their community or the world. Dad served my hometown as a Rotarian, a businessman and as a member of the Knights of Columbus. He volunteered to serve senior meals to seniors who were sometimes younger than he was. Dad drove his friends from church to and from medical appointments.

For almost thirty five years, my parents hosted an annual picnic on Memorial Day weekend. To the frustration of my mother, who would be planning details, Dad would invite people to the party up until the day of the event. It was not uncommon to be walking out of church with him, encounter someone and hear him say, “Whatcha doing on Sunday? We’re having a picnic and you should come – just bring a dish to pass!”

Mom would sigh, and I imagine she was mentally calculating if she had enough paper plates and napkins. Dad wasn’t concerned about the details. He is the type of person who doesn’t want anyone to not have a place to gather with others. Dad’s hospitality is what many of my friend’s comment on when they ask me about my parents.

Dad involved me in his community service when I was young. In elementary school, I accompanied him in the afternoons when the Rotary club painted the Scout House. In high school, I worked at his side scooping ice cream at the annual General Clinton Canoe Regatta, my hometown’s one big event. I sold tickets at the church chicken barbecues which were held to raise money for various projects.

Thank you Dad, for encouraging me to do whatever I can to help those around me. Through your example, I learned the value of commitment to the service to others. You taught me that everyone can do something, and that even small acts can have a large impact.

Today, a day we honor Veterans who have served our country, I would like to express my gratitude my father (who served in the US Army), my uncles, my brother-in-law, my nephew, my cousins, and my friends who have served or are serving. Thanks to you, and millions more, I am able to enjoy the freedoms and rights I take for granted. I appreciate the sacrifices you make for your country and its citizens. I may not always agree with my country’s policies and positions, but I always have the utmost respect for the men and women who willingly don the uniform each day and perform their tasks with professionalism and integrity.

Black and white photo taken circa 1946 of a young caucasian man wearing a uniform of a private in the US Army.
My favorite veteran.

30 Days of Thanks Day 5 – Colonie-Guilderland Rotarians

In 2013, I attended my first meeting of the Colonie-Guilderland Rotary Club. I was a guest speaker, along with my boss, invited to talk about Consumer Directed Personal Assistance. As the daughter of a Rotarian, and a former Rotary Youth Exchange Student, I was very comfortable interacting with the Rotarians present that day.

What is Rotary? At least once a week someone asks me that question. Because I grew up in a Rotary family, and have been involved with levels of Rotary all my life, sometimes I forget that there are people who do not know about Rotary – or who think it is just a weekly meeting of boring, old, white men.

Rotary International is a service organization with more than 1.2 million members worldwide. Rotary clubs, along with the Rotary Foundation, provide international and local acts of service. Globally, Rotary is committed to six areas of focus:

  • Promoting Peace
  • Fighting Disease
  • Providing Clean Water
  • Saving Mothers and Children
  • Supporting Education
  • Growing Local Economies

Rotarians are dedicated men and women of all ages who share a commitment and passion for service. My experience has taught me Rotarians also like to have fun. My views on this might be influenced by my exchange year, but my years as a Rotarian also support this observation.

In 2015, I agreed to accept the role of President-Elect of my Rotary club. This meant I would spend the 2015-2016 year planning to become President for 2016-2017. It was an honor to receive the support of my club, who believed I would be able to take on this responsibility.

I never expected to break my leg. But of course, life has a way of throwing the unexpected in your path.

Some of my first visitors to the hospital in January were my fellow Rotarians. They brought cards and balloons, gift baskets and cookies. Some of them sent me cheery emails and one brought me soup. When I returned home, they continued to visit, bringing me casseroles and dinners.

Because of my broken femur, I missed all of the training sessions for incoming club Presidents. I missed three months of club meetings. I was not able to honor my commitments to service projects with my club.

I offered to withdraw as President-Elect, but my club was willing to have me continue on. I explained that I would not have independent transportation, and might have to skip a meeting without warning due to my inability to independently get to/from the senior housing center where we meet. My club members assured me they would go with the flow, and shift responsibilities if needed when I was absent.

Rotary’s motto is “Service Above Self.” As the recipient of acts of service performed by my fellow club members this year, I am reminded of how easy it is to be of service to someone else. Today I offer gratitude to those Rotarians who took the time to check on me while I was in the hospital, and who made my recovery less stressful by providing nourishment for my body and spirit. I am thankful to be part of an organization that embraces everyone who has a desire to serve. It is an honor to have your support in my role as President, and more importantly, to call you my friends.

Are you looking for a way to provide service in your community? Rotary has clubs in almost every country. To find a club near you, click this link!

Is Anybody Out There?

Photo of a woman in a wheelchair speaking into a microphone. She is seated behind a podium with a red banner which reads "Light Up Rotary."
I am no stranger to speaking to Rotary Clubs or Conferences about my year as an exchange student.

I would like to thank everyone who sent me a message of encouragement prior to my presentation at the Rotary International North American Youth Exchange Network (NAYEN) conference last weekend. Some of you have sent email asking how it went so I thought I would write a follow-up about the experience.

First, I must express appreciation to Dennis White for putting my name forward as a possible speaker for NAYEN. Dennis is a psychologist and Rotarian who has been conducting research on the long-term positive effects of youth exchange. I met Dennis at the Rotary District 7170 District Conference in 2014, a conference which celebrated the District’s commitment and participation in youth exchange for more than fifty years. Dennis shared his research findings and I shared my unique story as one of the first disabled students to successfully complete an exchange year with Rotary International. At the end of the conference, Dennis told me about NAYEN and suggested I think about attending. Little did I know this would take the shape of an invitation to speak at NAYEN. Thank you Dennis for thinking of me and for allowing me to share my story with a wider audience.

With my broken leg making air travel impossible, I knew I would need to utilize technology like Skype or a webinar platform to be “present” at the conference. I have used Skype before, but mainly for one-on-one conversations or meetings with small groups. When presenting to conferences or large groups, I have always been on site, directly in front of my audience.

Last Saturday, I dressed in “work clothes” above the waist (nobody would see my fleece penguin pajama pants and slippers!), styled my hair, and put on lipstick for the first time in almost two months. I was reminded of the times my mom came to pick me up late at night after a high school marching band or orchestra trip, arriving at the school in her bathrobe and lipstick. At least I know where it comes from.

The Skype connection was clear and at 8:50 PM, Kevin (the NAYEN technology wizard) called me to tell me I was on. I had a quick glance at the audience of 475 people, seated at round tables in a hotel ballroom, as the emcee gave a brief introduction. After establishing they could in fact hear as well as see me, I shared my screen and began to talk.

Like most speakers, I rely on audience feedback to let me know how I am doing. Are they yawning? Are they laughing at things I meant to be funny? Are they checking their phones because they are bored? Are they making eyes at the person sitting across from them? When you are on stage in front of an audience, those visual cues are helpful. Last Saturday, I did not have visual cues from my audience.

Even more important, I did not have audio cues either. Feedback from my voice being projected into the ballroom was distracting to the audience and me, and Kevin muted the microphone on his end. I knew this might be a possibility as we had discussed it during our test run the day before. While I knew it might happen, I had not really considered what it would mean to be completely cut off from my audience. I have experienced similar situations, when all lines have been muted while I have been recording phone training sessions or webinars for work. But formal work recordings are different, because in those instances I am usually conveying required information instead of telling a personal story.

In the silence of my apartment, I began feeling a bit like I was speaking to an empty void. I did all the things I often encourage other speakers to do. I smiled and repeatedly told myself to slow down (my natural rate of speech is fast). I paused frequently at appropriate times, and kept an eye on the clock. Yet without the audible and visual cues from my audience, I had to assume my message was making it through and just keep going. I must have done a decent job though, because the audience responded enthusiastically at the end of my speech. It was a relief to see and hear them, to reconnect with them briefly before signing off and going to bed.

Ah, the exciting life I lead. The audience was going dancing while I was collapsing on my pillow. This was an unexpected perk of not being at the conference. I’m not kidding either. I shut off my computer at 9:29 PM and was in bed by 10:00. That doesn’t happen when you are on site!

Looking back on the experience made me think this week about how often we communicate without taking time to wait for feedback from our communication partners. How many times do we turn away from someone, missing an important facial expression which would provide a valuable clue about how that person is feeling? Do we listen, really listen, when we interact with others? Or do we just project our message hoping it will be received by those able to hear it? How do we know our meaning has been understood and received by those we want to reach?

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the conference, even though I missed out on being present in person. I learned many valuable lessons from the process which will help me become a stronger public speaker. Each time I speak, my audience helps me grow and (hopefully) improve.

Current status: Enjoying one more day of rest before returning to work part-time from home on Monday! I plan to spend the day learning to knit and purl while watching re-runs of Downton Abbey episodes, in preparation for tonight’s series finale. Will Edith find love at last? What will become of Mr. Barrow? Did you ever imagine I might feel bad for poor Mr. Barrow? And who will I quote once the Dowager Countess is gone?