by Jen Taggart, guest contributor
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” said the German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to reflect in a Toastmasters International speech about how having cerebral palsy has helped me to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and humor. These three qualities are essential for anyone to have, especially a freelancer.
Cerebral palsy has caused me to grow in my empathy for those who are struggling and those who are simply different.
When I was on a trip with my youth group in New Jersey to repair houses after Hurricane Sandy, the owner of the house my team helped repair was a wheelchair user. I saw a little bit of myself in the owner. As a high school kid, this was the first time I remember helping another person with a disability. It caused me to reflect on moments when I felt helpless and had someone to help me. It was very empowering. I decided after that trip that I wanted to live a life of purpose and be someone who makes a difference in the world. My empathy for those who are struggling has driven me to do communications work for various nonprofits and ministries and take classes to become a grant writer for nonprofit organizations.
As a person with a visible disability, it is easy to feel judged and stereotyped, and this causes me to empathize with those who are different. I would never want to be completely defined by my disability. When I interview and write about people from different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, other disabilities and life circumstances, I try my best to let them tell their own life stories. I refuse to put people into boxes based on my own or my readers’ preconceptions. Each person is a unique individual created in the image of God.
2. Problem-Solving Skills
When you have a disability, you learn how to do things differently, whether using a J-Hook to open a can of soup or a toaster oven to bake cookies.
When you are a freelancer, you also learn to do things differently. Instead of going to an office, I use my older brother’s now-empty bedroom as an office. Sometimes I have trouble getting hold of one source for a journalism article, and need to contact another source, ask for the information via email, or glean it from somewhere else completely. Don’t even get me started on finding or creating photos, graphics, or videos to accompany my stories!
Many times, with cerebral palsy, I need to try multiple accommodations to see what works. As a freelancer, I’ve had to try many different options as well. I’ve tried journalism, digital marketing, proofreading and editing, and grant writing to see what I enjoy and can make a living doing. As a relatively new freelancer, I’m not ashamed to admit that I am still experimenting and exploring.
When you live with a disability, you have to have a sense of humor. If you’ve seen the movie “Toy Story,” you’ll remember The Claw. The Claw is the deity-like figure in the crane game at Pizza Planet that the plush space aliens worship. Ever since I was in elementary school, my brothers and I would call my right hand The Claw.
When you are a freelancer, you also need a sense of humor. Rejection emails, typos, missed deadlines can make you laugh or cry. Take life too seriously as a person with a disability, a freelancer, or anyone, and you’ll drive yourself insane.
Above all else, being a person with cerebral palsy and being a freelancer have both given me grit. My life does not follow an easy formula as a person with a disability, a freelancer or as a person living in a fallen world. There never seems to be a simple answer to my problems, or clear roadmap to reaching my goals. No matter what your own challenges are, I’m sure you feel the same way.
Still, as freelancers, we somehow always manage to use our God-given creativity to find a way forward.
Jen Taggart is a freelancer writer in Strongsville, Ohio, and an EPA associate member.