Are You Challenged or Disabled?

are you challenged or disabled

When you think of disabled – what do you think of?

Most of us immediately think of those who are physically disabled because that is usually how the term is applied. I went to the dictionary to find a definition for “disabled” and I was surprised that the first definition was handicapped. Next I looked up the term handicapped and it listed disabled as one of its definitions.

Looking a little deeper I found the definition “disadvantaged” applied to both of these terms. I also discovered that the dictionary did not restrict these terms to being physically challenged, but also included being mentally challenged. In my mind there is a huge difference between disabled and disadvantaged.

We are all challenged and damaged to some degree

Let’s face it, there are numerous areas in which we can be challenged or handicapped. In fact if you think about it, isn’t it true that we are all somewhat handicapped either physically, mentally, emotionally or socially?

Sometimes we apply the term dysfunctional to relationships, as in the expression “they come from a dysfunctional family.” In this case we could say that the social dynamic of the family is severally handicapped.

So let’s get to the point of this article. Handicapped means challenged and we are all challenged in one way or another. Being physically handicapped usually means being challenged in a way that others can see. Being mentally, emotionally or socially handicapped may not be so obvious, but it can be equally disabling.

When John was challenged

I have a friend named John who is an incredible athlete. Running, bicycling, hiking, weight lifting and just about any sport you can think of, John’s into it. Sadly, due to circumstances beyond his control John recently had to have the lower third of one of his legs amputated. Sometimes bad things happen!

What would you do if you were in John’s situation? Would you be among that 52% of Americans who say they would rather be dead than be disabled? Would you consider losing part of one of your legs as a disability or a handicap? Would you consider yourself to be dysfunctional or challenged? Think about that for a minute. Try to put yourself in John’s shoes, so to speak.

Life is full of challenges. It’s up to you whether or not being challenged become equates to being disabled. Nothing has any value except what we assign it. If we decide that our challenges are insurmountable then they become our disabilities. On the other hand, if we view being challenged as an opportunity to learn and grow, then being challenged will actually contribute to our personal development.

How did John decide to deal with this situation?

Less than a year after his amputation John successfully ran the Monterrey Marathon, all 26 miles of it. Last time I saw John we barely had time to speak, why? Because he was so involved in a volleyball game that I did not want to break his concentration.

John was an athlete before his amputation and he’s still an athlete today. He did not allow himself to become a victim of his circumstances.

What can we learn from John’s example?

No matter how challenged we may feel at times, the meaning we assign to those challenges is always our choice. With the right mindset we can overcome any hurdle, rise to meet any set of circumstances and conquer any of life’s challenges. It might not be easy. In fact it might be extremely difficult. But it can be done.

We can all learn the life skills that will empower us to overcome any physical, mental, emotional or social obstacles that we encounter. Remember, it’s not what happens to you that’s important in the long run – it’s how you decide to deal with it. You do not need to be the victim of your circumstances.

When you are challenged, never allow that challenge to become a disability. You can’t get through life without being challenged and damaged to one degree or another. So, at times of adversity you may be disadvantaged, but you don’t need to let it disable you. Take a lesson from John and all the others who have stood up to their challenges and proved victorious!

“Within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and sickness, to riches and poverty, to freedom and to slavery. It is we who control these, and not another.” -Richard Bach

How do you about the difference between challenged and disabled?
Have you ever been inspired by someone like John?
The lines are open!

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  1. Rachel July 16, 2008 Reply

    I was born with a visual impairment. My sight issues have rarely limited me, any limitations I have had were mostly self imposed.

    I have a Masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. I was the first legally blind, visual artist to graduate with a masters from that university.

    At times I have used my “disability” to not live up to my fullest potential. At other times I have over compensated for my sight issues and not received appropriate help when I needed it.

    What I find most interesting is I AM NOT ALONE. You don’t have to have a obvious disability to have areas in your life where you have been disabled. Each of us have used coping skills because we didn’t have other more appropriate tools at our disposal.

    A disability is not something that happens TO YOU it’s something that you do to yourself. There’s really only disabled thinking.

  2. Mark Lewis May 27, 2009 Reply

    I’m a severely disabled quadriplegic (C5) and I can’t imagine choosing death over life. The single most important thing to remember when dealing with a disability is learn to adapt. In our attempts to adapt its also important to take on our challenges with a different/new perspective.

    Unfortunately, my limitations are not self-imposed. I know I’m disabled but I choose to view my life as a challenge. There are some things that I can’t do or they are simply not practical. However, there is so much that I CAN do. For instant, I don’t get up every morning and tell myself I’m going to walk today; I get up every morning telling myself I’m going to live today.

    • Jonathan May 27, 2009 Reply

      Hi Mark, and thanks for joining the conversation. I truly appreciate your attitude and you spirit. I also enjoy reading your blog. In fact, I want to encourage everyone to read this inspiring article Mark wrote called Sail Through Adversity.

  3. Frank J June 13, 2009 Reply

    A fantastic and motivation story that will really make you feel very fortunate.

    • Jonathan June 13, 2009 Reply

      Thanks Frank, there is a lot of value in the way accounts like this help adjust our perspective. Truth is, we are very fortunate and it’s good to be reminded of that sometimes.

  4. Marelisa June 13, 2009 Reply

    Dan Gilbert talks in “Stumbling on Happiness” about how we’re really bad at predicting how future events will impact our life. People tend to think that negative events–such as divorce, an accident, or losing a job–will be devastating, and that positive events such as winning the lottery would bring large and sustained increases in happiness. However, people are wrong in both accounts. We’re much more resilient than we think so we can deal with negative events much better than we give ourselves credit for. Also, even after great things happen to us we tend to go right back to our “set” point of happiness.

    Your friend John sounds like a great person to know.

    • Jonathan June 13, 2009 Reply

      Hi Marelisa, thanks for joining the conversation. You made several excellent points. Most people are unaware of the fact that we have both physical and emotional set points. After a disruption of any kind, we tend to revert to whatever state or condition was previously considered as normal. Thankfully, with some effort we can establish new set points if we feel the need. Once established, they become our new “norm.”

  5. Rocket Bunny June 13, 2009 Reply

    Great article Jonathan –
    Thank you for bring it to my attention. This very moving and I must say I appreciate all I have and all who have over come disabilities.
    Thank you again

    • Jonathan June 13, 2009 Reply

      Hi Bunny, I am glad you liked it. I think it’s wonderful how we get inspired when we see how others have overcome, or dealt with, very challenging situations. When channeled in a positive direction, the human spirit is an awesome force.

  6. Stephen June 14, 2009 Reply

    I believe I have read that after 6 months or 1 year after an accident, people who have been permanently injured are just as happy as they were before and that they are just as happy as non-injured people.

    Another way to look at all of this is to just accept what is. I can’t fly so does that mean I’m disabled? I can’t run 100 mph so I’m a disabled? I’m not as smart as some other people I know so am I disabled? I jump as high as some other people, etc.

    You work with what you’ve got. That’s life. That’s just the way it is.

    • Jonathan June 14, 2009 Reply

      Hi Stephen, it’s true that all of us learn to work with what we’ve got. Some limitations have always been with us and so, for example, being unable to fly is not really a challenge. We never had that ability and neither does anyone else.

      The real challenge arises when we lose abilities that we once had, as in Mark’s case (comment #2), or we are born without something that most people have, as in Rachel’s case (comment #1). Loss challenges us on almost every level and that’s when strength of character really comes into play.

  7. Robin Easton June 15, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, this is very thoughtful and encourages us to think deeply, to tap into hitherto untouched reserves of inner strength. Having climbed out of several very deep holes in my life (where I had to fight for my life) I can say that the loss of a limb would be a devastating blow but I would force myself to go on, and not JUST go on, but go on until I became whole again in spirit. I don’t say this lightly, I say it from a place of knowing the various odds I’ve faced at times of my life. It would take a bit of time, but eventually I would find my focus again and move toward it one day at a time. I would find the thing or things that gave me hope, that inspire passion in me and excitement, the desire to dream, the courage to not just live, but to live fully and with great joy. There are extremes of loss that would seem almost impossible to over come, but I pray that I would.

    My husband does an exercise in one of his classes where the students have to strap one arm to their body and go an entire 24 hour period without being able to use it. It makes people think, value what they had and develop compassion, etc. Thank you for such a touching post. I highly value it and you.

    • Hi Robin, your husbands exercise reminds me of a similar approach by another teacher. He would assign pairs of students to go to public places like a mall. One would sit in a wheelchair and the other would push. After several hours they would trade places. His students quickly gained a new perspective on life. They got to experience first hand the way other people reacted to them. It was a awakening, to say the least.

  8. kate smedley June 15, 2009 Reply

    Thanks for an excellent article on disability and our perception of what disability actually is, you have given us all much food for thought. I also love the quote by Richard Bach. Your friend John is an inspiration to us all.

    • Jonathan June 16, 2009 Reply

      Thanks Kate, I am so glad you liked it. He has definitely been an inspiration to me and I love to share stories that inspire. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  9. marty July 10, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    For a few years, I chose a label for myself…. depression. I was comfortable with it in a way, however it held me back. Being something unseen, most people did not understand it and in truth I didn’t understand it myself. It was self perpetuating. I’m no longer a victim of it. I’ve been inspired by what others have done with their lives by not being held back. I think of Nick Vujicic as a classic example of this.
    The truth is, as you say, we all have challenges through life. Those challenges we can use as the motivator to choose great things in life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    • Jonathan July 11, 2011 Reply

      Hi Marty, Tony Robbins tells a story about a man who was depressed for several years. He agreed not to use the word (label) depressed to describe himself for ten days to see if anything changed. After two years he said he had not been depressed, not even once, during that whole time. Labels are powerful so we should always pick the ones that empower us the most. Thanks for sharing your story, I found it inspiring.

  10. Bugaror May 2, 2012 Reply

    You are an inspiration to ALL of us! You hit the nail right on the head. It’s not our physical condition(s) that hold us back, but, our mind and our outlook on the situation. My saying is ” quitting is not an option”.

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