One of the great lessons I learned early in my career as an employment counselor for people with disabilities is that happiness and financial success are two entirely different subjects.
I believe some of the poorest and most easily manipulated people in our society are also some of the happiest and pure hearted among us.
Statistically, people with disabilities are among those in our population who are the most economically disadvantaged. It’s true that many of us with disabilities struggle to obtain employment, find accessible housing, pay for health care and to secure accessible transportation to get from place to place. More than half of those who self-identify as having a disability live near the poverty line while also battling health problems and in some cases even extreme social isolation.
Yet, in my job I found many with disabilities were personally quite happy because they knew the value of the good things in their lives and they didn’t take them for granted. After I learned this lesson, I realized that if I ever needed to get a better a grip on my life all I needed to do was sit down with my other friends who have disabilities to remind myself how it’s people and not things that bring true happiness.
Being an employment counselor, I saw a full range of people living with every kind of disability. Most didn’t have experiences like mine with full opportunities, supportive family and friends, and the time and financial resources needed to develop the skills required to secure the opportunities I was fortunate enough to obtain. Also, many of those I tried to help had more severe disability and accessibility issues then I’ve ever experienced in my own life.
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I think about these people often. I wonder how they’re doing and whether they were able to rise above the challenges I knew they had then and what they’re experiencing now. In each of them I always saw a desire and a hope for something better. I also saw a lot of myself. I remember one man in particular who walked on crutches like me. His disability was more severe than mine since he only had the use of one hand and could not walk at all without crutches. He was from Vietnam and came to Canada as an immigrant where he learned English and built a career in the IT industry putting together highly sophisticated hardware for personal computers.
Over time he earned enough money to bring his wife and child over from Vietnam and when I met him he’d just been let go with a number of other employees from a major high tech company. He had every reason to be angry and to feel as though his options were limited but he never bothered to do so. He just took my help and did the work to find another job while casually reminding me how if he could drive a car, get a license and get married then I shouldn’t have a problem at all. At the time, I didn’t see my problems as being so small but hindsight has shown me he was right. I always had all the tools in front of me to accomplish those dreams and thankfully I have reached most of them though I still have yet to learn to drive.
What I found most interesting though was that the people I tried to help as an employment counselor weren’t motivated completely by money. They saw the jobs they hoped to obtain as vehicles to be used to help them accomplish goals for their families, to secure essentials for daily living or a way to learn new skills. It wasn’t about acquiring stuff or impressing anyone or buying the next tech toy. It was about meeting basic needs and obtaining outcomes that would improve life for them or their family.
All of these goals were ideals they strived for while they also dealt with daily adversity that most people wouldn’t even stop to consider in a typical day. There were those who applied for jobs and couldn’t be interviewed because the building wasn’t wheelchair accessible or there were others who were turned down for positions as soon as it became apparent that they had a disability. Some were shot down before they even got a chance try while others got jobs only to have them pulled out from underneath them once the government funded training subsidy expired. I have to admit; at times it could be heartbreaking to see the discrimination and willful ignorance that some people would encounter. At the same though, I saw incredible strength and character as people simply got back up again and again to face the next challenge.
The frustration and daily pressure that many people with disabilities experience is great and the emotional strength that is needed to deal with these challenges is immense. Yet, for some the extra determination, personal character and drive to achieve are an even greater motivating force than the challenges they face. That’s when I learned that happiness isn’t achieved by meeting some preset standard of what a person should be, It isn’t about things and it isn’t about your job title. Happiness is found in having a purpose, having and valuing solid relationships and in some cases just enduring positively the personal things that we all face in our lives. There is no race to the top of the corporate ladder. Money will never make you happy. It’s about being truly content with the person you’ve been or the one you’re trying to be… nothing more and nothing less.