Last year, on August 12th, I hit publish on my first blog post, wondering if it would make it any further than my grandmother’s inbox. (Hi, Grandma!) I had decided to take on the idea of an elevator to success, since I can’t climb stairs. As I return to these words I wrote so long ago, my view hasn’t changed, but I find myself cringing a bit. My points read like an undergrad paper and there are no personal stories to be found. It’s as though I thought I’d be emailing the link to a professor for a grade.
So much has changed since then. I think (and I hope) that my writing style has evolved; I have grown into my voice; I have learned to stay strong when my beliefs are challenged at their core. The past 365 days have been an incredible crash course in discovering my place in the real world.
Most importantly, Words I Wheel By makes me proud. This blog is my baby, and it’s launched me headfirst into some wonderful experiences. And it seems that time flies when you’re having fun, because today is my One Year Blogiversary and I am SUPER EXCITED! Like, I’m-having-a-dance-party-and-would-throw-confetti-except-then-I’d-have-to-clean-it-up excited.
But if you know me, then by now you’ve probably figured out that while I’m putting up streamers and balloons and eating ice cream cake, I’m also reflecting on how I can apply what I’ve learned from the past year of writing experience as I move forward. I’ve narrowed it down to five bits of wisdom that I’m trying really hard to remember each day:
1) Be bold and brave.
- To be honest, conflict kind of terrifies me sometimes. I worry about stirring up trouble, and at times I’ve found that my careful focus on being diplomatic undercuts the messages I want to put out there. But when it comes to writing about disability rights, or any topic you’re passionate about, you can’t succumb to your fears. Not only has Words I Wheel By been a great platform for me to work on advocacy, but also I’ve found that it functions as a major kick in the butt for me to be brave and speak up directly to people – like the time I experienced discrimination while I was at a disability-related event and confronted it instead of letting it go. I know it’s cliché, but it really does help to do one thing that scares you every day…or at least once in a while.
2) You can’t please everyone.
- Conflict may be scary, but I’ve still ended up in the middle of some serious doozies when it comes to controversy. When I wrote about my feelings against curing disabilities, I received an email disagreeing with me using language so colorful it could have made a rainbow. And speaking of rainbows, if I say they’re beautiful, someone will probably find a reason to disagree with me. There are just some people who won’t be happy with you no matter what you say, and I’ve come to realize that’s okay. I’m pretty sure it’s what makes the world go ’round.
3) Stand (or sit) by your views.
- I’ll admit that when I encounter a person who disagrees with me, it can shake me up. The very first time someone expressed a dissenting opinion, I freaked out about how I’d defend my views to a person who just didn’t seem to get it. However, as I’ve continued writing, I’ve become more comfortable in explaining my reasoning and remaining firm in my beliefs, even when I’m met with anger or resistance. I had to learn this early on in my blogging experience when I wrote a post responding to a Guinness commercial depicting a game of wheelchair basketball that had a twist ending. I found the ad patronizing to the disability community, but apparently, tons of people thought my views were wrong, despite that fact that I actually am a wheelchair user. A particularly friendly person named Helen accused me of “looking for reasons to be angry and unhappy.” How sweet! So, this became a test for me as my viewpoint was challenged time and again, and I had to learn to stick by everything I said. Recently, I was put to a similar test because of a response I received about a piece I wrote on The Huffington Post…from the article subject’s mother! It was a fiery reply and tough to read, but I didn’t let it intimidate me, and I’m quite proud of that. So, whenever someone confronts me with a different perspective, no matter how heated it may be, I stay calm, polite, and unwavering in what I sit/stand for.
4) Don’t take criticism personally.
- This has been, without a doubt, the hardest part of blogging. A while ago, I wrote a post on why the fact that Michael J. Fox and I have disabilities does not make either of us inspirational. It was met with nearly all positive responses, except for a few rude commenters who I now consider to be “blog trolls.” One such comment I received from a lovely fellow named Craig asserted: “Well see, the difference is, Michael J. Fox IS inspiring, and you’re not. Simple truth.” Charming, isn’t he? But when I thought about it, I realized this faceless, mean person on the Internet offended me AND missed the point of my post entirely, so I got over it pretty quickly. That being said, people who criticize your personal character without taking the time to truly understand you are everywhere. I just experienced this in the form of a blog post calling me and fellow advocates from my generation lazy and “careless.” And let me tell you, I was having NONE of that, so I wrote a response. In that particular case, I did take the criticism personally at first, but when I realized just how off-base it really was, I decided to use the situation into something positive and advocate for myself. I’ve seen some amazing bloggers and mentors who do the same, and have learned from them to let criticism roll off my shoulders.
5) Examine your own beliefs.
- This contradicts everything else I’ve said in a way, but it’s perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned this year. It’s important to sit/stand for what you believe in, but I am human, you are human, and none of us are always right. My way is not the only way, and my view is not the only view. While I advocate for what I support, it would be downright unreasonable for me never to consider new ways of looking at things. And this is really tough for me sometimes, because who wants to admit to being wrong, or even just to the fact that there may be two sides to something? But checking myself is something I am trying with all my might to do each day, because to shut myself off from other perspectives is to deny myself the chance to develop a greater understanding of the world around me.
Anyway, to say thank you to those of you who stick around, who keep coming back, who take the time to consider what I have to say…it would never be enough. I’m honestly amazed every time I encounter someone who has read something I’ve written, because (and I know how cheesy this is) blogging is one of the ways I’m fulfilling my dreams of being an advocate. So please know, from the bottom of my heart, how much it means to me that you’re here, and I hope you’ll still around for year number two!
I’d love if you’d all join me in celebrating my blogiversary by sharing stories if you can relate to any of the experiences I’ve had. And if you’ve never said hi before, I hope you’ll comment and let me know your thoughts!