I will not be afraid
It’s midnight. Just by the time of publication on this post you should expect some introspection, and that’s what you’re going to get. Because today, I’ve been thinking about fear, and how it and its absence have shaped my life.
This afternoon, on the recommendation of one of my best friend’s dad, I met the MD of an investment firm in the City to talk to him about my experiences at work. I know that sounds a bit, well, random, but he wanted to have an insight into the challenges faced by disabled workers in the hope of diversifying his work force – a laudable aim in a sector famed for being dominated by white men. The conversation was wide-ranging, but it centred on two main themes: why there are a lack of disabled applicants, and what I believed disabled people could bring to a company, financial or otherwise (I gave it the hard sell). And these two themes both yielded to discussions about fear; firstly, how a fear of access problems or perception issues or simple outright rejection may put disabled people off applying for high-flying jobs.
But secondly, how the necessary resilience needed for a disabled person to have got to a position where they can apply for jobs makes them pretty damn good candidates. If someone with a disability has graduated, left home, or engaged with society in any variety of ways, they have stared down the barrel of the gun of fear and, if not smiled, certainly haven’t blinked. If they’ve had careers, I’d like to bet they have more practical business skills, and people skills to boot, than any MBA grad who’s never faced adversity. Yes, we have our weak moments (I certainly do), but when necessary we are tough as nails. And our determination to overcome some pretty harsh odds make us hard-working and ready to seize any opportunity. Really, we should be getting all the jobs.
As I talked of fear, I realised that I don’t have anywhere near as much of it as I used to. Here I was talking to someone I didn’t know, just as I spoke in several meetings during my time at the Guardian, and I wasn’t scared, when talking to strangers or groups used to be my worst nightmare (for this I must thank the lovely folk of Warwick, particularly Fran, Fran and Hayley). Even more dramatically, whilst discussing the disability employment gap, I realised that I no longer believe, as I once truly did, that I am going to be permanently unemployed. I’m going to get a job. Of course, I am going to get a job. Not because or despite of my disability, but because I am capable, determined and hard-working (although sadly not the literary genius I wish I was).
How I wish I could get that message back to my teenage self. I wonder how many sleepless nights I could have been saved had I not worried about this so much, and how much happier I could have been. I think I would have taken a few more opportunities, and I kick myself now for letting them pass by. But no matter, I believe that confidence is much sweeter when you had to build it. It is my badge of honour for coming further than I ever thought I would and I wear it with pride. The natural worrier that I am has found new things to fret over (no prizes to those who know me well for guessing what they are). That’s just life. But today, I looked in the mirror and thought to myself ‘I am not scared’. And that’s something; long may it continue.