By Simon Cantos
As I look back on what I have accomplished so far, I wonder where I found the motivation to do it. During the conferences that I have attend over the years, kids and parents always seemed amazed with the things that I have done: drive a car, work full-time, and live a somewhat independent life. I feel a little perplexed since I get the impression that these people think I have accomplished something that seems impossible. At some point, it occurred to me that one of the biggest barriers to independence are the mental limitations that people place on themselves.
In Australia, where I was born and lived until I was seven, my family and I had to do everything ourselves. We were not aware of anything like MDA, and government assistance for the disabled did not exist. The doctors at the time have simply told my parents that there was not much else they could do for me. They should try to do what they could so that I could live as normally as possible. I learned from an early age that if I was going to accomplish anything, I would have to do it myself.
With regards to my education, I was enrolled in the mainstream classes. The only adapted class that I took was Physical Education. I did not hear about or even have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) until well into high school; by that time, I thought it was pointless. Any of the accommodation issues, which I had very few of, had been already resolved by myself or the school. I placed my focus on excelling in school. In retrospect, my desire to prove myself to everybody nurtured my motivation to excel in the classroom and my extracurricular activities.
Whatever obstacle I experienced was overcome by simply finding a way to persevere, or by adaptation. Losing my temper, complaining, or worrying about it was a waste of time in my mind. I was driven to push myself to do everything as well as possible. It is this mindset that resulted in my academic success, especially in high school. It also gave me the opportunity and ultimately led to my earning an educational grant to a prestigious university just outside of Philadelphia.
The college experience was one of my most life-altering experiences. Living on campus allowed me to not only focus on my studies but also gave me my first independent living experience. I was now forced to be responsible not only for my classwork but also the task of juggling my doctors’ appointments and other medical equipment needs. While these added responsibilities were stressful at times, I really enjoyed it since I was able to prove to myself that I was capable of running my own life.
Driving was another aspect of my independence. It was another life-altering experience for me and opened up the world for me in a way that I could not have imagined. My love for cars and driving developed when I was just a child. This passion has served as a big source of motivation throughout my life, not only to drive a car but also in my pursuit of a degree in Mechanical Engineering. It gave me a feeling of liberation: once in the driver’s seat, I appeared to be no different than any other person on the road. It has given me the opportunity to blend in with everybody else and not worry about anybody perceiving me differently due to CMD.
Adjusting to life after college and entering the workforce has certainly been one of the biggest challenges that I have ever faced. The job market is tough and competitive and puts all of my knowledge, skills, and capabilities to the ultimate test. While many can perceive a disabled employee as a liability, I see it as an advantage: CMD is the motivation that drives me. I want to prove that I am as, if not more, capable than any other employee. Through the career opportunities that I have had so far, I have been able to alter the mindset of my coworkers. They have come to respect me for my skills and work ethic. From their perspective, CMD was irrelevant with regards to my ability to perform my job.
Whenever I am asked how I have been able to progress, from high school to college, college to the workforce, from childhood to adulthood, from dependent to independent, I summarize it with two words: push through. No matter what obstacle is in front of you, it can be overcome: all you need to do is just push through! Whether it be the desire to do well in school or college, your career, or life in general, you push through those obstacles to achieve your goals and you do the best you possibly can. With the power of one’s mind, determination, and dedication, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished. This unwavering belief is the reason that I have been able to accomplish so much in my life and what motivates me to this day. Push through and never back down when faced with difficulty: this is a quality that I hope to pass on to others.