Now that our youngest child is in school, my wife is trying to get her career restarted. She’s a musician and a teacher. A local private fine arts academy in need of a voice teacher approached her about taking on some students, then about a permanent faculty position.
It seems in some ways like a perfect setup; through the academy she can teach classes and lessons but avoid the administrative hassle of managing a private studio. Instead, she has other things to manage; namely, the lives of our four kids. This calendar is demanding in ways only parents of large families can understand. It is inhibiting her ability to take on voice students and begin a studio.
She confided in me her frustration and disappointment in trying to do something she feels passionate about while at the same time managing the handicap of having four kids. Make no mistake; having four children is a handicap. It’s a blessing, to be sure, and perhaps the most fulfilling things about our lives, but at the same time, when it comes to pursuing dreams and passions, it’s a handicap. (Don’t get me started about my writing schedule.)
We all have handicaps.
The first challenge is to own your handicap.
Everybody has one. For my wife and I, it is the demands of our schedule. You know yours. Perhaps it’s the poor start you got on your financial life, or having to overcoming mediocre schools and education opportunities. It may be a physical limitation or a sickness. It may be having to care for an aging parent.
Each one of us has a limitation, or plural limitations.
There’s no point in denying your creative handicap, because the only person you’re fooling is yourself. We can try to get by, especially if it’s not visible, but there’s no point, ultimately. Might as well get honest about your situation.
Not only that, but the cold, hard truth is that other people don’t care about your handicap. That may sound overly harsh. Of course, people care, excepting the sociopaths in your life, but when it comes to trading, or doing business, other people don’t let their compassion interfere with their goals and plans. So if the woman that runs the studio that employs my wife as a voice teacher hears too often about my wife’s four children, she might ultimately decide that, while she has empathy for my wife’s situation, she may need to make a decision in the best interests of her studio and find a different solution.
My handicap is my own cross to bear, as is yours.
The second challenge is to minimize your handicap.
In the first season of the famous television series Downton Abbey, set in early 20th century England, a new valet for the lord of the aristocratic Crawley families arrives for duty. The man, whose name is Bates, has a limp and a cane. The servant staff almost unanimously claims that his handicap will prevent him from doing his duties. They want him gone. Fortunately, Bates has the support of the lord of the home. Bates tries his best to minimize his limp, at one point going so far as wearing a quack doctor’s metal contraption on his leg to straighten and strengthen it. As we get to know Bates, we learn that he suffers with a different kind of limp, as well – a selfish and abusive wife. Her Machiavellian machinations have sent him to jail once before, and end up doing so again. Through a variety of challenges, Bates’ stoic determination wins him many admirers. Ultimately, it serves to free him from the chains of his past.
Bethany Hamilton is known as a world class surfer. Following a shark bite that took her arm by the shoulder, she could be known as the one-armed surfer, but she prefers the label “world class” – the positive – over “one-armed” – the pitiable. So, with her one arm, she surfs against and defeats opponents with two arms, all the while with a smile and no mention of the handicap she must overcome.
I once knew another one-armed hero: a man from my church named Wayne Haynes. He’d lost the other in the Second World War, 45 years prior. He’d lived his entire adult life with his empty shirt sleeve pinned to his shoulder, and along the way had figured out how to do everything that men with two arms do. His was the heroism of living a complete life with a less than complete body.
Each of these people, imagined and real, learned that life wouldn’t let them trade on their handicap. They had to minimize it but working twice as hard just to run with the middle of the pack.
Handicaps certainly don’t seem like a path to greatness, do they? But perhaps they can be.
The third challenge is to use your handicap as an advantage.
Is it possible to even turn the handicap into a strength? To make the handicap not just the thing we must overcome but the very source of our greatness? This may sound pie in the sky, but what if it’s biblical, to take a weakness and make it strong?
How? Perhaps it comes in looking for the unique ways the handicap positions you to be good at what you do.
This is the premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath – to not only de-emphasize your handicap as weakness but to discover how your handicap makes you strong.
“When you are weak, I am strong.”
“The meek will inherit the earth.” (and so on.)
David and Goliath offers a set of stories and illustrations on how to turning handicap into advantage.
For a while I lamented over the creative handicap of my schedule. As I was doing this, I learned that my highest strength is Ideation. As I let this marinate, I learned that my best stuff comes not necessarily or even usually in moments or prescribed creativity. I learned how to identify and capture the ideas when they happen, to go where they are instead of insist they come to me.
I am still learning how to do this, but it often means that my best writing is not in a single daily session, but in a constant start – stop process. I am built not for marathon writing, but for short bursts of creative output. I go for 45 minutes to an hour, then do other tasks while what I have done marinates and gets juicier. My handicap – a busy life as husband, father, and employee, coupled with my easily distracted nature, which create an inability to do anything on regular schedule – actually serves as my advantage.
How might your handicap help your creativity?
I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.2 Corinthians 12:10