“Life has no limitations, except the ones you make.” ~Les Brown
I was affected by the deadly poliovirus when I was six months old. Most people infected with it die. Even today, there is no cure for it. I miraculously survived, but lost my ability to walk.
During the first twenty years of my life, I evolved through crawling on the floor, lifting my leg with my hands, wearing prosthetics, using canes, and finally learning to walk, painfully, with crutches. As I grew up, I experienced post-polio syndrome, which weakened the other parts of my body.
Some forty-five years ago, there were no educational or medical facilities in the remote area of India where I lived. That slimmed my chances of getting any education. When I reached the age to go to school, the only way possible was to wear prosthetic braces weighing forty-five pounds on my leg, which was more than my weight. It was incredibly painful to walk while wearing them. In those braces, I could barely take one baby step at a time.
Experiencing Victim Mode
The result was me being bullied, left behind, and teased by my classmates all the time. There were times when I had to drag my iron-casted leg back home alone for over a mile using the strength of my stomach muscles. It used to take me two hours, which felt like a lifetime. That cycle repeated for many years, and my emotional pain grew more and more.
Every time, I asked, “Why me?” The more I asked, the more unpleasant the answers got in my mind.
Stepping into Fighter Mode
That misery got me into a fighter mode. I remember that many of the motivational books I read stressed one thing: “Break the walls.” So I secretly subjected myself to the harshest physical exercises, torturing myself, hoping someday I would get better at my disability. But the more I tried, the more my emotional and physical problems escalated—to the point of a breakdown. Charged with much willpower, I did not realize that perhaps I was fighting against the wrong wall. I failed.
As I see it now, the actual wall that was limiting me was less my physical disability and more my self-limiting beliefs. I had made up unreal, perceived walls in my mind, thinking that I wouldn’t be accepted unless I walked like ordinary people.
These made-up walls were the ones that were actually stopping me. I was doubly disabled—externally and internally.
Spotting the Windows
Every time I was left behind, I made a pact with myself: If I couldn’t walk with my legs, I would walk faster with something else. But the big question was: with what? But then, a simple perspective shift I call “windows through the walls” changed my life and put me on the path of personal transformation to achieve excellence.
I gradually realized that my disability gave me some gifts I did not recognize earlier. I had no social interruptions, no spoiler friends, and not much mobility. Because of those three things, I had plenty of distraction-free time at my disposal, which was a gifted environment. What could I do with this unique leverage?
Reading books was the best thing I could do while being contained in a chair. I remember the first book I read, by Dale Carnegie, was much ahead of my age. Soon I mastered poetry, physics, palmistry, psychology, and philosophy while reading any book I could afford to buy or borrow.
By rigorous reading and learning through science books, I became an engineer at the age of twenty-one, and a year later, I became a technology scientist. It stunned the people who never believed I could do so. The hunger to learn faster led me to earn two doctorates, more than 100 international credentials, and some of the world’s highest certifications.
“I couldn’t walk with legs—now I teach people how to walk faster in what they do.”
My lack of speed made me obsessed with gaining it in another area. That became the unique expertise that took me places. I became a performance scientist, helping people speed up their learning and performance skills.
Not only this, I leveraged my ability to learn and started sharing my learnings with others. My social isolation did not persist, and soon I had one of the largest friendship circles around.
With my circumstances, I could engage in daydreams that developed my vivid imagination. Soon, a writer inside me woke up. I wrote dramas, stories, poetry, articles, and many things at a very young age. While I could not afford to buy one book then, I have authored twenty books now.
While glued to that chair, I had similar leverage as other kids—that is, my hands. I developed my skills in painting, drawing, and sketching and received an international award for my art from back then.
As I reflect back on it, my disability hardly ever got in my way while achieving these things. Rather, it helped me go faster. When I saw my crisis, my disability, my limitations, I did not see them as walls that I should break. Instead, I chose to spot windows among them—windows of opportunities, leverages, and advantages. I’ve leveraged everything my limitations ever offered me.
Two Important Lessons
I learned two important lessons in my journey.
First, not all the walls that seem to be limiting us are real. We need to find the wall that indeed is limiting us and then break it.
Second, we don’t always need to break every wall because some have windows too. No matter the circumstances, we all should focus on spotting the windows.
Once we change our perspective, we will be surprised at the number of advantages we find in our adversities, desirability in our disabilities, and leverages in our limitations.
Are We Enough?
When we experience a loss, we may feel less than others. That’s okay. Sometimes, the crutch I use as an aid for walking reminds me of what I lack. But that’s okay because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it was not for my disability. I think my loss, my disability, defines who I was yesterday, who I am today, and who I am going to be tomorrow.
However, some of us have been groomed to chant motivational mantras like “I am enough.” It is like convincing our minds that the glass is full, so our minds might stop looking for possibilities.
But when we realize our glass is half-empty, we become hungry to find windows of leverages in our misfortunes or limitations to fill it up somehow. That’s when we create new possibilities for ourselves.
Leverage Your Losses
Think about the losses that you have experienced due to your adversities, failures, or misfortunes. How could you leverage these losses to go from feeling and being less than others to be a lesson for others?
About Dr Raman K Attri
Dr Raman K Attri is the world’s leading authority on the science of speed in professional learning and performance. Undeterred by his permanent disability since childhood, Dr Raman has transformed his inability to walk into his niche expertise to teach others how to walk faster in their professional world. He is a prolific author of 20 multi-genre books, holder of two doctorates and over 100 international educational credentials, and featured in over 100 media features. You can find him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and find his TEDx talk here.
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