I have always been a little different.
It’s not like I’m super smart or have any special talents, or even that I’m really interesting. It’s more that I’ve always known I didn’t quite fit in with the status quo.
For starters, I was born with a birth defect called amniotic banding on my left hand, which caused me to lose my four fingers from the first knuckle up.
Growing up in Houston, Texas, my family never let me see my birth defect as a short-coming. Instead, my parents and five siblings continuously challenged me to do everything they could do and push myself through any obstacle I faced regarding my hand.
However, no matter how much my family loved and supported me, they could never fully shield me from the opinions of the world.
As many of you know, childhood and adolescence are not the easiest things to go through, even if you are completely normal. I was often ridiculed and teased for my birth defect, and no matter how many times I told myself it didn’t bother me, deep down I knew their words meant a lot.
I began resenting myself and even my family, who had done nothing but support me, all because I couldn’t understand why I had to be the one who was different. Why I was the one who was born like this when everyone else I knew was perfectly normal.
For many years, I tried to hide my hand and the pain it caused from the people around me. I would walk into a room and immediately shift my hand from others’ view and hope for the best.
Sometimes I would succeed and my friends would go months without realizing there was anything different about me. But most often, someone would notice it right away, and I would be forced to answer the questions they asked and ignore the look of pity in their eyes.
This went on for a very long time until finally I asked myself something life changing . . .Who the hell cares?
As I began to ponder this question in my head, I realized I had absolutely nothing to prove to anyone but myself.
Sure, I could be depressed. I could be resentful. And I could be bitter. But why should I waste all of the other beautiful aspects about myself just because of one thing the world deemed as imperfection?
So, I decided to learn and do everything people said I couldn’t.
I learned how to wakeboard. I’m an official inner tubing champion in my family. I was a captain of my high school cheer team, and I even taught myself how to play guitar . . . left handed of course.
I began to see something I thought made me less than, as one of my greatest strengths. And rather than being normal like everyone else, I just became more unique. This is something I’ve embraced, especially in college.
In college, many of you will face the challenge of conforming to society, rather than being yourself.
Whether it’s in a sorority or fraternity, a club that you join, or even in a classroom, there will always be someone or something trying to put you in a mold and define who you are. But let’s be honest. Who really wants 30,000 carbon copies of one type of person walking around their university?
Being different or having a unique talent or skill is what sets you apart as that one in 30,000.
For me, my disability has opened up a lot of doors for me that I might have never walked through if it wasn’t for it.
In 2014, I had the chance to go to California and spend the weekend with Bethany Hamilton (professional surfer), Lauren Scruggs, and 25 other amazing women who all had missing limbs or were amputees. This was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life, and it was all possible because I’m different.
If you learn to use your differences to your advantage and find your strength in them, it could set you apart for the better.
It might be that you are an extreme introvert, but an amazingly talented artist at the same time. Someone may need someone like you to be a creative director for an online website. Or maybe you you love public speaking, but have a terrible stutter so you choose not to talk. Learn to write great public speeches and help others who struggle also. Even if you have a learning disability and have struggled all your life in school, just remember that Thomas Edison had dyslexia and still managed to change history.
You never know what job opportunities could be opened, the connections might make, or the lives you could change by simply being who you are.
It might not always be easy. I know that I still struggle with the things people have said and done over the years. But if you learn to accept who you are and embrace the things that set you apart, it could change your life.