I think of people a little like I think about technology. As we age, learn, and progress through life, we gain and lose features and morph into different human beings along the way. That may sound a bit nerdy – but as a person with a lot of ‘features’ which some classify as a disability – I kind of prefer my view.
Let me start with the "How I got here" story.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1997. I was in a motor vehicle accident where a drunk driver hit my car at 75 mph. I remember the first real lucid moments after the accident, it was probably at least two or three weeks in, when I realized how much my life had changed. These were the moments of admitted self-pity, but I am not one to stay down for long.
The truth is, until you are faced with a life-changing challenge, you do not know how capable you are. In fact, if you think back to some of the biggest accomplishments you have made in life, at some point, it is likely they seemed impossible. Yet, here you are, on the other side, and successful.
As with any new challenge, there is a learning curve. I had to learn how to walk and to fight permanent vertigo. My family and friends had to fill in the details of my forgotten childhood. Most perplexing and interesting was the loss of sequence. I had a hard time comprehending the order of steps required to wash clothes, take a shower, or cook. Simple tasks were the most frustrating.
I had an amazing occupational therapist who helped me learn pattern again. He helped me decipher disorder and see pattern in everything. I don’t want to oversimplify this transition, it was hard and frustrating to learn how to brush my teeth again. Imagine failing over and over again when trying to piece together this routine sequence:
Take the cap off the toothpaste
Moisten the toothbrush
Squeeze a thin strip of toothpaste onto the toothbrush
Brush the teeth
Replace cap and close toothpaste
Yet, there was a silver lining. Eventually the extreme attention to pattern and detail started to change my career. At the time of my accident, I worked as a test lead for a small company. Having overcome my most challenging feature – sequence – I ended up being a great fit for process improvement and eventually, data quality and governance, which is what I do today at Comcast.
I have this unique way of seeing things, I see pattern in everything now. That is my super power and it came from a feature that some call a disability.
This is why a diverse work place is so important to me. I love to see how all the super powers come together to make something better than anyone could ever imagine… Better than if we were to only hire people that look, act, and think the same way. That is how we design better products and deliver great service to all of our customers because some of them have super powers, too.
Andrea Cifor has over 20 years of experience building and consulting in quality, process and information management and recently co-authored and published Millenial Spring Designing the Future of Organizations.