I was sitting in the back seat of a Buick sedan when the driver took his right hand off the steering wheel, turned around and exclaimed with disbelief “You don’t even know your own name?” I was absolutely mortified and wanted to crawl inside myself.
I was in high school at the time and my friend Jeremy and I were cruising through town with four other guys on a Friday night. The driver had been chatting with a couple guys in the front seat. I could hardly hear a word of what they were saying until he glanced back and asked me who I was. I just said “I don’t know.” This was one of my go-to responses when I didn’t understand what someone said. I tried to just “fake” my way through a conversation so I wouldn’t have to ask someone to repeat themselves.
You see, I was born with a significant hearing loss in both ears and didn’t wear the hearing aid my parents had gotten for me many years earlier. I was afraid of standing out and being singled out. I regularly tried in vain to disguise my disability. This embarrassing experience was just the latest in a string of soul-crushing misunderstandings I experienced throughout my entire childhood. I felt ashamed of myself.
Growing up, I remember a visit to my audiologist who tried to address this fear and convince me of the merits of wearing hearing aids. “Michael, by wearing your hearing aid, you’ll actually be able to fit in more with the other kids and participate because you’ll be able to hear what they’re saying.” Unfortunately, I wouldn’t listen to him. My fear was too overwhelming to consider any rational form of reason.
Time went on…I graduated high school and moved across the country to attend San Diego State University. One day during my sophomore year, I came home from class incredibly frustrated. I had just attended my Philosophy 101 class which took place in a large, theater style lecture hall with over 200 students. I had all these holes in my notes that reflected parts I was unable to hear what the Professor was saying. I broke down teary-eyed with my head in my hands and lost it. The next moment I decided: “No more!” This was a turning point that forever altered the rest of my life.
The struggle and suffering I experienced in silence became overwhelmed by my mad desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. No longer was I willing to let my fears sit in the driver’s seat and cause me to question who I was. From that moment on, I decided that I would wear hearing aids in both ears all the time. I somehow scraped up the $4,000 I needed to purchase two new hearing aids.
I quickly realized the benefits of wearing them (it was so much easier to hear what people were saying and I’ve gone on to teach classes of my own). Plus my deepest fears were mostly unrealized. My college buddies weren’t “put off” by me wearing them. My classmates didn’t seem to care either. Over time, I became comfortable wearing them without being self-conscious and instead of beating myself up over the time lost. Looking back, I realized that my struggle during my childhood and young adult years harbored three gifts hidden from view.
- The first gift is one that I hear in the form of feedback from most from friends, clients, and colleagues – an innate ability to listen deeply. My hearing loss forced me to pay careful attention to whomever I was speaking with in order to grasp and understand what they were saying.
- The second gift is my deep desire for connection with others and in turn to help others connect with themselves and each other. It’s become my life’s work.
- The third gift is the most heartening of all…the gift of courage. I grew up with a hardship that I chose to confront head on, examine my resistance, and push beyond my comfort zone. This in turn served as a stepping stone to build upon over the years and confront other fears that have attempted to take over the driver’s seat.
Today, I am grateful for how my hearing loss has shaped me into who I have become. The funny thing about discovering these gifts was that it was only after I confronted my fear and focused more on the possibilities vs. focusing on disabilities, that I was able to fully bring these gifts out of the dark and into the light.
How about you? Is there a personal challenge that you’ve been wrestling with? When faced with your fears, what do you choose…darkness or light?
If you struggle with a personal challenge and are ready to live a life of greater achievement and freedom than you ever though possible, I would love to partner with you and help you create your next breakthrough. Feel free to book a complimentary Discovery Session with me.
About the Author:
Mike Gellman is a seasoned coach, speaker, facilitator, and trusted advisor with 15+ years experience in Fortune 500, nonprofit, and family-owned organizations. He’s the author of Pipe Dreams: 7 Pipelines of Career Success and CEO of High Five Career Coaching which facilitates transformational business and career success among socially conscious, purpose-driven organizations, leaders, and technical professionals.