Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Everyone, and I mean, everyone has a gift. I spend a lot of time around those with special needs. I teach adults with disabilities at a community college. Many of these adults are people who have autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy or some other genetic disorder. The students are supposed to have, at least, a 3rd grade reading level. Many do, but some do not. Most, as you probably realize, have many differing needs. And sometimes, it’s challenging to differentiate for everyone. I teach entrepreneurship. So, imagine teaching 7 adults with varying disabilities about opening their own business. Furthermore, understand that this is foreign content. I’m teaching about costs and profit and marketing to a room full of people who, for the most part, have never heard these terms before. I’m using visuals, simplifying terms, speaking in explicit, shorter sentences. This...is...not...an...easy...task!
While I’ve enjoyed teaching this class, I have learned way more from these amazing people than I could ever teach them. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that we all have a gift. And, although, that may sound cliche, I’m learning that it is truth.
One of my students should not have been allowed in the class. His reading ability is low and he is quite impacted by autism. He raises his hand about every 43 seconds and says, “Chris, Chris, I have a question.” He then proceeds to share, not a question, but a statement, sometimes on topic, sometimes a random fact that he knows or something about himself. This young man is just delightful. He often talks about the piano. The aide in the room had shared that she knew he played the piano quite well. Since I had not heard him play, “quite well” is subjective. At our last class, I asked him if he was able to sing also. This young man, who could only string short, staccato sentences together, stood up and sang the most beautiful version of Blessed Be Your Name. I stood in awe. I was a little bit ashamed, too, because I probably wouldn’t have guessed, based on outward appearances, that he had the ability to belt out such fluid lyrics with such grace. A gift.
I have another student. He is bound to a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy. His body is contorted and twisted and from appearances, even lifting his head upright is a feat. His speech is very poor and he is hard to understand. I typically only catch a word here or there and try to string them together to figure out what he is saying. I wasn’t sure of his abilities, since he was new to the program. During our second class, I was teaching the word “marketing”. I had broken the definition down to a simple explanation that marketing is simply letting people know about our business. At some point, this young man raised his hand as high as he could and I called on him. He asked me a question and all I could hear was the letter P. I looked toward his caregiver for help. You’re not gonna believe what he was trying to ask me. He wanted to know if I was going to be teaching about the 4 P’s of marketing. I was a bit floored. I asked how he knew about the 4 P’s and he shared that he learned about them in his economics course in high school. He also wanted to know how PBS and other non-profits stayed in business and how Nickelodeon structured their organizations and many brands. For the record, I had not planned to delve into the 4 P’s of marketing, but, to my defense, I didn’t expect to have a Seth Godin follower in my class! But, he officially knocked me off my feet when he asked me the best platform to publish his book. Um, what? Apparently, he’s an avid writer who is also a history buff and enjoys comparing the leadership characteristics of the U.S. Presidents, particularly those who came just before, during and post war. A gift.
I have two children. My daughter's gifts are obvious. I could go on and on about her beautiful gifts. My son, however, is the kind of kid that you just have to look a little deeper when you are trying to find gifts. He is 19 and has autism and cerebral palsy. He is sweet and loving and challenging all at the same time. He is non-verbal, not toilet trained and needs my help with all of his life skills. Sometimes when I’ve had a rough day, I believe he knows. He will wrap his arm around me, look me in the eyes and smile the cheesiest smile you’ve ever seen. He doesn’t care what I look like, what I smell like nor how fashionable my attire. He just knows that he loves me, unconditionally, and that his smile melts the weight of the world from my shoulders. A gift.
I believe we all have gifts. But, I think we expect our gifts to be grandiose. We only qualify traits as a gift if they are big, successful and far reaching. I think we have to change our thoughts with this. We all have a gift, whether we recognize it or not. Most of us have many gifts. When I sit back and look at my life, I can be sure that I have been blessed with some gifts. One that impacts me greatly is feeling vibes and emotions from others.
I can read people, well. Some call this having empathic qualities. Others call it a skill in communication and networking. I lean toward the empathic argument. Mostly because I can literally feel my mood and body change based on the feeling in the room. I have held positions where sitting in very difficult meetings was a daily experience. I have left those meetings feeling utterly drained when they have gone poorly. I have left those meetings feeling exuberant, almost a kind of high, when they take a turn for the better. People often say they “feel” happy or “feel” angry. For most people that’s an emotionally feeling. For people like me, it’s emotional and physical. I can need a nap after a party because of the amount of energy being infused into a room. My body can feel achy after experiencing an argument. When I’m sad or if I cry, my right hand will ache. As I write this, I recognize how silly it sounds. But, it’s 100% truth. Sometimes it feels like a curse, but, I know that this is a gift. I can feel people’s emotions and respond to them even when they haven’t told me anything is wrong. I often say encouraging words to people when I’m sensing they are down or depressed. I’ve been told repeatedly that my words were exactly what they needed to hear.
Is this a gift that will change the world? Am I going to discover the cure to a disease because of this gift? Will I challenge modern philosophy with this gift? Well, probably not, to all of those. But, I may make an impact on someone because I can sense that they are having a bad day or a bad time in life. I’m not always accurate, just like a piano player sometimes hits the wrong key on the piano, but I’m often dead on right.
We all have gifts. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to seek out the gifts of others and to lift them up. As parents, it’s our responsibility to seek out the gifts of our children and nourish those. As people, we owe it to ourselves to reflect on the gifts that we bring to the world. Doing so, helps us to remember our purpose, the good things we bring to others. No gift is too small, no gift too great a blessing. We can only be fulfilled when we embrace our gifts and those of others. And a happy life is a fulfilled life.