What does it mean to be Disabled and Successful?

How do you think a 3-time Paralympic tennis player who has won 2 gold medals, a silver, and a bronze would define success? Would you think those medals or even her tennis abilities would be at the top of her list? Well, Kaitlyn Verfuerth is full of surprises. When interviewing her, I asked her what areas of her life she feels most successful in right now, and this is the answer she gave me:

“So I think for me at this current point in my life, I feel most successful in just being more balanced because I’ve always been going here, going there, playing tennis here, getting on a plane to go to Europe for a couple months, and I never really felt like my life was balanced … but now I have a partner who I love, and we’ve been together for seven years, and he’s so supportive and we support each other, in whatever it is that we want to do … I have a job, and I’m making money. It feels good to bring in your own money and not be in school or be a poor Paralympic athlete, because most people assume that if you’re an Olympic athlete or a Paralympic athlete that you must have a lot of money, but that’s not the case at all … Just being here in Flagstaff and in our hometown, I’m around more so I’m able to make more connections with our community and make more friends and just be more grounded … And now, since I’ve semi-retired from tennis, I feel I’m ready to go in another direction and become a recreational therapist and I really look forward to helping others find their niche and find their way especially after an accident or a stroke … So I just feel like everything’s really balanced and I’ve never had that before so it feels really good to be where I’m at today.”

What amazes me about Kaitlyn’s answer is that she defines her success in her life not by the number of medals she has earned, but by the quality of her relationships, her financial stability, and her ability to serve other people. I think it’s important to look at our lives through a broader lens like this because it can help us to define what we want in life if we actually look at our whole lives, not just our jobs and money.

My definition of success is quite simple: Living the life you want to live. Which doesn’t mean just having the job you want or how much money you want. It means you’re working towards your own goals, whatever they may be.

Personally, I look at success in 7 different areas of my life:

  1. Health (physical, mental, and emotional)

  2. Relationships (significant other, family, friends)

  3. Mission (doing what you feel is important in the world, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a job)

  4. Spirit (mindfulness, living by my values, spirituality)

  5. Finances

  6. Experiences (enjoying life!)

  7. Learning/Growing

When I say I want kids with disabilities to grow into successful, self-determined, and happy adults, I’m not necessarily talking about them holding down a job and earning a paycheck. What I really want to see is more people with disabilities creating their own family, diving into their passions, hanging out with friends, going on adventures, changing the world, growing as a human being, feeling empowered to improve their mental and emotional health, feeling financially free, and most simply doing what THEY want to do with their lives.

Ask yourself how you can apply this to your own life: What is one area in which I want my child to be successful? And what would that look like specifically?

Also think about your child’s perspective: What is one area in which I think my child wants to be successful? And what would that look like? If you can, I encourage you to ask them.

Personally, my own sister wants so badly to have a boyfriend. Last time I talked with my mom, she told me my sister had asked 2 strangers in the past 2 days to be her boyfriend. Don’t tell her, but I’m planning on getting her a book on relationships soon to help her out. Shh!

I would love to hear how this goes for you. Write in the comments one way in which your child wants to be successful and one thing you can do today to help them move towards that goal. I’ll be cheering you on!

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