Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s a phrase that coaches repeat with frequency to their players. And as a player, sooner or later you buy into it. You learn to find value in stepping outside your comfort zone. To push harder than you are used to or want to. To understand that you can stay in that space even if it is just a little painful, grueling, terrifying…uncomfortable. And to know that you will be alright. In fact, you will be more than alright – you will be empowered to aim higher because you made it through to the other side. But while I have come to expect these experiences of discomfort with physical training, I wasn’t quite as ready to face the emotional side of this challenge as I prepared for my Tedx talk.
I wanted to talk about Amichai. He is the center of my world, the best part of me – shine the light on him. But my Tedx mentor had different plans. He wanted to shine the light on me. This is your story, your journey. Amichai will have his own story to tell one day. Tell yours today. I pushed back. I told him the only reason I have this platform is because I am blessed to have my son. This is about him – how he finds strength, how he redefines capability, how he is the superhero. My mentor’s eyes lit up when I said superhero. That’s it he said. That’s what you are going to talking about – how you became a superhero.
I stared back at him. Oh I don’t think so. I’m not comfortable talking about myself and I’m certainly not comfortable talking about myself in these terms. Parents willfully and limitlessly dedicate themselves to their children. I am no different than any other parent. I am simply doing my job. I deserve no special praise or spotlight. I am not a superhero. But he just met my gaze and said – get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s what you are talking about.
I wasn’t happy. I was honored to be accepted to speak, but this is not what I had in mind. My goal was to use this stage to bring awareness to CP, change perceptions about disability, and highlight the strength of my son. Talking about myself was not part of the plan. And being a superhero? Nope. Not my message. The thing is though, this was not the first time I had been told I needed to insert myself more in the talk. My sister had warned me that I need to shift the focus from Amichai to me. She was instrumental in helping me throughout this process – I bounced ideas off her and she gave me her honest feedback. Throughout it all, she stressed that my voice, my narrative needed to be heard. I was reluctant and went with what I felt comfortable with, so when I told her what my mentor suggested, her only response was – I told you.
And so, I had to get uncomfortable. I tried to understand what was really bothering me. Why was I so hesitant to cast myself as the main character? Why did I cringe every time I thought about saying I am a superhero?
There is something about acknowledging individual accomplishments that makes me uneasy. I always participated in team sports. No one player accomplishes anything on her own. A player must have confidence in her abilities and even if she is a star player, there is always the recognition that she must lean on her teammates to achieve anything. A superhero doesn’t lean on anyone. Everyone just stands around in awe watching her save the day by herself. I couldn’t identify with that type of accomplishment. I’m not convinced that even exists at all – just doing something all by oneself. But as I thought about it more, I realized that I was limiting myself.
I was limiting myself in my perceived definition of a superhero. I was looking at superheroes through the same lens as Amichai – the cartoonish figure in a cape and tights with powers that go beyond the scope of what is humanly possible. Superheroes suspend reality, but I wanted to deliver a message that was authentic and very much in reality. I didn’t see how comparing myself to Wonder Woman would help me in that endeavor. But even in my reluctance to embrace this theme, I had to admit we use this term to describe real people, in real situations. We use it to describe how people respond in challenging times, in moments of despair, in instances of conflict. People draw on strengths and forces that sometimes they didn’t even know they had. They rise instead of wallowing in anguish. As hard as it might be, they keep their eyes open and meet the struggle. They triumph when the rest of the world is expecting defeat. Instead of suspending reality, these superheroes stand firmly in it and redefine success. No cape. No tights. This made more sense to me. This was real, this was authentic. And it was around this concept that I began to form the basis of my talk.
Still it was hard. Still it was uncomfortable. Because when you talk about yourself in superhero terms, you must talk about your super strengths. It’s not that I felt I didn’t have them; I just never felt the need to draw any attention to them. Talking about my own strengths seemed boastful, out of place, and simply not me. But I thought about it more. I dug a little deeper. Accountability is something I live by. Whatever mistakes, flaws or shortcomings you have – own it and acknowledge it so that you can improve, so that you can be better. As a trainer, I preach this to my clients. As a coach, I preach this to my players. And as a parent – in a more loving way, I promise – I preach this to Amichai. But, if we are meant to own our mistakes and faults, why can’t we own our strengths too? I came to understand that this was not about boasting, it was about owning every part of me. I have many many flaws, but I was gifted certain strengths that carried me through some very challenging times. I was grateful for those strengths. I also began to realize that if I could talk about my superpowers, maybe it would inspire others to so the same – to acknowledge their own strengths, to own their whole selves.
The person I want most to own his whole self is Amichai. I want him to stand tall and proud and unapologetically declare – this is me. But for him to do that, I must lead the way. So, I stepped out into the light and declared that I was a superhero.
And I felt comfortable with that.
Originally from Philadelphia, Elissa Sagoskin now lives in Jerusalem, Israel. An accomplished athlete and health nut, Elissa works as personal fittness trainer and coach, but her hardest and most satisfying work is that of a mom to her son – Amichai. As Amichai meets the daily challenges of CP, Elissa has redefined for herself what constitutes as a disability and strives to change common misconcpetions in her community. She hopes others will continue to embrace difference and create an envrionment of inclusivity. Elissa writes about her journey with Amichai at www.changeperceptions.net. She is available for speaking engagements.