I have been sharing my story and business plans with more and more people as I network and seek their expertise. And every single one of them has asked me why I don’t have a guide dog. I love animals and it is true I am eligible for a service dog. The fact is I am allergic to dogs and cats but even when I begin with this as my explanation as to why I don’t have a dog to assist me, I am immediately met with the assurance that there are certain breeds that won’t make me sneeze or feel the need to pop my eyeball out and lick it because it itches so badly. I understand and appreciate they are only trying to help but I find my feathers starting to get ruffled.
Our first bird was a 3-month-old lutino cockatiel, Cato, who joined our family 4 months after we married. He was with us for 15 years until he passed away. Five years after his death, we were finally ready to love a new little guy. As I’ve written about his adoption from a bird rescue on this blog often, I will only repeat that Piper became part of our flock 3 months before my vision loss and my greatest fear when I came home from the hospital was that I wouldn’t be able to take care of him properly. But as all of me mended, and I adapted and adjusted, time and love healed Piper too. He began to realize I wasn’t going anywhere no matter how many times he broke skin.
No longer out in the world working, Piper and I became the best of friends: playing, doing chores together and cuddling. He can be the only one I talk to all day while my husband and friends are at work and he chortles right back at me. He cannot help me to cross a street, maneuver in a store or retrieve something for me that I cannot see, but I have spent more time with him than anyone else since my sight flew the coop. He is counting on me, everyday, for food, water and clean accommodations, of course, but also to be his mom. He is totally dependent on me and being there for him as I had promised after I got sick brought me back to life. Although Piper can’t be with me outside my house like a guide dog would be, the team we have become inside our home has given me the confidence to spread my wings and fly.
I never understand when people say they can’t cook. Climbing high atop my kitchen step stool, rolling pin held high over my head for emphasis, I proclaim, “If you can read you can cook!” Oh, how the soufflés have fallen of late!
A few recent first time tries turned into last time fails, leaving me with a really bad taste in my mouth about cooking. Literally. I will never know why a recipe doesn’t turn out despite following the instructions down to the 1/4 teaspoon. And the same can be said about life. We can do everything right, follow the rules exactly, use only the very best parts of ourselves and still things don’t come out like they’re supposed to. All the time spent planning and working hard only to be left with a disappointing result can make you not want to try again.
I went back into the kitchen last night to make something new. I’m not going to lie, my expectations were very low. I meticulously measured (not the easiest thing when visually challenged) and studied the directions like they were forensic evidence, the whole time wondering from where I should order a pizza. But I am happy to report the lemon pasta dish was delicious despite my doubts. It doesn’t help to explain why things go wrong but any win sure makes the loses less fresh in our minds, yielding us a huge piece of confidence, serving 1.
I don’t pretend to know what makes us give up or keep trying but I would have missed out on a terrific new meal last night had I made a member of my standard dinner rotation instead. The more I cook and the longer I live I know there are no guarantees in either, no matter how dedicated we are to the steps to a successful outcome. In either case, the key ingredient is the ice cream in the freezer, the perfect compliment to both celebration and consolation.
“The crippling sadness of letting go of the past is but a mere twinge
compared to the paralyzing fear of what will take its place in the future.
Do not give up.
And one day you will find yourself standing fully in the present, full of nothing but gratitude.”
— Sister Rain
When you have a goal they say you should share it with people so that they can support you and hold you accountable when your own responsibility meter goes on the fritz. But once you put your plans out into the world, into the ears of others, things can get awfully real, awfully fast. Connections begin to be made, friends and business associates of friends are brought into the loop and the result is a momentum you cannot achieve on your own.
It’s exciting to see the vision you have in your head begin to grow past your preparation and the work you have done. When only you know your dream, potential failure feels like a shrug of the shoulders, “we’ll get ’em next time”. Bringing others in makes the potential fall public and terrifying, something I haven’t felt at all until now. But in all the research I’ve done, networking is by far the number one key to success in starting a professional endeavor. All along I thought that was something you did once you are up and running but now I realize it must begin at the beginning.
Like me, you may have never built your own business but I’ll bet you have built yourself a life, full of good people. And those individuals with whom you share your personal existence are most likely the first to hear about your plans for a business. You trust them and feel safe telling them what you’re up to. They want to help, they have ideas and contacts to move your objectives forward, and just like that, your aspirations no longer live only inside you, in the pages of your notes and your words in a script. It has wings, and in my experience, that is an incredible thing.
I’ve just finished all my annual check-ups and testing, a dozen check-ins at doctor’s offices and outpatient centers. I have been really surprised and disappointed by the receptionists’ reactions when they hand me a clipboard holding paperwork to be filled out and I inform them that I am legally blind and am unable to see the forms. I don’t look as if I have a vision problem so perhaps they are just not expecting me to say this but ten out of twelve responses have ranged from annoyance to annoyance, usually peppered by the heavy sigh.
You’re supposed to,feel better when you leave the doctor’s office, not worse, right?
I have been aggressively asked, “Isn’t someone here with you?”, as if I am a child requiring adult supervision, as if I should be undergoing something as personal as a Pap smear with a handler or entourage in tow. It took a long time for me to have the ability and the confidence to do these seemingly mundane activities on my own, and no one, especially not a healthcare professional, is going to destroy that. Draw my blood, ask me to pee in a cup. No problem. My spirit? That you can’t have.
“I am one brain MRI away from finding out if my mother was, in fact, a bale of straw.”
— Sister Rain
Not long after I found myself with little vision I purchased some wooden letters from a store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They were the first name initials of my husband, our parrot, Piper, and our first bird, Cato, who was with us for fifteen years, and myself. My friend helped me pick out paint so I could give each letter a color that meant something to each of us. My husband identified the bottles for me and we carefully organized them so I knew which was which. Despite our efforts, I mixed them up and put the wrong colors on the letters. I didn’t know it and couldn’t wait to show my completed work to the first person who stopped in, but my enthusiasm met its quick demise when she informed me of my mistake. She did it so matter-of-factly and now I understand she was as new at having a visually impaired friend as I was at being one. But at the time I was hurt by her delivery and so angry with myself and my situation that I packed up the paints and the letters and stored them in the attic where they have remained for almost five years. I forgot about them because it upset me to remember.
In retrospect I don’t know what it was about this particular challenge that caused me to shut it down. In all other things since my sight became diminished I have kept going and if there has been a pause, it never turned into a stop. I think it was the timing, so soon after I got sick, that I didn’t have all the necessary coping skills in place nor had I learned the extent of my optic nerves’ deterioration. I thought I could still do what I always did and discovering I could not was like drinking turpentine: bitter, nauseating, painful and life threatening. But I can also say without hesitation that I really believed my full vision would return. The doctors couldn’t say it wouldn’t. They couldn’t say it would either.
We have been starting to work on the house: painting and refreshing rooms with new pictures and accessories. Not handyman and woman by nature, we are doing it ourselves, finding our way with the assistance of YouTube videos and the helpful people at our local hardware store. It’s exciting in a way I hadn’t expected nor did I anticipate how one project would lead to another, one room the next, which is how I came to retrieve the abandoned incorrectly painted wooden letters. I got them out last week and the bottles of color were all expired so I bought new and began to reapply the paint. I have a little more sight than I did in those early days and it was a bit easier, but honestly I can’t see tiny spots I’ve missed or streaks or drips. But I carefully and methodically brushed the colors on and once done, my husband inspected and declared them perfect.
They now hang on the wall in our entry hall, representing every being who has made this house a home. I am so happy with the result and that I revisited the crafting of this homemade decor. Sometimes a project is not just a do-it-yourself, it’s for yourself.
Sometimes Piper reminds me of a guy in a bird suit.
Sometimes Piper reminds me of a great bald eagle.
Always Piper reminds me that when love comes and sits on your shoulder, you stop what you’re doing, you acknowledge it and you are grateful. You have no idea how long it will stay, as there are things to destroy after all, and every moment is precious.
It’s difficult to know when you should stop preparing and when you should just jump in. Due diligence is always wise but sometimes the research and learning can go on and on and there seems to be new information around every corner, leading to even more questions. Is this really necessary and helpful or is it in truth a form of procrastination?
When should the training wheels come off?
There is great debate over this subject. Accomplished people argue both sides of the case: Passion, instinct, momentum, baptism by fire versus the seemingly infinite supply of material to educate and coach. If there was a definitive answer out there I would have found it by now as I work towards my professional future. This is a completely new endeavor for me and I want to do all I can to set myself up for success. You can take the meeting planner out of the conference center . . .
All these years later, I vividly remember the day my training wheels came off. My brother and his best friend, older than me by eight years, were helping me, holding on to the back of my bike. I looked back and they were moving further and further away, THEY HAD LET GO! But as adults, it’s up to us alone to decide when it’s time to stop practicing and set off on our own two wheels The preparation is vital but it could go on forever if you allow it to do so. Set a deadline and stick to it. The homework will pay off but you won’t get paid until you start pedaling.
I decided to start my week by going to a local coffee house so I would have dedicated time to write and not be distracted by never-ending household chores. Fueled by a cappuccino and a warm blueberry muffin I jumped right into my work, subconsciously enjoying the unique sound of the espresso machine, clinking silverware, the friendly barista and the personal and professional meetings going on around me.
Although I don’t think of myself this way, I am an entrepreneur. And I never feel more like one than when I’m at this coffee cafe. As much as I enjoyed traveling and being on the road when I was a corporate meeting manager, I also spent years in an office environment, as part of a community contributing to something so much greater than myself. My new endeavor is an extension of this blog and a further avenue for sharing my story, the most impactful “job” I will ever have. More so than being part of a well-known handicraft company’s start-up that brought people together, or planning and executing pharmaceutical meetings at the point a new drug was ready for clinical trial, even more so than a dozen years spent at a life-saving medical device company.
There were four tables nearby and I could focus on any one of them and hear their passion about what they are doing. Although we were not working together, we were working together, and It was that, not the caffeine, that energized me.