On being … deserving?

By Ingrid Sapona

We had a particularly cold and wet spring. In general, I try not to get too fussed about the weather. After all, my livelihood doesn’t depend on it or anything. But I must admit that I did notice my mood was elevated last weekend when we had two warm, sunny days in a row.

On Monday morning I was chatting with a woman about how lovely the weekend was. I was surprised when she said, “Well, we deserve it after the spring we had.” While I couldn’t disagree that the spring was nothing to write home about, I didn’t really agree with her assessment about us deserving good weather. I realize she probably was just making conversation, but her comment got me thinking about my basic discomfort with using the word “deserve”.

I’ve written about other words I’m uncomfortable using. “Absolutely” is a good example. I find it jarring every time I hear it, even though I realize some folks use it simply to show their assent. I can’t use it that way – I’m far too literal to do so. I just don’t think there are that many absolutes in life. (Heck – in my most literal moments, I’d even object to one of the two items in the punchline about death and taxes being the only absolutes in life!)

Wondering if perhaps I’m misconstruing what “deserve” means, I decided to look it up. The dictionary definition was pretty much what I thought. According to Merriam-webster.com, deserve is variously defined as “to be worthy of” and “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital…”

The idea of merit and worthiness are at the heart of my struggle. I’ve always felt that to merit something you have to do something. Notwithstanding the day-to-day struggles, I don’t think that existing (or surviving a wet spring) earns you any favours or graces. In my mind, such a comment is a sign of an entitlement mentality, which I find offensive.

I don’t know why I feel so strongly about using that word, but I do. Sometimes I wonder if my view comes from some deep-seated Christian guilt, or maybe it’s a self-esteem issue. I don’t know… But, whatever the reason, it’s a feeling I’ve had as long as I can remember whenever someone blithely claims they deserve something. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I think it’s ok to use the word. For example, if I’ve done something well and someone else praises me because they think I deserve the recognition – that’s ok. But for the most part, I don’t see deserving as something one should self-assess.

Realizing my view is pretty narrow, I turned again to the dictionary definition. When I read the definition, I realized I didn’t know what “requital” means. Apparently, a requital is something given in return or as compensation. With that in mind, I guess there’s a bit of room for self-assessment of being deserving. For example, if I’ve worked hard for awhile at something, I might feel deserving of taking a break – as compensation.

I know – this probably sounds like wordplay to many of you. In a way, I suppose it is. But if we’re willing to admit that weather impacts our mood, why is it any less important to think about how we react to words?

Anyway – now you all know that “deserve” is a word that gives me pause. What about you? Are you as literal as me about the concept of being deserving? Or maybe there are other words that trigger reactions in you. What are they and why do you suppose you feel as you do about them?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … unlimited

By Ingrid Sapona 

The other day a show on the Ontario public broadcaster (TVO) caught my eye. It’s called Employable Me. One of the series co-producers describes it as “a documentary series featuring job seekers who are determined to prove that having a physical disability or neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable.” https://www.ami.ca/category/2411/season 

Turns out, the series is incredibly inspiring and an excellent contribution to the Hope Project I mentioned starting in a January On being…. It also helped me see what a narrow lens I’ve seen the work world through. More on that in a minute…

Each episode features two job seekers. We first meet each job seeker as they walk into an office and sit down across the desk from an off-camera interviewer. With most of them, from the moment you first see them, you can tell there’s something different about them. For some, their physical problem is obvious (for example, they’re wheelchair bound), but with others it isn’t until they begin to talk about their condition that you realize how they’re different.

The next scene shows them in their home environment and we meet their families. The families are remarkably open about the challenges their son, daughter, brother, or sister faces as they venture out into the work world. They’re supportive and guardedly hopeful.

We then tag along as the job seekers meet with a range of professionals who assess their physical and thinking skills, capabilities, and interests. The assessments are fascinating – not the standard personality tests (like Myers-Briggs) that many of us have taken in a workplace setting. Because these individuals have lived with their physical or neurological problems their whole life, they know full well what their limitations are. These professionals help show them (and the viewer) the flip side – the workplace strengths and abilities they have as a result of coping with their limitations. So, for example, these job seekers’ ability to figure out work-arounds shows great problem-solving skills. As well, in a work environment, someone’s obsessive behavior can be seen as a heightened ability to pay attention to detail.

But of all the skills and traits, the most impressive quality each job seeker exhibited was tremendous self-awareness. For example, one gregarious young man who was born with many complex medical issues that he still struggles with, interviewed for a job at a senior’s residence. He teased and joked with the seniors during an art class. You could tell he and the residents enjoyed it and the position would be a great fit. But, he ended up turning down the job because he realized he’d have difficulty handling it when a resident dies. Another woman with Tourette’s knew that because of the energy demanded by her ticks, for her the physical demands of an 8-hour shift is the equivalent of a 16-hour shift. So, in her interview with the company that ended up hiring her, she specifically asked if they could accommodate her on a five or six-hour shift.

After figuring out how their strengths and skill might apply in a work environment, the next part was to me the hardest: finding potential employers to match the candidates with. It’s fine to conclude that a blind young man who enjoys sports and who holds a record in the 100-metre dash should consider a career in athletics. But, to my un-trained – and uncreative mind – that sounded pie-in-the-sky. I couldn’t imagine what kind of job that idea could translate to.

Well, they sent him off to a private boxing gym that was looking for a “member ambassador” that would encourage and motivate members. Hmm… I could see that – this guy has such a positive outlook and the fact that he doesn’t let blindness stop him from competing is motivating. But then, when the gym wanted to see how he did sparring with one of those huge, hanging punching bags – I thought they were kidding. How could they expect this blind guy to learn to spar? Well, the blind guy didn’t seem to think it was odd – he relished the chance to learn it.

The series really opened my eyes about a lot of things. For example, though I’m coming to this revelation too late to benefit much by it in my own career, it’s given me much better appreciation for career counsellors and Human Resource folks. Until this show, I never really saw them as specializing in seeing people’s capabilities and in helping folks achieve their potential. What a gift those professionals are.

The series also makes it very clear that physical disabilities aren’t necessarily career limiters. Indeed, those who have learned to cope with disabilities often have more empathy and are leaders capable of motivating others to achieve their potential. In short, the series has given me great hope as I realize that people are capable of coping with all sorts of challenges.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona