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A blog I wrote in 2015:

I am a processor.

“Hey computer, are you done processing yet?” Is a phrase often used from close friends and family when it comes time for me to talk about my feelings.

I find I am a person who takes in information, dwells on it for some time, talks out possible solutions with those close to me, processes some more, and then finally am able to share the contents of what I have been thinking/feeling. My job is to use my words to give ideas and thoughts power so I often find myself frustrated when I can’t pinpoint what I am thinking/feeling in real time with complete accuracy.

So I’ve been processing.

I’ve chosen to pursue myself as a business and livelihood. Does this mean I feel so passionate about my view on the world that I need to share or am I a 24- year-old who is just stomping her feet until she feels like she has been heard? If we are being honest…probably both. Twenty four has managed to be a challenging year for a few reasons:

1) My innocents and excitement for the good of the world is left fairly untainted so I feel like I single handedly (JOKE! You’re welcome) should be changing the world. Yet, there is the reality that you have to actually make money to live as a balanced human. Also, you can’t change the world alone.

2) I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up – so I am following a path of steps that seem to be working for me and not against me. This is scary as I am a person who wants to always know the “big picture.” (I am still a stage manager at the core . Theater joke! You’re welcome!)

3) Self reflection can be hard, painful, and not fun. So, I’ve been avoiding it…or maybe just slowly processing (as usual).

I spent much of October and November going to conferences where I was literally selling myself as a product.

“HI!!!! (Shouts loudly at big group of consumers) Want this promotional item with a picture of my face on it? Now that I have lured you in I am going to tell you all about myself and sell myself as a product to you. Don’t forget my information is included…but don’t bother reaching out to me…I will be making follow up calls to you at inconvenient times for the next few weeks.”

You are taught to answer one very important question for the consumer: WHY do they need you? Or better yet, what can you provide that nobody else can?

This hustle and this push to sell myself to others has been extremely exhausting. Not because I don’t like talking to people. Not because I don’t know how to create fun conversation. Not because I am not interested in whom the consumers are as people. BUT because I find I am still cultivating and digging into what my message is all about. This “selling myself” mentality is forcing me to sit down and truly examine WHY I am the way that I am and what is it that I have to offer that nobody else has. During my year as Miss Iowa there was no time to process. Also, I was a very well manicured product to be sold as I was speaking as the face of a company. Nobody challenged me to look at the WHYS of who I was and nobody really cared as long as they got a photo with the crown. (Another interesting examination for another blog someday.)

Due to entering into this car salesman type of a world I have met several professionals who speak full time for their living. Most have made movies or written several books and almost all have been speaking for many, many years now. Their topics of relate-ability are well thought out, their personal stories intertwined expertly, and their message as a whole is delivered in a neatly wrapped package and served with a cherry on top. Their ability to create an “experience” with their presentation continues to blow me away. I want to be them. Good lord, they are amazing people to have in my life as mentors. BUT they are a true testament to the amount in which I have yet to grow as a person and as a speaker.

One particular mentor, Matt Glowacki, is a mentor that I have had several deep, crazy, off the wall, but most importantly REAL conversations with. Matt runs three businesses, is the most booked college and university diversity artist in the nation, earned his position on the USA Paralympic Team for Sit-Volleyball , served as the alternate for the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, and just recently did the New York City Marathon. Oh yeah, and he was born without legs.

Matt, having an understanding of my “disability world,” is a person who has pushed me to actually sit down and dig deep into what I have to offer and figure out how to make my topics and ideas fully relatable to the audience in which I am speaking. He also said something that shook my world:

“We are not the same as everyone else. The world treats us different and we respond to it differently.”

Here is where the real self-refection comes into play.

I had always preached the idea of sameness. Yes, I was proud to be born with just one hand but I had always insisted the world treated me no different.

But then there is this —> Welcome to two ideas I never bothered truly examining about myself until the age of 24:

The idea of over independence:

Both Matt and I can attest to this personality trait that all people living with a difference take on. I, in every situation, live my life to combat the initial ideas people have of my level of capability. I have always talked openly about trying every sport and activity as a way to “show the world I could.” No but seriously. It was to show the world I could. But what does this really look like in my day-to-day life? Example: I ride on planes all the time. Without fail when I go to store my carry-on bag a passenger on the plane will try to help me. I am quite capable of storing my bag but an airplane full of strangers assumes something different. I would never rock climb in public and I have never gone out of my way to go skiing. These are both tasks I am fully capable of but I have no interest in learning while doubting or pitied eyes look on. However, this mentality of the world looking at me and assuming I can’t has been a catalyst for accomplishing amazing things within my life: Moving to big cities alone and competing at Miss America are two I’d like to claim with pride.

The idea of disability privilege:

I remember very vividly going to summer camp with one of my good friends in jr high. Jr high is an awkward age for every person, one-handed or not, and I was particularly awkward at this point. At the beginning of camp we were told one boy and one girl would be voted in by our peers for the “Spirit of Camp Award” at the end of the week. (A version of homecoming king and queen.) I was at this point not interested in stepping outside the comfort zone of my small group of friends. I didn’t display “Spirit of Camp” qualities. In fact, I probably was quite the opposite. But at the end of the week who was chosen? Me, of course. And the boy? A boy with a prosthetic leg, of course. We became the pity vote from a group of jr high kids who thought this was being “nice.” Even at the age of 12, my peers felt the social responsibility to care of me. I was handed something I didn’t deserve. Yet, this is only one example of how privileged I have been treated my whole life. While in tumbling class growing up I was constantly praised and used as an example to the older kids. “If Nikki can do it. So can you!” Miss America is a huge example of this disability privilege. I was asked leading up to Miss America to talk on all kids of different national news programs. My disability and ONLY my disability could have been my “in” to go speak on Good Morning America and The View. Privileged.

So now, at this juncture of my life, I face processing these two new ideas and their hold on my everyday interactions. I am overly independent (so you better bet I am going to overachieve in taking on speaking opportunities). Yet is this “privilege” is going to allow me to speak before I am truly ready with a concrete, credible, or studied message? OY. It’s a complete catch 22. What books have I written to make myself credible? What doctoral degrees have I collected to show my years of studied expertise? Yet, the opportunity is there so I am going to capitalize and I am going to do it all by myself (cause I’m Miss Independent). Do you see? THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!

So I’m processing.

I am working through not only what it means to be an adult human trying to live a balanced life but also to be true to myself about what it means to live as ME in the world. That sounded so selfish. No, that was so selfish but in order to be fully relate-able I to have a complete, honest understanding of who I am…yet also be able to give myself credit with where I am at within my journey. Oy, that is too many things to all be at once.

Until next time. Happy Processing.

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