Disability will not define me

Guest post by Trailblazer Craig Pollok, Solutions Consultant, Salesforce

Disability will not define me.

I was 16 years old, disabled and depressed. Fast forward to today – I am 29 years old, still disabled, and living a life that I could never have imagined

There is a constant theme that has been instilled in me through my childhood: the desire to keep going, regardless of adversity. I am 29 years old, and I live with a significant physical disability. I have a vivid memory from 5 years ago, sitting on the couch in my parents home, sipping a warm coffee, and my mum looks over at me and says “Craig, I am so proud of you, for going to university and getting your first job”. My reply was that for me, it was never an option. 

Sitting on the sidelines has never entered my head as a possibility. I was taught – and firmly believe – that I am more than my disability. Disability will not define me.

Upon reflection, I have identified 3 key attributes that have helped get me to where I am today:

  1. Grit
  2. Attitude
  3. Interdependence

I had my first stroke when I was only four years old. I was walking home from kindergarten and my leg was dragging behind me. I went to the doctor, who immediately realised it was a stroke. 

I have had 5 strokes throughout my life, the hardest of which was my fourth stroke at age 16, caused by remaining on the anti seizure medication rather than being weaned off it. While on the medication, over the course of 9 months, I lost the ability to feel the full extent of emotions, I no longer felt happy or sad; I just felt gray. I remember each day telling myself to keep going, one more day, one more school lesson, one more hour. About 9 months into this, I made the conscious decision to reduce my medication dosage, and I failed a computer science test which made me cry for 30 minutes; it was beautiful to experience feeling, even if it was sadness. I learned to keep on going, one day at a time.

Mathematics taught me my greatest lesson in how to deal with hard things. I have a bachelors of graphic design from three years at AUT, then tried and was unsuccessful in getting a job in the industry. However, I always had an interest in computers, so I studied computer science. There was a particular mathematics paper that I failed twice and my father asked me to try again a third time. I only realized recently that it was never about the mathematical knowledge or application of the knowledge – it is about not giving up and having the tenacity to keep going until the goal is achieved. Having a family that encouraged me to keep going in the face of adversity has been instrumental in helping me become who I am. Mathematics taught me that success is often formed by attitude, never giving up and belief that anything is possible.

The technology industry taught me that asking for help is okay; that we are not made to do everything on our own. I got my first corporate job in the technology industry after leaving university and quickly became the SME of CRM. In this role, I was given requirements to build a financial services calculator, and I quickly realised that this was beyond the scope of what I could do by myself. This project was the beginning of a friendship with the internal senior developer – we became genuinely interested in each other as people and worked efficiently together to get things done. This is where I learnt that it is okay not to be able to do everything by myself, and often people are willing and eager to assist to achieve a common goal.

I applied for over 30 different roles last year over four months in an attempt to find a new role. I had about 15 first interviews, 5 second interviews, 2 third interviews and then one job offer. It was a long journey and in December I applied for a role with a CRM consultancy and got a phone call from the CEO who told me he could not hire me due my disability and the building not having wheelchair access. I was quite disheartened by this but he then referred me on to an industry friend where I had my first interview that same day and that is how I am now working for Salesforce. Throughout this process I got excited and let down each time I jumped through a hoop, or had an interview, it was exhausting but extremely rewarding that helped lead to where I am now. This learning is about both interdependence and grit, without the CEO calling his industry friends, I would not be where I am now and the importance of not giving up.

Working at Salesforce means that I want to push myself beyond where my ceiling is rather than feeling like I need to do so in order to prove myself. The environment is one in which I feel supported. I have the tools to both make real change in the world and to do what is best for me. It is also an environment where there are allowances for each person’s needs, and tools are provided to enable success. Trust is the number one value, there is a collective desire to be better and push beyond, doing so as a team, sharing success and victory.

In summation, I would like to highlight three key lessons. 

  1. There is no substitute for hard work and grit. Often the difference between success and failure is 1 more hour spent trying to fix whatever the problem is. 
  2. Attitude is everything. This might be cliche, but it is true. Regardless of your vocation, you can make the conscious decision each morning to wake up and smile and share joy with the world. 
  3. Success as a team is more rewarding than success as an individual. It is not a failure to admit that you cannot do life alone and need help

Disability will not define me – what will you define you?

Craig Pollok, Solutions Consultant, Salesforce

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