I got my first dream job aged 23 in London. It had never occurred to me that I would struggle to find work because of my deafness, but in all honesty I think back then I added a hefty dose of denial to just how deaf I was. But if I could go back and give my 23-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
1. Be fearless
Back then, I was scared of many, many things. Living alone in London. Leaving the safe confines of my university world. Getting the tube. Meeting new people. Making phone calls. Getting things wrong at work. Mishearing people. It was exhausting. If I could have sat 23-year-old DG down, I would have told her to just say yes to things, be bold in her actions and put the energy she used for worrying into having fun.
2. Be clear
Many of the early issues I had in my career were due to my apologetic nature about my disability. I hid it. I pretended I could do things I couldn't, which resulted in hiding in cupboards crying while trying to make phone calls before my amazing line manager hid in the cupboard with me and made the calls. I wonder if I'd just been more upfront, less emotional and less defensive, if I might have had more early career success. So DG, please please be honest about your deafness. Practice telling people in the mirror until the words and phrases trip off your tongue. Smile and be positive about your deafness – don't make it a negative thing.
3. Sleep more
I swear half the reason I was so emotional in my first job was because I was so exhausted. All the time. Being deaf is tiring. It's like spending your whole time surrounded by people talking a foreign language but expecting you to understand. Concentrating and trying to follow what's going on is the most energy sapping thing. So DG – sleep after work, then go out or go to the gym. Shut-eye makes everything better.
4. Yes you can
I was given some brilliant advice at the start of my career about how to break into the very competitive world I work in. And it worked. But was it my dream path? Not really. And I think that at some point, I should have thrown myself down the path I was truly passionate about and who knows where I might have ended up. So DG – yes, take the job that's better suited to your deafness but then network like a mad person and go after your dream. DO IT!
5. Be more than deaf
I think I let my deafness consume me in my twenties. It defined my life and my decisions. It defined my work persona and my behaviour. And my deafness is not me. It's a part of me. I let the negative aspects of my disability win for so long. Until the day I created Deaf Girly actually. If I look back to that first blog, it's like a switch flicked and I started to puzzle out how to be deaf, how to live the life I wanted. So dear 23-year-old me, it's not easy but soon you will meet Deaf Girly. She'll allow you to find your feet, take a breather, educate others and make your voice heard. She's brave, fearless, stroppy and I love her. And she will love you, too.
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