Growing up in a group home, and with an undiagnosed learning disability to boot, the odds of success were not on my side. But when I joined the high school football team, I learned the value of discipline, focus, persistence, and teamwork – all skills that have proven vital to my career as a C.E.O. and social entrepreneur. – Darell Hammond, philanthropist, founder and CEO non-profit organization KaBOOM! that helps communities build playgrounds for children.

This post developed because I observed on X Factor as two young presumptively disabled people overcame their differences and blossomed before my eyes. Rion Paige, just 13 years old, suffers from a condition that stunted the development of her arms and shoulders; yet she has a beautiful soulful voice and stands in front of a live audience and millions of viewers belting songs out with passion, rocking her shoulders, her hands literally dangling in front of her. Carlos Guevara suffers from Touret’s Syndrome. He sings like an angel and has tons of friends, but when he is “just talking” the camera shows him ticks and all. This made me think of others with so-called disabilities have overcome them or embraced them.

At first, I only thought of celebrities, like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, unhindered by their blindness. Everyone lauds Michael Fox for his time in front of the camera, notwithstanding his Parkinson’s Disease. I kept coming up with “the obvious” like the little person who played the lead munchkin in The Wizard of Oz or Nick Cannon with lupus. I also thought about Barbra Streisand because of a recent article I read about perception. She was, at first, considered handicapped by her large nose and ethnic features. No one believed in her ability to overcome her gawky appearance. She proved them wrong, ultimately embracing her differentness to become exotic and, needless to say, a huge success.

So now I had identified two completely different types of disabilities: actual and perceived. And I had identified people who had overcome both extremes. Yet, the fact that my first thoughts all went to celebrities had me concerned. I wondered whether in our ordinary everyday lives as business people, we could have differences and still get to the top of our professions. Or, is it so important to assimilate and be like everyone else that in business individuality is, indeed, a handicap?

Once I started thinking further, I reached the conclusion that individual differences of whatever type and whether mental or physical are trumped by intelligence, creativity and energy as attributes contributing to success. To be sure, there are certain characteristics that define business success; but there is room for individuality as well.

Take the brilliant mind of Steven Hawking, confined to a wheelchair, unable to move any part of his body, yet the world’s most famous physicist. Had he been afraid to show himself in public, had he not embraced his differences and let his talent and brilliance lead the way, he could have had a narrow life. Instead, he says this, “The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.” In short, he acknowledges the handicap, makes light of it and moves forward saying, “However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”

Another great example of success over hardship is Temple Grandin, who suffers from severe autism. Yet she is described as the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world. Her fascinating life, with all its challenges and successes has been featured in major media many times. Most importantly, her work with animals led the animal rights movement and revolutionized an industry.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president of the United States though confined to a wheelchair. Harriet Tubman suffered a severe and disabling head injury in her quest for freedom, yet never gave up. And Louis Braille, upon losing his sight, became an inventor and designed braille writing, certainly an enormous success.

These were regular people – like us. And, like us, they illustrate that there is a common theme to success. Success requires hard work, intelligence, fearlessness and a great willingness to accept yourself despite your differences. I’ve coached many CEO’s with dyslexia, some in wheel chairs and one person who is blind. But, the differences in most of my clients have more to do with fears, depression and anxiety, hating how they look or other qualities that are handicaps perceived by the individual and projected into the outside world – more like the “Barbra Streisand syndrome”. The thing is, whether the handicap was diagnosable or personal, coaching has helped them embrace them and use them as a stepping stone. Coaching together and often with the help of Neuro Emotional Coaching©, we’ve reached new levels of self-acknowledgement and new ways to approach the outside world.

This year, give thanks for your talents and, if you can, even what may at first seem like short comings. Turn your short comings into assets, embrace them and let them work for you and make you strong. Or, as stated by Richard Branson, one of the world’s most successful businessmen who is suffering from severe dyslexia, “Whenever something goes wrong or you find yourself at a disadvantage, often the best way to handle it is to turn a negative into a positive.”

Here are some suggestions to turn a challenge into a positive personal attribute:

● What can I learn from this challenge?
● What’s possible now that wasn’t possible before?
● How has the challenge made me stronger?
● What positive perspective can I root myself into to get unstuck?
● What do I need to forgive myself/other/the world for?