Kenneth Rayman, 33, is a history enthusiast, writer and speaker. He has a lifelong fascination with Russia and a passion for travelling. But has struggled to make his life his own with his disability, hydrocephalus and hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Kenneth was always told that his disability would not define him. But, in reality, everything has done just that.
Kenneth’s story is about overcoming barriers – external and internal ones – and creating his own opportunities and definition of success. Life is about personal fulfilment rather than achievements and happiness as defined by society.
The cause of my disability, hydrocephalus, was not adequately understood. A shunt insertion to treat it resulted in nerve damage and hemiplegic cerebral palsy. The severity of the nerve damage was unknown and, with that, it was uncertain what my prospects in life would be.
The doctors gave my parents little hope. In response, my blue-collar parents thought that “education means Kenny will have a chance.”
In addition, my mother’s stance was, “We must protect Kenny against ‘failure’.” Protective attitudes did not help me to foster self-confidence and initiative. My mother wanted me to have all the help I could get.
While being told that my disability didn’t define me, everything seemed to be, in fact, defined by it.
I got frustrated with life. There seemed no clear path to any goal that wasn’t blocked by my actual limitations or my parents’ fear.
Losing my way: anxiety and depression
I eventually gave up, expecting that life would just ‘happen’ one day, never learning to establish goals.
Moreover, I lacked confidence and developed anxiety and depression. I feared that I would never amount to anything. I also developed a short fuse from never properly forming interpersonal skills.
My struggle to meet societal definitions of success
My low self-esteem, anxiety and inexperience with people skills made career advancement difficult. With each job I had the same issue crop up. Because of how I framed things, expressing my needs were seen as complaining.
Even when I did fulfil societal expectations by having a job, I was not happy for long. When I did get what looked like an opportunity for advancement that I thought would finally be it, the finish line would move. This left me frustrated and believing that I could never get to where I thought I wanted to be.
Using personal development to find my own way
After I failed at my fifth trade, I decided something had to change. So I tried personal development.
I found Gary Vaynerchuk on YouTube – an entrepreneur who talks about personal interest as a business and empathy as a central part of one’s emotional makeup.
On YouTube, I also found Brendon Burchard, a zany but relatable and down–to–earth personality.
With the help of Vaynerchuk and Burchard, I finally developed an understanding of my faults and how I could take advantage of my strengths.
The trip to Russia that changed it all
At 31, I had gone through a year of personal growth and development. I decided I was ready to do something other than saving my father’s inheritance. So I took the ultimate birthday trip to my favourite place in history – Russia.
I have been fascinated by Russia since childhood and read extensively about it. On my trip, I saw the sights of St. Petersburg and Moscow through the lens of my childhood, only this time there was no television screen between us.
My guides in St. Petersburg and Moscow saw that my interest and understanding of the sights was unlike that of a typical tourist. They remarked on the degree of respect I have for the culture and location. Our tours flowed like conversations between friends.
What I thought would be a one-time dream trip fostered a sense of purpose in me and re-discovery of my talents.
Becoming a disabled writer
Although I didn’t have professional interpersonal acumen, I’d grown up with a creative streak. I am also a history enthusiast. I particularly enjoy writing reports on subjects of historical interest. The creativity of writing gives me a sense of critical thinking.
Returning home from my trip to Russia, I decided to start writing about my experiences. It was the first step toward following my passion for speaking and writing, as Gary Vaynerchuk talked about.
I was no longer afflicted by crippling depression, suicidal ideation and anxiety. And I no longer idly waited for life to happen – I took matters into my own hands.
Using motivational speaking to encourage others to follow their hearts
I also experimented with giving talks at local senior homes about my trip to get experience with speaking.
I actually worked as a marketer in senior care communities at the time, so my day job provided me with the stage to practice.
But after my journey to Russia, I found that my motivation for my regular work was gone. I now dreaded a ‘stable’ job and climbing the corporate ladder.
I realised that I don’t simply want to meet societal expectations – I want to follow what lights up my heart the most. I want to share with others what interests me creatively.
It is not that I want to disregard responsibility – I want to let inner and outer discovery do its work.
Exploring other countries and gaining new experiences
After my first trip to Russia, I visited the country again. But I wanted to explore further, so I also visited Norway, Estonia, Poland, the Netherlands and Finland, divided over four trips in a year and a half.
Each trip brought with it a new understanding of what made me thick, as well as new stories and growth.
With each speech, each new tale I wrote, each new connection I made to explain some cultural intrigue, I further defined what gave my life meaning.
Combining travel and personal growth experiences
I was much happier, but I still struggled to connect the two – travel and personal growth – in one message, one story.
It came to me as I fell asleep one night. I was changing the narrative a country was viewed under as well as changing the narratives we hold in ourselves. With that my blog had its vision statement.
I’ve spent the last two years writing and connecting with other travellers and personal development coaches. I’m also in the process of writing a book about it all.
Life is not a race but a journey that brings personal fulfilment
There have been plenty of bumps in the road with confidence, finances
, and health. But I always remind myself that I’m now pursuing what is truly my passion. And as I do my best, I will find my version of success.
I’ve learned from Gary Vaynerchuk and Brendon Burchard and others that success is not defined by one’s bank account, but by personal fulfilment.
Before, I had chosen to live according to societal expectations. This only resulted in temporary happiness. But this would quickly fade as the proverbial ‘finish line’ of achievement was never really reached.
With a measured approach to personal growth, I have learned to refocus my attention on fulfilment. This is different from happiness attainted through wants. Instead, it comes from attention to true personal value, causing the finish line to disappear as I embarked on a journey rather than a race.
By Kenneth Rayman
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