Our Challenges

Aisling Fitzgerald reflects on dealing with challenges, and growing through them.

There can be no doubt that life is defined by the challenges that we have overcome. Big or small, they are personal and individual to us and can determine our future. But what happens when the challenges that you face are permanent and difficult to overcome? These permanent challenges affect every part of your life, socially, academically, professionally and mentally. These challenges begin to become the norm, part of everyday life – until an event places it in a new light and you have to deal with them.

Having a hearing impairment is a part of my everyday life, I wake up put in my hearing aid and go about the day, I remove it at night – sleep in blissful peace and repeat the routine the following morning. During the day I lip read, sit at the top of the classroom, sometimes sign with others or if in a difficult situation, I just smile and nod and hope for the best! This was my daily routine, I never questioned my ability to communicate, I never informed people because I was able to cope with my familiar surroundings and so I often forgot that in actual fact I would not be able to communicate without this small device in my ear.

My first week on the Washington Ireland Program reminded me that I am, in fact, hearing impaired. Week one was emotionally, mentally and physically draining for me. There were many inspiring moments, and incredible opportunities that presented to us on the program, and I do not take it for granted for one moment how lucky we are! But it was a tough week.

I struggled with the large group conversations, I had bad headaches from a long intense day of lip reading, I was frustrated with myself and others, I was lost in conversations and I was angry. I began to become disengaged with the program because it was just mentally exhausting. It was no doubt a challenge.

Throughout the first week there was an ethos of challenges are good, failures are good – that they define us and create character. And there is no doubt that they do. But the challenges that were spoken of were temporary and were able to be overcome. What about those that are permanent? Permanent challenges can range from physical and mental impairments right up to language and cultural barriers. The scope is endless. Those who have permanent challenges must learn to deal with those challenges- to manage them and to keep pushing through them; but they never go away.

So I pushed on with the week, feeling sorry for myself that I could not overcome this challenge and would have to deal with it my whole life. I was upset as it was my first realization that being hearing impaired might actually be a barrier to me – it had never crossed my mind before. Thinking that this is how it will always be. But when we met with Kevin from Accenture at the WIP offices, my attitude changed. When he was giving advice about being an intern, he said that we should turn all tasks into a learning opportunity. That no matter how menial the task we should learn some skills from it and apply it our every day working life. For some reason that struck me, and I realized that I needed to take this experience of intense listening and communication, to learn and develop a new skill. I needed to learn the skill of how to communicate in large groups for long periods of time and to deal with different accents and voices, as this was not going to be the last time I was to be placed in these environments.

True enough as the days progress I am learning more and more how to cope with the long days in group seminars. Professionally I feel that I am improving in my ability to understand and to follow the conversation. But the challenge of ensuring that I am tuned in to all that is being said is preventing me from participating fully in the conversation. I am afraid to contribute statements or questions to the panel. What if I ask something somebody already said? What if they already answered the questions? This is my next challenge to overcome and my new skill to develop – confidence to just ask the question and not to worry too much about what other people think. If the question is already asked, I will just have to brush it off and continue on. Otherwise there won’t be a peep out of me all summer!!