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Spring 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Something to Do...

By Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Several years ago, I was asked by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) to give a presentation to a group of blind and visually impaired teenagers and their parents at a School-to-Work conference. I decided to talk to the students directly about my thoughts and feelings about the transition they were soon to make. What follows are my words to them on that occasion:

Many years ago, a friend of mine said something that I will never forget. She said that there are three things that every human being needs in life: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. For some of you, this may be nothing more than another cute saying out of one of the many popular books of cute sayings being sold now. But for me, these three things are the meaning of life.

I'll skip something to do for the moment and come back to it. Someone to love—we all have people we love—our parents, our brothers and sisters, friends, relatives...and those we love most will change as we go through life. Many of you will some day marry, and find a depth of love and caring far greater than you can imagine. This little saying is correct—without someone to love, life is not very interesting. We all need other people in our lives that we can feel close to, can confide in, can be who we really are when we're around them.

Something to look forward to—can you imagine a life if you had nothing to look forward to? What each of us look forward to will be different. A pay raise, a better job, a promotion, a vacation, a special time with someone we love. I have known blind and visually impaired young people—recently graduated from high school who truly believed that they had nothing to look forward to. It was not easy getting a job, it took work to make friends in their community, it took effort to participate in recreational activities. I remember going to visit two former students of mine—two young men, totally blind, 22 years old, living together in an apartment. I showed up at their place about 1:30 in the afternoon. I waited a long time for them to answer their doorbell. When they did, it was obvious that I had awakened them. I asked them why they were sleeping through such a beautiful day. One of them said that they had no reason to get up, so they felt no motivation to get out of bed. No job, no friends, no hobbies, no interesting activities...nothing to look forward to. Always look beyond what you are doing, what you are thinking, where you are and what you're about—always have something to look forward to, and be willing to put forth the effort to make it happen.

Something to do—the person whom I heard use these words was referring to work. Paid work is what most of us do for five or more days each week. Most of us are pleased that we have something to do—that we do something productive, something that both we and someone else values. I'm sure that many of you have heard before that there are basically two kinds of workers. There are those who work to live, and those who live to work. Those of us who work to live perform a job and get paid for it. The pay allows us to live our lives with some level of satisfaction. We receive our enjoyment, enrichment, and our beautiful moments in life outside of our job. Perhaps the money we make allows us to pursue hobbies and recreational activities that become the pleasure in our lives. But we would not be likely to say that our pleasure comes from our job.

What about those of us who live to work? Yes, we are paid for what we do, but we also gain a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from the work we do. Those who live to work receive two benefits from their job: they make money, and they get real pleasure from what they do. I fit this second category, and I consider myself truly blessed. I look forward to going to work. I get much pleasure and satisfaction from what I do. Perhaps this is because I am a lifelong learner. Every day I learn something new about my job, about how children and youth learn, how people act toward one another in the work place.

Winston Churchill once said, "Blessed are those whose work is their hobby, and whose hobby is their work." Regardless of whether you live to work or work to live, and most of us will fall somewhere in the middle, I wish for all of us a balance in life between joy and satisfaction. Joy for the life we're living, satisfaction for the good we're doing.

Yet, I know many people who work to live, and they, too, are truly blessed. They do their jobs, and gain great pleasure and satisfaction from other things going on in their lives.

I urge each of you to explore the world of work. Examine your own skills and what you enjoy doing. Compare these to jobs in the community. Participate fully in career education programs in your schools. My deepest hope for each of you is that you leave school with so much knowledge about who you are, what you are good at, and what you enjoy, that you will take charge of your own life. Use your vocational rehabilitation counselor well, but don't let that person select your job. You must do that yourself. It is too easy to avoid making your own decisions about your future if there is always a professional around who is more than happy to make your decisions for you.

I wish for you the capacity to be the masters of your own life. I wish for you someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.

To Parents and Professionals:

The dignity of choice...isn't that what services with and for blind persons is all about? Should there be any higher priority for all of us than to encourage and enhance the ability of people to take charge of their own lives? I certainly don't want to choose a job for a blind person. I don't want to choose his friends...to choose where he lives...to dictate his life style...to impose my ethics on him. What education and rehabilitation should be doing is developing independent choice-makers, proud and productive people who know themselves well and will not let anyone else take charge of their lives.


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