I recently took one of the endless string of Facebook quizzes that are circulating these days, analyzing the type of person that I must have been in high school. I took the quiz, and up popped a picture of Mark-Paul Gosselaar, in his iconic role as Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell, as the quiz labeled me “preppie” and told me that I appeared “effortlessly put together” but in fact spent significant time and my appearance.
I will leave to wiser souls the question of how “put together” I do or do not appear, but the effortless got me to thinking. Not only do I put substantial effort into my appearance, but the end result is often completely out of my control.
I control my hiring, and the instruction of my assistants. Certainly, I choose my stylist and my manicurist, luxuries I find necessary to maintain a professional affect, but at the end of the day, the amount of effort that a particular individual is willing to put into brushing my hair, or tying my tie, or even tucking my shirt, is outside of my daily control. I can fire a consistent non-performer, and I can instruct someone who doesn’t appear to know what they are doing, but, on any given day, my appearance may be completely beyond my control.
Nor does this lack of control extend merely to my personal appearance. As I have written about elsewhere, this spring I had the unique joy of hosting a group in the Hebrew College Eser program. Because I had very competent care at the time, I am pleased to say that I was able to have the house swept and the bathroom cleaned before each of the 10 Thursdays. On any day though, had I experienced a problem with my morning care, it is possible, or even likely, that I would’ve been hosting 16 people in a dirty apartment.
Now, I take steps to prepare for these issues. When I found that my New York morning staff simply was not able to help me achieve the proper look, I found colleagues at my law firm who could help me tie my tie. When other dressing deficiencies created actual discomfort, I found friends and colleagues willing to almost completely rearrange my clothes in the firm bathroom if needed. (My immense gratitude to my Kramer Levin friends, you will never know quite how much that meant.) This Spring, I had my weekend care attendant, who doesn’t work until the evenings during the week, standing by for an emergency call to clean if there was a problem on a Thursday.
But this is not a note about preparation, for the greenest person with a disability knows of the need to prepare, and the most savvy may sometimes fall short. My point here is different. I wrote a few weeks ago about the importance of understanding the struggle of people with disabilities, and I offer you two windows here.
Firstly, on the rare occasion that something with a friend or colleague with a disability seems a little off, you might not rush to assume that they are sloppy. This is not to give a pass to the obligation of professionals with disabilities to appear professional, but to open up the world of possibilities a little bit. Maybe you assume they just need a little help straightening something out, and, if you have the right relationship, maybe you tactfully offer. ONLY IF YOU CAN DO IT TACTFULLY.
More importantly, however, for the thousands of times that you interact with someone like me, and the house is pretty good for the home of a single guy in his 30s, or I appear “effortlessly put together,” it might not her to reflect on the effort, the teamwork, and the sheer energy that goes into those simple things. As I said in the previous post on the subject, we don’t want your pity, but a little cognizance of the struggle never hurt.