Have you ever seen someone whose courage just took your breath away?
Well, I have; his name is Richie Parker. At the time of this writing, Richie is in his 30s, and he works as an engineer for Hendrick Motorsports.
Before I share the rest of the story, though, I have to tell you that this is not the post I had planned for today. But my birthday is coming up; this week, I’ll be 29. And people keep asking if I’m worried about nearing the big 3-0.
Part of me understands the anxiety. But another part of me thinks that there’s something wrong with the question.
So I’ll answer it in the best way I can: no, dear friend, I don’t fear getting older. I’ve said goodbye to enough beloved people to know that the time we’re given here is a gift. We can’t assume we’ll receive the same invaluable present next year, or tomorrow for that matter.
If I fear anything when my birthday rolls around, it’s that I’ll squander today, that I’ll believe the lie that I must be perfect and do everything ‘right’ in order to be loved.
These things are what keep me from life and joy and connection. The problem is not a number or a date on the calendar. The problem is that I forget what’s real and true.
Fortunately, there are people who help me remember, and Richie is one of them.
Richie started out with an internship at Hendrick nearly ten years ago. That position was supposed to be temporary, but Richie proved to everyone that he deserved to be there. He stepped up and chased a dream, and as a result, he’s still working at a job he loves.
Incidentally, brilliant, driven, kind Richie was born without arms. He does everything he needs to do for his independent life – eating, food preparation, driving to work, and assembling complex designs – with his feet, his shoulders, his mouth, his body.
Every part of him that he has, he uses. He moves and speaks with incredible confidence. He offers everything he has to give.
You can watch this video to see for yourself: Richie is whole. He has everything he needs to live into his dreams.
You can also see that he’s past making comparisons. He doesn’t walk around thinking he’s less-than because he doesn’t have what most of us take for granted every day.
One of the most interesting things I’ve learned about perfectionism is that it’s not just setting goals or being driven to ‘get it right’. Instead, perfectionism is about conflating achievement with self-worth. It’s thinking that we’re worthy if – and only if – we get things done.
Isn’t that brutal? Yet that’s the struggle so many of us face. We think we have to earn the right to hold our heads up, to look other people in the eye.
We don’t trust that, in the wise words of Maya Angelou, “You don’t need another person, place, or thing to make you whole. God already did that. Your job is to know it.”
Richie is doing his job, and because of that, he inspires me to do mine. He inspires me to see worth and wholeness in the mirror.
He helps me to trust that it is right to reach – with your arms if you have them, with your whole body if you don’t – for the life you want to live, for the contribution you want to make.
Gently yet firmly, this is what I imagine Richie telling me, telling us …
Friend, you have got to stop pretending like you don’t have everything you need, because you do. If I can get up in the morning and go out there and give my best, so can you.
We’re not that different, really, you and me. I don’t have arms, sure, but you walk around believing that you can’t use yours.
And that has to stop, because the world needs both of us – our hearts, our humor, our intelligence, our love. So come as you are; show up already.
Life – life! – is waiting.
P.S. Thank you for your lovely messages in response to my last email – I appreciate your support for the guest posts! Also, the surprise I mentioned is a work in progress; thanks for your patience! For a hint of what it’s all about, visit our newly-revised About page.