People are Awesome

So this post is a bit related to the podcast I just did with Brett Terpstra on Systematic (broadly: people are awesome) and a bit related to another post I made: On Behalf Of (people are sometimes not massively awesome). It’s important to know that stuff about people; it’s important to know that they can be difficult, obstructive, rude and have all sorts of other personality traits that make your life difficult. But it’s also important to know that, actually, people are awesome.

It’s really easy to get into a defensive headspace when you’re really seriously disabled; you have to really recognise that it’s going on and fight it every day. The path of least resistance, really, is to believe that everybody is out to get you, to put your guard up and to assume that the whole world is filled with people who make your life difficult. It comes across that way because the system makes you feel that way. You can’t just ignore it because you spend a lot of time on your own, isolated, only really dealing with The State, and agents of the state when you are severely disabled. Because you have to, you know, not die and stuff!

But that can warp your perceptions a bit and lead you to live in The Mean World. The thing about agents of the state - social workers, OTs, budget assessors and GPs - is they are gatekeepers. Their job is to stop you getting access to resources. It’s not their whole job and it’s not why they went into their careers or anything, but it’s the reality of your interaction with them. So you will experience a lot of No.

And it’s easy to take that on, to think that nobody will help you, that you and your life is just a terrible burden on everybody and that everyone around you despises you for it. Despises you for being disabled, even just despises you for being. I know just how easy it is to get that because I ended up there myself, but there is a way back. The hard thing is that you will have a lot of experiences that will appear to back up your conclusions.

But you know what? You will get a lot further remembering that people are awesome, and that a lot of people are interested in big challenges, thorny problems, complexity and puzzles. Look around - Wikipedia exists, isn’t that amazing? People make that for free. And Firefox, and all kinds of things. Getting someone who can’t move their body to fly a drone, for example, is a big, thorny problem that lots of people are interested in working on, for their own reasons, for the challenge of it, and for the creative inspiration that comes from the constraints of the form. A hard limit is actually desirable in some cases: engineers love constraints.

It’s really worth knowing that your problems, which are mundane burdens and costly hassles to inured healthcare workers, could be novel, even exciting to the right mind. They could even be the next Space Poop challenge.

And secondly, pretty much everybody is looking for meaning - for purpose - to do things that matter. If you can present an interesting puzzle and connect it to a real life outcome that helps a real person, that’s a twofer you can pragmatically sell to a lot of people, if you do so in the right way. (Because it’s also worth knowing that engineers don’t deal with Your Human Emotions. ;)

So this is what I do, prepare yourself as this is some weighty advice:

I write to people and I ask them to help me.

That’s it. Just email and ask for help with or collaboration on a concrete, relevant problem; be polite, accept rejection, but never pre-emptively assume no. Go ahead, try it.

How about a quick hall of fame?

Here’s a very small segment of a very large list of people who have helped me over the past few years, I’m naming and faming them whether they like it or not!

  • Chad & John - an awesome Professor and Ph.D. candidate who helped start me on this crazy journey and let me play with some very expensive robots!
  • Henry - Fellow quadriplegic, geek, drone flyer and all-round awesome wheeled one.
  • Kevin & Craig - helping to build a drone that I can fly without my hands.
  • Andrew - Helped me fly a Parrot AR Drone by writing code in his spare time, he also went to London and helped me pull off the coolest speech given I’ve given.
  • Kyle - builder of the smart mirror.
  • Kevin, brought Magic Fingers into being!

I’m going to leave the list small because if I were to write down everyone that has helped me in the past few years then this post would be mostly list. And all of that help and assistance generally began by my simply emailing them and asking them to help. No ranting about how shit everything is, just talking to them like fellow human beings who might be interested in a project. And sometimes people are, because people are awesome.

Thank you.

  1. I’m serious, if you’re sitting in a wheelchair depressed and not sure what to do with yourself drop me a line. There will be something you can do. I might not have the answer but I might be able to point you in the right direction.