There are times in life when it becomes easy to blame failures – or the lack of success – on both real and perceived handicaps.

My 12-year-old daughter, Jaiden, loves volleyball and basketball. They are her favorite sports. While her short and stocky frame – she's 5-feet, 3-inches tall – might not be exactly optimal for either sport, she doesn’t let it stop her from continuing to improve and excel.

And that’s the way I’ve sought to raise both of my girls. I want them to understand that their successes are not dependent upon a perfect combination of circumstances and personal attributes. Rather, they must learn to identify their natural talents and seek to improve them with perseverance and hard work. So, while Jaiden’s height may never allow her to slam dunk a basketball, it doesn’t play a factor in her ability to hone her skills as her team’s point guard.

Recently, a reality TV show really drove home what I am always trying to teach my kids. My oldest daughter, Abbey, and I recently caught up on the final season of “America’s Next Top Model," a show where contestants compete for a modeling contract and a slew of other swanky prizes. Host Tyra Banks and her entourage of judges score the models’ performances, and, with the exception of the occasional twist, one model is sent home weekly until a winner is crowned.

Even though we’ve seen other seasons, this one was different. One of the contestants, Nyle DiMarco, was deaf. I was interested to see how he would address his disability and how the season would play out. Unlike some of the other models, Nyle never once complained or made excuses as to why he couldn’t perform.

Of course, that isn’t to say he never got frustrated. During one particular shoot, the models participated in a photo shoot outdoors – at night, in the dark. For Nyle, the challenge seemed almost impossible since he couldn't see the photographer or hear the director shout commands. So they were forced to find other ways to communicate with him. While his photo shoot wasn't as successful, it really showed Nyle’s refusal to allow his impairment to define his life.

Even more inspiring was that (SPOILER), in the end, Nyle was crowned the winner. It was obvious that his victory was not the result of his deafness, but rather his performance during the show. He won because he was an amazing model. The fact that he is deaf is simply part of who he is; it didn’t affect his ability to take direction or develop during the course of the season.

Normally, I wouldn’t have expected a reality show to be that much of a conversation-starter, but I never pass up an opportunity to turn something so simple into a teachable moment. While Nyle’s disability was very real, he never once allowed it to stop him from proving himself as a competitor. He turned his disability into an advantage. For their sake, I hope my children understand that even the most real disabilities – when given the right type of attention – can offer the most amazing possibilities.

The truth is, some roads are paved with more challenges than others, but I believe it’s how we deal with those roadblocks that determines our success in life – not whether we win or lose.


Amanda Smith, a working mom of two children, writes weekly for Read more from Amanda »

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