I remember the day I sat anxiously in the office of my Vocational Rehab counselor.
The discussion that day was about my transfer to a mainstream college. I was set on changing my major to Audio Engineering or Music Business.
I’ll never forget how her words stung. “You are setting yourself up to fail”.
She explained that I was pining after an unrealistic career in the music industry and it was unobtainable for me because I have a significant hearing loss.
I was fuming with anger…who is this person to tell me: “No, you can’t make a living doing that, you’re Deaf”?
I thought back to a few weeks prior, at my evening job where I was recently promoted to bartender. I had only one working hearing aid during that time, and it was my first real shift as a bartender.
Earlier that day my one working hearing aid broke.
I remember my fear as I walked into work, feeling defeated, almost embarrassed to tell my boss that I couldn’t work my shift because I won’t be able to hear the customers. I had been working at this restaurant and bar for two years at this point.
My boss said something I’ll never forget…“figure it out, you’ll manage”, and then he walked away, barely batting an eye.
He didn’t seem to doubt my abilities; my hearing loss didn’t faze him. As I scanned the bar, at that moment the world slowed down.
As I looked at my customer’s faces, I realized I was able to read their lips and faces clearly. I was familiar with the drinks, and the lip movements. I gained my confidence back as I realized I was completely in my element.
Not only did I rock the bar, impress my boss and fellow staff, I learned a whole lot about who I am, my abilities and my hearing loss that night.
I ignored my counselor’s concerns and moved forward with my decision to pursue a degree in Music Business. My degree required classes in music production, recording, talent management and business management.
I felt betrayed, perplexed and frustrated. That was the fuel that fed my fire. It propelled me to do better, to work hard, get good grades, and to prove them wrong.My vocational counselor informed me that my decision was not going to be supported.
As my education continued, my teachers were not only eager to work with me to overcome the challenges I faced, they were excited to work with me. Post graduation, many have told me how much I inspired them and other students.
I’ve been working with D-PAN: Deaf Professional Arts Network for over five years now, as well as working with Deaf hip-hop performer Sean Forbes as his Tour Manager and performing with him on guitar.
I have been part of a creative team that has created 20 ASL music videos with millions of views worldwide, and have worked to bring accessibility to the music & entertainment industry.
It hasn’t been an easy path. The more I look back, the more I realize I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I have to get where I am if I wasn’t told “No.”
It was the power of NO that drove me, and made me want to prove the world wrong, that Deaf or not, I can do whatever my mind is set to.
As Deaf individuals, as a community, we need to remember that it is up to us to dispel the myths of what we can or cannot do. There are those out there whose career it is to “help us” and “guide us”, but they see us as a whole, as a collective.
If one person can’t do it, none of us can.
While we are part of a community, we are also individuals whose talents vary. There is no bigger advocate for us than ourselves. It is our job to take the negative connotation of a “No”, and make it a positive thing.
“No” is scary, hurtful, ugly & depressing, but the more I continue working & traveling with Sean Forbes and D-PAN, the more people I met, the more stories I hear, the more I see all of us taking that negative side of “No” and turning it around and making it positive.
To my VR counselor who told me “I’m setting myself up to fail”…thank you for telling me that.
You motivated me to work harder and prove you wrong. For those of you that have told someone no, they can’t do something because of their “limitations”, and for those of you that have been told no…never forget the power of “No!”
Losing his hearing at the age of three never slowed Mark Levin down. Graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2008 with a B.A. in Arts, Entertainment & Media Management, Mark has an all around passion for the music & entertainment industry. For the past 5 years Mark has worked with Sean Forbes and D-PAN: Deaf Professional Arts Network as a Tour & Event Manager, Assistant Director of Film, Guitarist, and many other roles. He has a passion for inspiring others and changing the worlds perception of the ever growing talents of the Deaf community.
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