Sinéad Burke’s 3 Commitments For A Brighter Outlook In 2023
Rather than resolutions, SINÉAD BURKE – writer, educator, advocate and CEO of accessibility consultancy Tilting the Lens – is making three commitments to herself this year. Here, she reveals where she’ll be focusing her energy in 2023… and why
“Towards the end of last year, I found myself feeling bone-tired; the kind of exhaustion that doesn’t lift or ease with one or two good nights’ rest. This tension would sometimes sit on my chest – it was a nest of my worries, collated with questions about whether my advocacy was resonating, if the impact was being felt, or could be measured, and if change was happening fast enough to make a difference?
Even today, so much of what is familiar to us is rooted in ableism or systemic biases. There’s a lot to learn, unlearn and relearn”
“It’s much easier to see things clearly in retrospect than in the moment. So, I’ve started the year with new energy, fueled by a curiosity of the unknown. To help maintain this sense of awe and excitement, I’ve made three commitments to myself, or three exercises to continuously practice: being present, communicating more clearly, and being open to ‘behavioral stretches’.
“Reflecting on 2022, the year was almost segmented into periods that were either incredibly busy or slightly hectic. I often caught myself saying things like, “I just need to make it to Friday” or “Once May is here, I can take a break”. It was a script I had taught myself to remember that quieter times were ahead, but it created this cognitive tunnel vision where it was difficult for anything outside of that trajectory to gain my full consciousness or attention. In this imaginative timeline, all that surrounded the finish line turned to grayscale. So, this year, I’m inviting color into my life – in the quiet and loud moments. I want to create opportunities to see things from new perspectives, and to be open to the unpredictable. Undoubtedly there will be moments and days that I lose to a deadline, but I want to bring a little flexibility to my routine and surprise myself by what might be.
“To understand more about my second commitment, it’s important you know that I love language and am deeply besotted with vocabulary, too. When reading a book, I do so with a notepad beside me to record any words that are new to me, or particular turns of phrase that help me see the world a little bit differently. I then try to use them in my quotidian conversations. As a Disabled woman, language has been fundamental to my agency and independence; it has been a useful tool in explaining my ambitions and needs to an audience who might otherwise make assumptions about who I am and what I can do. As my accessibility consultancy, Tilting the Lens, has evolved, our practice has helped to illuminate the challenges with language, [revealing] how, even today, so much of what is familiar to us is rooted in ableism or systemic biases. There’s a lot to learn, unlearn and relearn.
That moment taught me the importance of trying – of being open to new experiences and stretching yourself; allowing these new behaviors to bring fresh feelings and ideas”
“But as much as I love language, I sometimes struggle to communicate. I spend a lot of time thinking about how my words, tone and emotions might land with the other person, and how it might make them feel; I reshape my script based on assumptions about what they might need. Writing it down, I realize this is rooted in empathy and consideration. However, I’ve begun to acknowledge that it sometimes leads to confusion or, at the very least, a lack of clarity.
“My very dear friend Rowena often says, “Every issue is a communications issue,” which in turn means that every solution must be tied to communication of some sort. This year, I’m going to practice transparency and clarity by spending less time investigating and imagining how others might perceive something and, instead, have greater confidence in my ability to make decisions and communicate.
“The third commitment is potentially the one I will need most encouragement with: the behavioral stretch. This is a phrase I learned from my friend Michael last year – while we were in Disney World, Florida, of all places. I’m not a ‘theme-park person’, but Michael suggested we go on Splash Mountain. If you’re a theme-park aficionado, this wouldn’t necessarily provide the greatest thrill – but, to me, the thought of a 20ft drop into water made the hair stand up on the back of my neck and my palms sweat. I wouldn’t have done it on my own, but I did it with a friend. I felt every second of the mechanical climb to the peak, and the adrenaline rush almost left my body too soon. I left the ride proud of myself and fizzing with a latent euphoria. That moment taught me the importance of trying; of being open to new experiences and stretching yourself, allowing these new behaviors to bring fresh feelings and ideas.
“But enough with the theorizing now. I’m ready to put my commitments into action.”