Out of the Comfort Zone

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome with applause Ashley Derrington from America, who is actively sharing about hearing loss, traveling, pursuing her own business and improving her project called ‘Deaf, Tattooed, Employed’ that you can check out here. If you want to learn how to cope with some of the challenges and not be afraid to go for new tattoos, read what Ashley has to say!

MARIA: How did you decide on ‘Deaf, Tattooed, Employed’ as the representative name for your project? What was behind this idea when you created this project and came up with the name?

ASHLEY: As for the project name, I drew primarily on stereotypes. I think that subconsciously I’ve always fought against stereotypes as a way feeling better about the stereotypes against those of us that are deaf/HoH. I was a straight A student and was terrified of getting in trouble but was always into the edgy music and clothing. Traditionally those aren’t things that go together. There used to be stereotypes and still are in some places that you would not be employable if you had tattoos. And many of us who are deaf/HoH, me included, have often worried that we would not be hired if we disclosed our hearing loss. So, this project was kind of this idea that ‘Hey, I’m deaf, tattooed, and employed!’ There is no right formula, so my hope is that others feel inspired and empowered to be fully themselves, however that looks and feels!

One of the first things I noticed while reading about you was your mention about visiting various countries and then some advice on how to prepare for the journey, so I guess you like traveling. Therefore, my question is: what is your favorite place and why?

I guess my initial reaction would be to say my favorite place is my parents’ house. It’s a safe space and always filled with love and support. I can be completely myself, and it’s always been a place my friends have felt comfortable being and are always welcomed with open arms.

It’s great you had support of your parents and now you can share your strength and confidence with other people. In fact, I think it’s exciting when you think that you can really have impact on someone, encourage someone.

I’m very lucky with the support I’ve had from my parents, and I completely agree regarding having an impact on someone.

Do you think this kind of space in your parents’ house helped you to find the motivation to strive for something in your adult life? Would that be different for you if this space was different?

I do think the space, support, and encouragement I received in my parents’ house helped me find the motivation to strive for something more. Both of my parents have fought and worked really hard to be where they are in life and always told me I could achieve or chase after anything I wanted. I’d say anytime I travel, I’m inspired and pushed out of my comfort zone which can be terrifying but incredibly rewarding, enlightening, and inspiring. Changes of scenery and exploring other cultures allows for creativity, perspective and understanding.

Where did you find the motivation to fight against stereotypes?

I’m not sure I found the motivation from any one thing but from a multitude of things. I was aware of the deaf and dumb connotation that is often placed on those of us with hearing loss, and it infuriated me, so I suppose that’s a core root of motivation for fighting stereotypes.

What stereotypes about being deaf/HoH annoy you the most and why?

 I think the biggest stereotype about being deaf/HoH that annoys me most is the deaf and dumb theory. Just because we may not catch everything doesn’t mean we’re intentionally ignoring you or not paying attention. I think this is the one I’ve fought the hardest against. I’ve often felt I’ve had to prove my worth and “intelligence” if you will. Hearing “nevermind” or “don’t worry about it” or a loud sigh is the most infuriating thing because just as you’re frustrated that I didn’t hear what you said, I’m probably even more frustrated. Feeling like an annoyance or hindrance is the worst feeling, especially when it’s not in my control.

How do people react when they see you deaf, tattooed and employed?

People always laugh when I mention deaf, tattooed, and employed because of the combination of words not usually going together. Once I share more about the mission, people are intrigued and want to learn more. It’s an ever-evolving mission which is fun!

How many tattoos do you have? I’m curious, as many people say that once you start with tattoos, it’s difficult to stop. Like ‘It’ll be my one & only tattoo’ at the beginning, ‘Oh, I want to have my 15th tattoo’ in the end!’ Is there a bit of truth in that?

I have 10 tattoos and definitely want to get more. Even starting to brainstorm an idea for a half sleeve. There is definitely truth in it being an addiction of sorts!

So that’s true! Maybe it’s a trivial question, but does it hurt you much?

As for the tattoos, I wouldn’t say they’re painful, but they’re certainly not painless. It feels exactly like you’d expect it to feel. A needle dragging through your skin. Not the most pleasant thought, but if you’re prepared and expecting that, you manage. 🙂

What was your first tattoo then?

My first tattoo was a cross on the inside of my right ankle. Technically speaking, it’s probably my worst tattoo (the lines are a bit wonky), but there’s sentiment because it was my first. My faith is very important to me and growing up I always knew that’s what I wanted for my first tattoo.

What do you think about tattooing in general, is that a way of decorating the human body or do you think it should convey some meanings?

I think everyone has different reasons for getting tattoos. For me, they always have meaning and are an artistic way of expressing values and things that are important to me.

What do you think about having tattoos on your face or hands?

I like finger tattoos and small ones on the hands, but I’m not a fan of the face or neck tatts. Some people can pull it off but not everyone!

Do you have any specific tattoo style that you especially admire?

I admire all styles, but I tend to stick to more black and white light shading style.

Let’s go to part three of Deaf, Tattooed, Employed! Where are you currently employed?

I currently own my own business and work with clients on a contract basis. I’m very fortunate that it was a smooth sailing process with each of my current clients. All have been connected through word of mouth. Prior to freelancing, I worked in the entertainment industry. That was NOT an easy process for job searching, but it was rewarding once it all came together.

Wow!!! How does it feel, to be the owner of your own business? Does having hearing loss bother you in any way while you are working?

It’s exciting but a lot of backend work with accounting, organization and making sure everything is in order, etc. I’ve been doing a lot of video calls lately which can be exhausting, and phone calls can be tricky at times, but I take things a day at a time. All of my clients know I’m hard of hearing and are usually mindful of that and accommodate as best as possible. I used to be really scared about telling my employers for fear of not being hired, so it’s been a work in progress.

How do you cope with being scared about telling employers about your hearing loss? Did anyone ever decide to not hire you because of that?

Good question regarding how do I cope. Honestly, I’m not sure I have a clear cut answer. There’s been a lot of anxiety around it. I’ve become less afraid of telling people. Once I got into the workforce and proved that I was worthy or good enough, if you will, I felt more comfortable being open about it. And then once I went out on my own, I decided I wanted to be fully transparent from the get-go. It had caused so much anxiety and nervousness when I first started looking for jobs, I knew I didn’t want to live in that fear anymore. I finally started to become comfortable in myself and my abilities. I didn’t want to be defined by my disability, but it took me taking the hard route to get to the point of being vulnerable about it, if that makes sense? As far as I know, I have not been turned down a job because of my hearing loss.

What are you doing within your business?

I do mostly freelance marketing and operations. My clients vary and what I do with each client varies. I do a lot of qualitative research with one client; virtual workshops with brand teams for another; community and social media management and blogging for another, etc.

How does it feel, to be fully remote and to not have to stay long in any one place? And it’s great you’re not hiding your hearing loss, seriously! I think it makes you even more impressive in the eyes of your potential clients, they know what to expect from the beginning.

I love being remote! Like everything, there are pluses and minuses, but the pros outweigh the cons for me. I like being able to explore so many different areas while being able to work. Regarding clients, yes! It’s been great to have a more open/free conversation with them on a regular basis!

What are the pros of working remotely?

The pros of working remotely would have to be getting to choose my own hours for the most part, not having to dress up if I don’t want to, and obviously the most important being that I can live and work wherever I want!

At the beginning of this interview there was a mention that you travel a lot and sometimes it’s not so easy. What was the most difficult part when you were getting out of comfort zone?

When traveling, I think the hardest thing about getting out of my comfort zone is purely the unknown. It excites me and makes me nervous at the same time. For most people, language barrier becomes an issue, but I often find it to be a more even playing field for someone like me with hearing loss. So often I’m fighting to keep up with conversation in my native language, but when I’m communicating with someone who speaks another language, we’re struggling together.

What was your craziest memory from your travels?

It’s hard to pick one crazy memory, but I’d have to say riding a bus from one spot in Turkey to another in the middle of the night was pretty wild. My friend and I weren’t entirely sure where we were going as our original plan had to be deviated because of a lack of bus tickets available. And miraculously when we got there, someone was waiting for us to take us to the hotel. Had a sign with our name on it and everything. To this day, we’re still not sure how they knew or how it happened, but we’re grateful for it!

OMG, the story from Turkey sounds very adventurous and at the same time a bit scary, I would be probably in total panic mode!

The Turkey adventure was pretty wild, staying calm in that situation was the best thing I could do.

When did you start traveling? And where have you been so far, except for Turkey that you mentioned above?

I’ve been traveling for as long as I can remember. I started traveling more frequently in 2017 and become fully remote at the end of 2017 and travelled to 23 countries in 2018. Started in SE Asia in Cambodia. From there, I went to Bali to Taiwan to New Zealand to Australia, over to South America then all over Europe. I’d say the biggest cultural difference was Cambodia, and possibly because that was the first place I went when I started my extensive travel. In that their whole way of life, transportation, communication, religion, etc. is very different from anything I’ve ever known.

What was the most important in all you experienced during the journey?

As for most important, I’d say it’s this travel family I’ve built. A group of people I’d likely not be friends with if it wasn’t for travel but who have become some of my closest friends.

Are those people included in your travel family from your country?

The travel family is all over the world! We stay in touch through iMessage, WhatsApp and Instagram!

If the borders were open and you could go anywhere, where would you go?

Oy. That’s such a tricky question because I would go anywhere to be honest! Some places at the top of my list are Georgia, Patagonia, and Okinawa.

What made you think that you’d like to go to Georgia, Patagonia or Okinawa? What is the main reason these countries are on the top of your list?

These countries are at the top of my list because they’re places I’ve never been to but have heard amazing things about. Patagonia and Okinawa offer lots of outdoor nature time which is a happy place for me. Georgia is a bit under the radar for a lot of people, but everything I’ve read sounds amazing. And in general, I’ve found I really like eastern Europe because there are fewer American tourists there. Plus, I’ve heard Georgia is relatively inexpensive. 😉

When was the last time that you felt pushed out of your comfort zone? How did you react back then?

The last time that I felt pushed out of my comfort zone is probably right now. I’m about to host a virtual workshop for my alma matter (at the time of this interview), and I’m feeling very nervous but excited, too, because it’s a new area that I want to explore and a new skill that I want to develop. I think my fear of failure hits a little harder than it may for others because of my hearing loss and that sometimes feeling like an added layer/failure, if that makes sense (kind of tied to the feeling like I have to prove myself and worth).

We’re holding our thumbs up for you – you will definitely rock, girl!!! And even though we’re all struggling with a fear of failure, maybe more than average person does, it shouldn’t stop us for doing great things and inspiring each other, like Ashley does!

Credits to: Ashley Derrington (Interviewee), Maria Skoczyńska (Interviewer), and Keegan Noxell (Proofreader)

Keegan Noxell