The One-winged Phoenix

How this “one-winged Phoenix” affirmed her superpower and proves AbilityMap is a life tool for individuals and organisations

The year is 1973……It’s just before my tenth birthday and I received the devastating news of the sudden death of my father. While trying to understand this tragedy and process my grief, I soon found myself fighting for my own life after undergoing an eight-hour surgery to amputate my right arm in a battle against cancer. I was given a survival rate of ten percent, at best.

Sylvia Larsen

Sylvia Larsen is an American architect now in her late 50s. When she was ten, she lost her arm to cancer, but never lost her willingness to try new things or her determination to override other people’s expectations.

As Sylvia recalls in her book The One Winged Phoenix (2021):

“I discovered a love for architecture, even with the odds against me. This takes place during the time when drafting was still done by hand with a triangle and T-square, and architecture was known as a male profession. Imagine the shock from my professors when the realisation strikes them that this girl with only one arm thinks she is going to pursue a profession that is often insurmountable for those with two hands. I become the first in my family to graduate from college when I received my Bachelor’s degree in Architecture.” 

For too long, societies have failed to recognise that those living with disability have talents, needs, wants or rights. Sylvia overcame such mis-perceptions with gusto. She raised a family and then after a sabbatical from architecture decided to return to architecture.

Sylvia entertained job alerts, including one from a global architectural company with a promising opportunity. Wanting to be as prepared as possible to approach the opportunity, Sylvia gladly offered to trial AbilityMap’s revolutionary diagnostics on herself. 

“AbilityMap rated me very high with a lot of leadership skills. But then it also put me in the top three percentile of ability to adapt and interpret.” She knew for the most part, she already had these skills, but AbilityMap’s detailed appraisal gave her the confidence she needed to speak candidly with recruiters. “It’s that ability that keeps you going strong. By staying honest, and doing a good job, and not, like, bullshitting your way into something.”

Knowing her strengths through AbilityMap has reinforced Sylvia’s commitment to her practice. “If you’re getting frustrated with your clients, part of our job as architects, or any kind of leaders, is to educate people to make sure they understand what’s going on what the process is, and how you got to that point. How did you come up with that first decision? You know, they’re not going to understand it, and they might not agree with you. But then either it was not a good first decision, or you’re not explaining it very well. Because the clients are coming to you for knowledge (and) you need to help educate them.”

“It’s a very powerful technology that works for organisations. Doing it as an individual, I saw how organisations responded when they came to understand what AbilityMap can tell them about a candidate. They’re eager to reference and build on the insights. They recognise the value and they’re like, wow.”

Wow, indeed. The company that engaged with Sylvia saw her AbilityMap results and were so impressed that they are exploring a hybrid senior role that draws on her leadership, explaining and critiquing skills. 

AbilityMap recognised Sylvia’s strengths and role fit, confirming her ability to inspire, motivate and keep projects moving. Something that others have recognised in her example, as movingly happened recently.

She was out with her daughter when she was approached by a former classmate who had been paralysed in a surfing accident as a teenager. He was delighted to see her, saying “You know, I’ve always wanted to run into you someday to thank you. Because if it wasn’t for you and seeing how well you handled everything back in middle school – that is what pulled me through a lot of my hard times, I thought of you every time I couldn’t do something. And said to myself “Sylvia did it. I can do this too.””

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