The Myth of Competitive Employment

All authors have a curious dislike of certain book reviews we get that are less than glowing. One that sticks in my mind is the comment that most peers can’t obtain competitive employment like I did.

Define competitive employment I ask you. Tell me why you think having only competitive employment counts for a peer or for anyone in society.

We all know an MD or two or hundreds or thousands who are in their careers to make the big bucks at the expense of their patients by recommending risky treatments.

We all know high-paid politicians who make the big bucks yet only create laws benefiting corporations not ordinary citizens.

These people have competitive employment. Yet are they such shining role models of what a person can achieve? I rest my case.

Yes–I have failed at so-called “competitive” employment trying to compete with others for supervisor positions. I have failed at having insurance office jobs.

We cannot continue to insinuate that competitive employment is the barometer of a person’s worth in society.

We cannot continue to suggest that mental health peers are lacking in any way because they don’t have competitive employment.

I’ve seen that peers often have their own self-stigma in this regard, claiming for instance that one of us is “Just a janitor.” No. Change your attitude about that, I wanted to tell the woman who believed that being a janitor was a lower-dignity job.

For the record, I met an older guy with gray hair at an anniversary party. He was indeed proud when he told me he was a “custodial engineer.”

Janitor, custodial engineer–any honest job labored at with pride can give you dignity.

I’ve worked for and with a number of so-called jerks to know that a person who has competitive employment doesn’t always have the content of character to match their position.

The goal isn’t that every one of us should have or will have a lifetime cruising on a big party boat in terms of what we succeed. Frankly other people’s ocean liners don’t impress me.

The goal as I see it is to have your own version of a full and robust life doing what makes you happy.

I’ve seen in my own life that making others happy is the foolproof way to feel good yourself. Helping others is the best way to help yourself heal.

Volunteer work isn’t competitive employment in the traditional sense. Yet if you don’t have paid work experience and want to find a job it helps to list volunteer experience on your resume.

Critics and occasional book reviewers assail what peers with mental health conditions can do. They continue to perpetuate the myth that there’s not much someone with SZ or BP or DP or another mental health condition can do.

I’m done with that thinking. I haven’t believed for a minute that people diagnosed with mental health issues aren’t capable of much.

In 1988 when I first was diagnosed I dared think recovery was possible.

Now as then I believe: it’s possible to recover, heal, and have your own version of a full and robust life.

I champion the right of everyone with a mental health issue, who struggles, to find what gives us joy and go do that–whether we’re paid to do this thing or not.

Sing in a choir, bake cakes, be a CEO or not. Do whatever makes you happy. It’s all good.

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Finding the Right Job for You

Loyal followers:

I bombed out big time at the first jobs I had early in my recovery.

I was terminated from 4 out of the 5 jobs I held in the 1990s. Yes I was laid off from every job except one of them. No job I held lasted more than 19 months.

Finding the right job for you can take time too.

It wasn’t until I obtained a library degree and started working in a library that things got better for me in terms of my life as well as my vocation.

This happened when I was 35 years old not a year sooner.

You shouldn’t give up. As a young person, your life is not over when you’re 20 and diagnosed with SZ or BP or DP or whatever mental health issue you have. You recovery has just begun.

Dare to dream. Create a support network of peers and family and providers that can help you get to where you want to be.

Your life hasn’t ended. You can have a long life.

A good friend of mine was diagnosed with SZ when he was 13 years old. He’s 73 years old now. No kidding. He has SZ and is still here at 73. Proof that not everyone diagnosed with SZ dies 25 years earlier.

This guy does what he loves which keeps him young.

I’ve written a career guide for mental health peers. It talks about figuring out the kind of job you might be good at and like to do long-term.

Other books exist. One is titled Going to College with Autism.

We mental health peers need to rise up and clamor: “Where’s our book? Why does the autism crowd get a book and we don’t? What’s the delay?”

For going on over 11 years now I’ve created resumes for people. Numerous people I’ve helped have gotten job interviews that led to job offers.

Try not to despair when you think there’s nothing you can possibly do compared to other people who don’t have a mental health issue.

My work as a librarian and peer counselor and career services person has shown me that going to school and work when you have a diagnosis is possible for a significant number of people.

Just remember: it can take time to find the right job that you love waking up to go to in the morning.

I had to go back to school to get the degree that would enable me to have this kind of job. So far I’ve been a librarian for over 17 years.

I’ve been an Advocate for over 15 years so far too.

In the coming blog entry I’m going to talk about disclosure on the job once again.

It’s true that when you find the job where you belong disclosure becomes irrelevant.

 

Autonomy On the Job

I wanted to talk about having autonomy on a job versus having a job with narrowly defined duties and a power hierarchy.

You shouldn’t be pigeonholed into a job because of your diagnosis or gender or college major.

The OVR counselor I met with in 1989 thought I could be a school teacher as her first idea of what I could do. Was this because I had an English major? Was this because I was female?

As it turned out I got trained so I could get an administrative assistant job which I obtained in August 1990.

That first career was a total mistake.

Having the ability on your job to control how you execute tasks and what you do on any given day is much better if you ask me.

There’s a whole world of different jobs out there. Any vocational counselor should take into consideration what YOU might want to do. They can tell you if they think you’ll have a good chance of succeeding at this goal. Yet you deserve to have input into the kind of job you’ll spend upwards of eight hours a day doing five days a week.

I recommend the book Careers: The Graphic Guide to Finding the Perfect Job for You. You can most likely check it out of your local public library if you can’t afford to buy it.

Too I recommend getting a job in a public library for those of us creative folk who don’t want to wear a skirt suit or a suit and tie to an office job.

I’ve heard from a woman whose client was told by VESID that they should get a job as a janitor because of the kind of disability this person had. Only they didn’t want to be a janitor. So I gave the woman the telephone number of another agency that could help her client.

There’s a beautiful rainbow of expression of identities, personalities, and God-given gifts and talents everyone living on earth has.

We cannot continue to judge, stereotype, and pigeonhole each other.

People with mental health issues shouldn’t be slotted into ill-fitting jobs just because a counselor thinks there’s only one type of job we can do.

It might take a couple or a few trials at different jobs for us to settle on the career that makes us happiest.

In the coming blog entries I’ll talk about my own experience. Finding the job you love is like coming home to yourself. You just know it’s the right one to get up and go to every day.

Vault Newsletter on Workplace Mental Health Disclosure

The Vault website is a reputable career forum.

You can sign up for their e-mail newsletter.

This week’s newsletter featured a what-to-do when a coworker reveals to you that they have a mental illness.

Anyone reading this blog who doesn’t have a mental health diagnosis can read this workplace mental health disclosure newsletter here.

I give vault credit for tackling this topic today and listing positive responses you can take when a coworker discloses.

What Goes On At Work

My goal is that more and more peers are able to obtain jobs where we can then hire other peers to come on board at our companies.

You have to be aware of something that happens in the workplace even to the best workers among us.

This scenario makes disclosure on the job tricky for me to recommend in most work environments.

Employers will hire people with disabilities for temporary or transitional employment. This covers their ass and makes them look good.

As to whether those employers will hire mental health peers for full-time positions with paid health insurance and other benefits that remains to be seen.

I had attended a small business hiring practices event. It was suggested that for mental health peers seeking employment “the door slams in their faces.”

Sometimes it’s still an Old Boys’ (or Girls’) Network. Which is why I make the case for those of us who are peers to hire other peers. Getting in the door is what’s important.

As someone who is set to publish a career guide titled You Are Not Your Diagnosis I’m interested in hearing from peers ourselves what you perceive as the reason why the door is slammed.

I would like to add new information to my career guide that can be like the key that helps peers open the doors.

I’m simply interested in hearing from peers what their experiences have been in this regard.

My experience has been that employers love to interview people with disabilities for promotions. This shows they made a good-faith effort at being receptive.

In reality the position might go to another person.

In one interview for a supervisor job I was asked this very question (I kid you not): What single event in your life has made you who you are today?”

OK–I flubbed everything I said in the interview and didn’t get the position. It wasn’t a great interview so I understand not being chosen.

Years later I interviewed for another promotion. I was totally on and totally confident and thought I was the most qualified. Most of all because I had years of supervisor experience and that’s what the job called for.

They gave the job to someone else because they already knew they were going to choose this person. They went through the charade of interviewing other people they weren’t going to offer the job.

Folks: this happens all the time. It’s a dirty little secret.

Knowing this I think you can see that you have to be judicious in deciding whether or not to disclose your diagnosis on the job.

In the next blog entry I’m going to talk about something central to mental health peers’ success on the job: having autonomy versus having a job with narrowly defined duties and a rigid power hierarchy.

Playing the Fool to Get Ahead

I’ve fooled people into thinking I’m an ordinary person.

I’ve been a librarian for over 17 years so far. I was the victim of an accidental disclosure of my illness in 2005.

As that news was out of the bag I told certain co-workers that I published my memoir Left of the Dial. Three of them showed up to the launch party for my book.

When people find out I have a diagnosis of SZ they’re shocked. One co-worker had no idea until he found out.

I still maintain that disclosure on most jobs is too risky (even in the face of how I survived and thrived on my job after people found out).

In the next blog entry I’m going to devote time to a dirty little secret in the workplace.

You need to know this information to be able to make the right choice in your situation about whether to disclose or not.

I have the luxury of having the diagnosis out in the open. Nobody cares and nobody thinks any differently of me.

If you asked me what I came into this world to do in this lifetime it would be to a make difference.

No one with a mental health condition who wants to go to school or work at a job should remain sidelined from doing these things.

It’s 2018. The future is here today. It’s possible for peers to succeed in finding a career we love and would be good at.

The Time is Now

The second book I’ve written is geared to readers in the target market of neglected peers who have been traditionally told there was no hope for what you can do.

I’ve been a career services person for over nine years so far. In this time I’ve created resumes that enabled numerous people to get job interviews that led to job offers.

That’s how I know real positive change is possible. That’s how I know success is within reach.

The point is that mental health staff  are first seeing you at that moment in time when you’re young. Thus if they have no frame of reference where other people are successful, they will see you and your illness as fixed, immutable over time.

When in fact the point is you’re young, you most likely have a limited view of the world and your place in it, especially with any “self-stigma.”

At 22, at whatever age you’re diagnosed, that’s the time that your goals and dreams should be accepted and reinforced, not shut down.

Mental health staff should not use your illness and its symptoms as the proxy for your personality.

A female therapist when I was 27 told me I was too low-functioning for therapy. A female therapist when I was 46 told me I was too high-functioning for therapy.

Thus you have to beware of any mental health staff person who tells you that you’re either not capable of much or too ambitious to be a candidate for any further self- improvement.

As if there’s an end point to stop bettering yourself. There isn’t.

The point is too that if you’re not growing and changing as your life changes you’re going to remain stuck.

Your own frame of reference–about yourself, the world, and your place and others’ in it–should be changing to become more hopeful and compassionate.

Your life doesn’t end when you get a diagnosis of SZ or BP or DP or whatever you’re handed.

The people who treat you should accept and understand that positive change is possible for you at any time in your life. If not now when you’re in a plateau, this change can be possible at a later date.

Getting to where you want to be might not be quick or easy.

Yet without breaking confidentiality I can tell you in a general way that numerous peers I’ve met and helped have been severely ill and gone on to change their lives for the better.

One guy I know who’s gone global with his story heard voices for 10 years. He went on to get an MBA and become the CEO of corporations.

I’ll end here and come back with news of interest for New York residents.