Framing Disability as an Asset

In talks I and others give we’re quick to tell the audience that we succeeded because of our illnesses not despite having them.

Framing disability as an asset is the difference. Showing how experiencing a hardship gives us the skills, abilities, and strengths we can use to innovate as creative problem-solvers on the job.

Yet listen: being honest about being depressed on a college application essay will backfire. The reviewer of what you wrote could think you’re too depressed to get out of bed on time to attend class.

How it goes is that talking up the positive effects and benefits of proactively managing our medical condition. That enable us to thrive better. Is the key to turning around an outsider’s view of us.

Like it or not a lot of people–and employers–still view having a disability as a liability. This is called “ableism.”

It comes down to researching companies that value hiring, retaining, motivating, and promoting–and having their leaders “sponsor” workers with diverse backgrounds whose life experience is an asset.

From my own experience I can tell you that having persistence, determination, and the ability to follow through on a goal until you reach it. That right there sets you apart from the average Joe or Josephine who goes through the motions in life, comes home, and turns on the TV for two or three hours.

That’s why a favorite interview question that hiring managers ask in an interview has become:

“What did you do while the pandemic forced everyone to stay at home?”

While New York City shut down I was writing and posting inspirational blog entries and exercising in my living room mostly 2x per week.

How has having a disability changed my life for the better?

I literally had to fight for the right to get a job and live in my own apartment–two things other people take for granted they can have.

In the 1980s it was thought no one could recover.

People like you and me who have had the guts to speak up for ourselves have this competitive advantage in the workplace.

We should be celebrated as employees who are not afraid to raise our voices in a staff meeting. To challenge or champion a policy or procedure being discussed.

“Rubber-stamping” a yes to everything brought up could backfire when your intuition tells you it’s the wrong move for the team to pursue.

In fact just showing up in the boardroom sitting at a table with coworkers is often a feat in itself for a person with a disability.

Having the courage to speak up in life as well as with our livelihood should not be frowned on.

Ordinary people might not like it when individuals with mental illnesses come crashing through the glass wall that separates us from what’s on the other side.

I turn 58 in the spring. The closer I get to 60 I’m reassessing everything in my life.

In the coming blog entries I’m going to talk about strategies that are in the vanguard for getting ahead.

The older I’ve gotten I’ve become crazed to make things happen.

The Power of Potential

This book on How a Non-Traditional Workforce Can Lead You to Run Your Business Better should be required reading.

The author lists four issues:

You hire based on interviews. You think great talent is the secret to a great business. Your managers are “good enough.” You fire your worst employees.

The four wins he details instead are:

Every employee feels safe. Accountability is a tool for growth. Your work has purpose. Customers love their experience.

The author and his father chose individuals with autism as their target employees and built a business around this workforce.

The father and son operate two high-profit car washes in Florida that employ only individuals with autism.

In the author’s note up front:

“If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” The quote originates from Stephen Shore, an Autistic self-advocate and professor of special education at Adelphi University.

This holds true for individuals with mental illnesses.

What bugged me about one 3-star review of my first memoir Left of the Dial was that the critic insinuated that recovery was not possible for the majority of people with schizophrenia.

In fact, individuals diagnosed with and living with SZ are a diverse crowd. In a way there’s a spectrum in how the symptoms of the illness manifest in each person.

Not everyone hears voices who has SZ. Others have only paranoia or delusions.

The four wins for the car washes that have autistic workers hold true across disabilities and business types.

Coming up I’ll devote a blog carnival to writing about how having a mental illness can be an asset on the job.

57 Great Interview Questions to Ask

I wanted to preempt whatever I had intended to write about this week.

I subscribe to The Muse website newsletter with my personal email account.

Here’s the link to 57 Great Interview Questions to Ask

The Muse also has a list of 30 Surprising Cover Letter Intros to use.

My goal is to publish a second updated career book within three years.

I’m grateful to everyone who’s buying Working Assets.

Also I’m thankful to those of you who check the book out of the library for free.

Alternative Career

I had wanted to talk about working in a public library as a possible career.

For those of us without a college degree we can apply to be a clerk or a computer tech person.

You can often apply for a job on the library’s website or via their LinkedIn account.

The case I make is for a person with a 4-year degree to consider getting a Masters’ in Library and Information Science.

Often these jobs are union jobs and might offer a pension unlike traditional office work.

I’m not a fan of getting an office job after how I bombed out of the insurance field in the 1990s. Followed by a repeat of the same dynamic in the job I had at a law firm for two years while in graduate school.

Starting out fresh out of library school with an M.S. in New York City the salary is $56K for a professional librarian job at a public library.

Not all library systems are equal. The supervisors at some public libraries can be tricky to deal with.

Yet in the end if you ask me getting a job in a public library is far better than working in an office. Especially if you don’t want to wear a suit or put up with the corporate life.

The best thing is a public library might have a scholarship fund staff with 4-year degrees can apply for to go to library school.

I’ll end here with this:

For those of you who live in New York City and have a Brooklyn Public Library library card you can check out of any Brooklyn branch a copy of my book Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers.

It’s shelved at their Business & Career Center. You can place a copy on hold and have it sent to the branch you want to pick it up at.

DEI and Disability Inclusion

If you read one DEI book first read Inclusion Revolution by Daisy Auger-Dominguez. It’s the complete guide to the topic.

My favorite DEI book though is the Antiracist Business Handbook by Trudi Lebron. She owns a million-dollar coaching and consulting business. Lebron believes in Just Commerce–a better alternative to Conscious Capitalism.

I’ll talk about DEI in terms of inclusion for individuals with mental illnesses. In order to thrive in an inclusive workplace you first have to get the job to begin with.

In New York City there’s a Queer in Every Career Job Fair. Why isn’t there a (mental illness) Peers in Every Career Job Fair? Or what I would title a Wheels-to-Work Job Fair for those of us who use wheelchairs?

One DEI book I have on my shelf to read talks about DEIB–diversity equity inclusion and Belonging. Again feeling like you belong in a particular workplace is predicated on getting a job with a savvy company that knows promoting diversity and individuality increases sales. The well-being of staff flourishes too.

Michelle T. Johnson easily 10 years ago wrote the book The Diversity Code. What she said: “Honoring individuality is the highest form of achieving diversity.”

In coming blog entries I’ll talk about alternative career paths.

It begs the question: What if you want to work in an office job? Shouldn’t that be an option?

For a lot of us the corporate office environment is not conducive to our mental health. I’m going to talk about getting a job in a public library which I feel should not be overlooked as a viable career.

Guest Blogger Entry on Disclosure on the Job

Laurel House a nonprofit operates the Resources to Recover website to give peers information that can help us recover.

On October 6th I had my second Guest Blogger entry published there. I wrote about disclosure on the job in more detail.

This is going to be the last reference to disclosure for a while.

Coming up I will talk about Diversity Equity and Inclusion resources that can benefit peers with mental illnesses who want to find and retain a job and succeed at a job that gives them joy and a livable wage or salary.

Read here: Disclosure on the Job: 3 Persistent Drawbacks – 3 Surprising Benefits.

Advancing Trauma-Informed Career Counseling

In my job helping customers create resumes and conduct job searches I often find myself acting as a therapist. The library patrons have unique life stories they bring to the table. Their experiences impact their employment needs and choices.

Peers with mental illnesses as well as other clients have often experienced trauma in their lives. The job a person has should aid in healing not make us ill.

Especially when we are individuals who have historically have been treated in a subpar way. By the very mental health staff tasked with helping us. If you didn’t think we could recover were you happy to spin your wheels helping us knowing that what you did wouldn’t enable us to recover. Then why did you become shrinks and social workers to begin with?

I’m going to talk in here about the reality of having a mental illness. Not a fan of total honesty this is why I cannot advance a “let-it-all-hang-out” on your lips mentality on the job. Though I write about my experiences I choose carefully what I disclose and when and where.

So–here goes–this could’ve happened to me. Or you. It happens to everyone regardless of our race, creed, gender, socioeconomics, illness or whatever demographic we fit in.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Abuse is not confined to a house or apartment. Our jobs are our living quarters for 8 hours a day. A victim of abuse or trauma could be wary of a coworker taking advantage of them.

Having a mental illness–especially in the early stages of our recovery–can be a trauma. This shouldn’t prevent us from trying to get a job. The last thing we want is to experience a new trauma in the workplace.

Our jobs should not make us ill. Our coworkers and supervisors should not gaslight us. Issues of power and control exist in the workplace. Which is why I say tread carefully with what you tell others.

To begin with individuals with mental illnesses are at a greater risk of being victims of crimes than of committing a crime.

In fact other people with mental health issues are often our abusers. Trust–this has happened.

It’s no easy task finding a company to work for where our coworkers are healing allies not self-interested adversaries.

Pain and trauma are part of everyone’s life. “Everybody Hurts” to quote the 1990s REM song title.

How to transform our pain into creative energy? How to get a job where working there can be an act of healing from illness?

I’m keen to give readers specific strategies for finding these needle-in-a-haystack positions.

The next blog entry here will be a hyperlink to a guest blogger entry that I had published at the Resources to Recover website on October 6. That entry will be my parting shot in focusing on disclosure on the job. After this I will start to talk about DEI initiatives–how Diversity Equity and Inclusion measures can help peers with mental illnesses on the job too.

Acting Vulnerable on the Job

No other expert has talked about risking becoming vulnerable at our jobs. There’s scant research into and advocating for bringing “All of You” into the workplace.

What’s written does point to the economic advantage companies have when employees are treated right and feel like we belong. Hello–where is that business and how can we apply?

My goal is to help peers with mental illnesses find jobs with employers who recognize, accept, value, and celebrate the differentness of every human being.

We should not shy away from using the word differentness. It has nothing to do with not being normal. Not that being normal is such a great prize to begin with.

Our differentness is a competitive advantage.

We are not robots. We are not machines. Though we will break down under the unrealistic pressure to be someone we’re not.

I’m thinking long and hard about the solution to this dilemma. How it hasn’t been okay to cry at the office. Or show other emotion. It’s said that in the workplace forced positivity has been expected.

In the coming blog entry I will talk about how trauma can influence what we do and say at our jobs.

Should we make ourselves vulnerable with coworkers?

Working Assets Is On Sale Today

Today is the regular on-sale date for Working Assets on Amazon and elsewhere. You can order the book at a bookstore to pick up in person too.

The great thing about this career guide for peers living with mental illnesses is that it contains groundbreaking information. What I wrote in this book hasn’t been talked about before.

One tactic I talked about was asking your supervisor for feedback on your performance year-round. Instead of waiting passively to hear what they wrote in your performance review.

It shouldn’t be that you’re displeased with a performance review if you think you’ve been a stellar employee. Only chances are you and I aren’t going to receive a fair assessment.

This is how it goes: a hard worker could be rated unsatisfactory in the category Amount of Work Performed.

You don’t want your performance evaluation to come as a surprise with the even ruder awakening of a 2 percent pay raise.

In the 1990s I told a boss what Peg Bundy told her husband Al on the TV show Married with Children: “If I wanted peanuts, I’d fly Delta.”

Thirty years later I remember this comeback. I don’t recommend you act impertinent on the job.

Here’s the link to the Amazon sales page for Working Assets.