Using Traits and Strengths on a Job

I’ve been told that I’m the exception. This doesn’t make me feel better. And it’s simply not true.

I interpret that shopworn comment as a barb that discounts the role of a person’s personality–who they are and their traits and strengths–in enabling them to recover.

In the April 2015 issue of Current Psychiatry an article stated the people diagnosed with schizophrenia can hold jobs.

Who are you going to trust–a medical journal or some outsider on the street whose opinion is conjecture and not rooted in fact?

Recovery appears to each of us in different guises. Our recovery is as individual as our thumbprint.

Celebrating differentness is the first order of the day.

Those people who view peers in terms of our illness and symptoms are setting us up to believe that recovery is a dim star.

Aside from other people not being able to see beyond color or gender to the person inside:

Peers living with mental health issues are often not seen as our true selves apart from our diagnosis.

The premise of my memoir Left of the Dial was that I healed when I was able to use the creative process on my job and outside of my job.

The point wasn’t and isn’t that everyone living in recovery should be able to have an M.S. or L.C.S.W. or J.D.

The exclamation point [!] was that I recovered because I found the job I loved that enabled me to use my traits and strengths.

I recovered when I stopped buying into the myth that I had to do what everyone else did–have a corporate office job and a normal life [average or ordinary; conforming to a standard or type].

In daring to go down a path that differed from the norm I was able to recover. This was my road. Your road again will be different.

!!!

In the next blog entry I will talk about a written exercise I created to heal from self-stigma when a bout of doubt had come on.

The point is you should take pride in who you are. You should figure out the kind of job that will best use your traits and strengths.

My Strong Belief

My strong belief is that a person can only talk about their experience taking or not taking medication as a factor in their recovery.

A Peer Specialist should not tell their patient to stop taking medication. They should not give advice on how to wean yourself step-by-step off medication.

Any Peer Specialist who is telling their clients to discontinue medication is in effect practicing medicine without a license.

In most states in the U.S. only an M.D. can regulate the use of a patient’s medication or determine that a patient doesn’t need medication.

I’ve been in remission from schizophrenia for over 28 years precisely because I take medication. I credit this as the number-one factor that enabled me to go to graduate school obtain an M.S. and find a career I love.

For others they might not have to take medication. Everyone is different and what their body needs or doesn’t need is going to be different.

To recap: a Peer Specialist should not be practicing medicine without a license.

Peer Specialist Ideas

Last week I was asked for ideas about how to succeed in a paid Peer Specialist job. These tactics could work well at any job.

  1. Set boundaries between you and your clients / coworkers.
  2. Create workday rituals—more on this in the next blog entry.
  3. Focus on having conversations with your clients.
  4. View the relationship as an equal partnership.
  5. “Practice what you preach” to clients.
  6. Expect to have setbacks.
  7. Act resilient after a setback—see my blog entry on using FORCE.
  8. Set career goals you want to achieve.
  9. Take walks with your clients should you be able to.

In the words of Pat Deegan Peer Advocate pioneer:

Recovery involves having “the dignity of risk” and “the right to fail.”

Too often peers can buy into the myth of self-stigma and its corollary feeling that we’re not good enough. This is an impossible standard that peers are held to that people who don’t have a mental health issue aren’t held to.

This thinking can be reinforced by outsiders or by ourselves.

I would say the two top tactics for any career are to set boundaries and to set job and career goals. The third tactic is creating daily rituals.

Your Boss Isn’t a Therapist

In the coming blog entries I’m going to write a blog carnival about tactics that might help a person succeed on a job.

The person who solicited my ideas was set to start a job as a paid Peer Specialist.

The social service field has a high degree of what is called compassion fatigue–a kind of burnout people with humanitarian careers experience.

Before I move onto that focus I want to end here with more of my experience having spoken out on a job.

This happened in the 1990s in a corporate insurance office job. I was 27 years old. What I said came back to haunt me in a performance review.

I had either written in correspondence or told my boss directly that I didn’t like how management belittled employees. I used the word belittled.

Ever since then I haven’t been a fan of using any boss as a therapist to talk about perceived workplace injustices with.

Over 20 years later I did attempt to right a wrong on my job–and this backfired too.

Especially when you’re just starting out in recovery and might be less emotionally stable or still have residual symptoms this is where it can get dice-y to call out management on your job.

It might be the symptoms talking and not you. As your mental health improves it could be easier to interact with your coworkers.

This is what I will start to talk about in the coming blog entries carnival: how to cope well with challenges on the job.

Whether you’re a paid Peer Specialist or have a different job I think what I’m going to write could help anyone.

Taking a Stand At Your Job

I wanted to talk about taking a stand at your job.

When it comes to the aforementioned topic of racism and other unethical injustice in the workplace like stealing, embezzlement, or any kind of harassment:

Being a whistle-blower might be called for.

My experience going to bat against a person who was rude and hostile to customers and coworkers alike cost me a promotion.

Garden-variety hostility–as despicable as it is when directed towards you or a customer–is no cause for going over your boss’s head to complain to a director.

It’s a sad reality of the workforce that’s been going on for decades that you and I are going to have to interact with sour lemon-heads at some of our jobs.

It’s been my experience that your supervisor just doesn’t care about this when it’s going on.

Everyone’s an adult in age and physical stature where you work.

Yet some coworkers will act like bullies in the schoolyard.

Tattling on them won’t change the situation to your benefit.

In fact your boss might know what’s going on and cover up for the coworker.

Early on in this blog I wrote three blog entries about questions you’ll be asked on a job interview.

Understand the intent the hiring manager has in asking these questions.

You should try to be able to figure out the company culture before you accept a job offer.

It’s not always possible to predict how your coworkers will act. Even when you’re introduced to a few of them on a second interview.

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about tactics I use to cope with a rude and hostile coworker.

Being an Ally at Work

The Brooklyn Public Library where I live issued a statement on its website aligning with Black Lives Matter.

The time is now to join the fight for equity and equality for everyone in America.

While I don’t like to reuse what I read in the Vault newsletters sent to my email I will talk about what I’ve read via Vault one more time.

The Vault newsletter is right-on. Owing to copyright Vault doesn’t allow you to print up their newsletter or cut-and-paste sentences from it.

I will use my own words and add my own insight to the newsletter on being an ally at work.

Kaila Kea-Lewis was interviewed. She is a career coach. She talked about what an ally is. She revealed her own experience with a microaggression.

Her advice is to actively listen before you speak to a Black person. To ask them directly how they think you can help them. To not make assumptions.

Kea-Lewis goes so far as telling Vault readers to denounce discrimination when they see it happening at work.

To uncover the truth when an employer makes a public statement standing in solidarity.

How have you seen your company act in reality? What real advocacy groups have they aligned with? Are they putting their money where their mouth is as the old expression goes?

I’ll end with the number-one takeaway of Kea-Lewis:

True allies are the ones who understand that the oppressed are the only ones who know the best about their situation.

Outsiders who claim to know more than those they’re fighting for have no idea the enormity and severity of systemic racism.

Be an Advocate is the bottom line. Use what you learn from your Black coworkers to take a stand and to help them succeed in the workplace.

Hiring Black Professionals

I took a stand at one of my jobs. To not break confidentiality, I will say only that my goal in speaking out was to see that justice was served. Being an activist cost me a promotion. And I wouldn’t hesitate to do this again when it matters.

I recommend that you subscribe to the Vault newsletter. The Vault website link will be given at the end of this article.

Not everything I read in the newsletter is news to me. Most of it I’ve heard before. What I find compelling is the recent Vault articles about current events. Such as how to be an ally against racism at your workplace.

One of the current newsletters talked about interviews with Black CEOs on how to hire more Black professionals.

First off–it is startling and upsetting to me when a person doesn’t take the time to find out a Black person’s name and use it in conversation. Referring to someone else as “the Black woman over there” to a person they’re talking to must stop.

You should be getting to know them just like everyone else at the event.

Vault solutions:

Have companies disclose diversity numbers.

Break their staff down by race ethnicity and gender.

Offer Black students more internships and mentor them.

Make company boards accountable for hitting diversity targets.

While this is done—increase Black representation on those boards.

Only do business with firms with Black representation.

In the next blog entry, I’ll talk about being an ally at work.

Vault website.

More compelling to me would be a Vault newsletter targeting the job candidates themselves. On how Black job seekers can get coveted positions. Not just how companies can hire them.

The Hidden Opportunity in the Pandemic

There is a silver lining in this cloud.

The hidden opportunity in the pandemic is that today people are aware of how their actions impact others.

At least the pandemic has been the perfect time to act as caring conscious citizens to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The aim as I see it is to extrapolate from this experience key things we’ve learned about ourselves and our capacity for empathy as well as resilience.

In tandem with Black Lives Matter.

It’s my hope that today marks the start of a change for the better.

A day arriving when the old power structure is dismantled. When everyone treats each other as equals with a stake in our democracy.

In the coming blog entries I’ll talk about current events as they relate to having a career.

I will also start to talk about my own experience in the workplace. Culled from information in my career guide Working Assets which my goal is to publish next June.

Returning to Work During the Pandemic

I have returned to my job.

For 6 hours every day I must wear a face covering there. I can only take it off when I’m eating lunch at my temporary desk in a room by myself.

Coworkers maintain 6 feet of distance between each other. Everyone must wear a face covering.

My covering of choice is a big bandanna. I wear a different-color bandanna each day. At the end of the week I wash them in the machine.

This is because I’m not keen to clog a landfill with single-use disposable masks.

Your employer must adhere to safety protocols if they expect you to return to work.

You have every right to expect that these measures will be in effect.

Even though it’s hard to breathe I wear the bandanna 6 hours a day. I look like a gunslinger in the Old Wild West. I coordinate the color of the bandanna with the clothes I’m wearing.

The coronavirus is out to infect whoever it can. The outbreak is on the rise in some states in the U.S. We are not out of the woods. We’re in the thick of this forest.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a real health threat.

I have not been infected. I plan to keep it that way. By staying indoors through early June and wearing a face covering / bandanna I have remained illness-free.

Wearing a face covering is a sign of respect for other people. The message is: “I respect you and you respect me.”

The world has changed. We are all of us more connected than ever. It’s time to protect and respect each other.

When you go back to work wear a face covering. Maintain 6 feet of distance between you and your coworkers. Each lunch away from other people.

Expect that your employer will follow safety protocols. You can band together with your coworkers to file a grievance should the company you work for be jeopardizing your health.

Again: the coronavirus will try to infect everyone. Take the precautions and be diligent in adhering to them.

Listen to or watch or read the latest medical information from a reputable media source.

Life has changed so quickly in such a short time. Six months have gone by. The year is halfway over.

It can seem like the COVID-19 outbreak is here to stay forever. No–it will end. Not soon. Yet it will end.

Be patient. Wear a face covering. There’s a silver lining in this cloud and I’ll talk about this next.

Accounting for Time Off the Job

A gap in employment due to COVID-19 doesn’t need to be accounted for.

Time off before the pandemic–before March 2020–can be talked about.

It helps to have done volunteer work, learned computer skills, or otherwise been active during the time you weren’t working.

Even caring for an ill family member is a justified reason for a gap.

Should you have a mental illness and not have been doing anything while unemployed:

Doing volunteer work and better yet volunteer work linked to the job you want to get can help.

Doing an unpaid internship while you’re collecting government disability benefits makes sense too.

Log on to Idealist or VolunteerMatch or Internships for search options.