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.

Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and athlete.

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