Job Shadowing

Job Shadowing is another method for figuring out whether you might like to work at a particular job or have a certain career.

For one day you shadow a person working at that job to see what it’s like.

The guidelines for conducting an information interview apply:

Show up 10 minutes before the start time. Dress in a professional fashion.

Ask every question you have. There are no dumb questions.

Asking questions is the way to get detailed intelligence about this career.

You need to go home after having had this opportunity satisfied with the outcome: armed with useful information and a realistic view of what the job entails.

Again, send a thank-you e-mail or handwritten note within 24 hours to the people you met while shadowing a person at their job.

How might you obtain a job shadowing opportunity?

This is where having Connections on LinkedIn can help.

It helps if you’re still in school or younger. Yet even if you’re older you can successfully obtain a job shadowing opportunity.

A shadowing position might be conducted over 5 days or two weeks even.

Years ago I had a library school student shadow me. On her last day she gave me a Thank You card and a coffee mug.

I’m going to talk in the next blog entry about the number-one secret to success in the world of work.

This ingredient applies on a volunteer job as well as an actual job. It applies wherever you are “conducting business”–online or off.

You Are Not Your Diagnosis

It’s a fact:
Your personality, your life ethic, and your temperament are separate from your diagnosis.

As a writer, as a human being living on earth with other human beings, I detest stereotyping people.

On a humorous note, the editor of my memoir told me: “There can be no ‘blue-haired old lady’ in your book.”

So I took her out. You get the point.

In writing Left of the dial with the intent to publish my first-person account I wanted the narrative to be different from any other SZ memoir that had been published.

Though it was clearly a story about having a breakdown, I wanted to focus on what happened after I recovered, not on symptoms and illness.

I wanted to tell a story about how getting the right treatment right away and staying in treatment enabled me to be recovered and in remission.

Yes–I credit the medical model–the act of taking pills–as the gateway that opened the door to real recovery.

Stigma of any kind is other people’s problem, not yours or mine.

I’ve gotten attacked by a woman who was allegedly an “international expert” (curiously she didn’t have her own website.)

In response to her PsychCentral news article where she claimed no one could recover: I posted a comment saying that most people could recover.

This so-called expert attacked me twice for saying this.

If you’re viewing someone through the lens of illness, through the aperture of their symptoms, that sets up a very low bar you have for who a person is and what they’re capable of.

I have an insider’s vantage point as a recovered peer. I can see from my view the real actual credible successes of other peers inside and outside of the workplace.

You Are Not Your Diagnosis. Recovery is your right.

The person you see in the mirror is the person you’re supposed to be: a human being accorded love, dignity, compassion, forgiveness, individuality, respect, and kindness.

Information Interviews – Part Two

You should dress in a professional way when you meet someone to talk about their job.

For women a pantsuit would be appropriate or a skirted suit. Or other modern not casual attire.

For men this would be a suit. Or other modern attire that is not casual either.

Bring a smart portfolio with a notepad inside to take notes. Tells the person you’d like to take notes.

Show up on time. Even though it’s not an actual interview.  You can show up 10 minutes early not any earlier.

Figure out beforehand the best transit route to get there.

Ideally, you’ll meet others in person for the purpose of getting an information interview.

Yet regardless of whether you meet in person or simply get the OK to send them your questions via e-mail other options exist:

You can chat with them via FaceTime or Skype or other video chat device.

Again, dress sharp even if you’re at home at your desk Skyping with this person. Remove the clutter from your background.

You can practice or role play conducting the interview with a friend or other peer or therapist.

I’ll end here with this: it’s possible to obtain just enough detailed information about a job or career or particular business from Internet and LinkedIn research.

Think like a businessperson. Seek out information about new jobs and careers coming up on the horizon. Jobs exist today that were unheard of 10 years ago.

And remember: to enjoy yourself as you navigate the process of looking for work.

The Business of You – Part One

My experience can show others that one of two things is possible:

You loved your job or career when you started it and today it no longer thrills you.

You thought that this particular job or career was the one you wanted. And when it doesn’t work out you’re forced to confront you led yourself astray.

There’s hope in either scenario. There’s hope for avoiding making a 9-year mistake like I did working in the wrong career. There’s always hope.

I call the method I recommend promoting The Business of You.

Thinking like a salesperson will enable you to market yourself as the one perfect candidate for the job you’re applying for.

If You is the brand, then marketing your business like a salesperson makes sense.

Great sales veterans qualify their leads when deciding which prospective clients to pitch to. Once they research their ideal customer they then remember these two sales dictums:

“Don’t try to sell the customer a blue shirt if all he wants is a white one.”

“Sell the benefit not the feature” of the product.

Power listing your skills, traits, and experience on a piece of paper gives you the features of your product–You the brand you’re selling to an employer.

What is the benefit to the employer of hiring you?

Researching yourself and your ideal work environment will enable you to qualify your job leads.

So many of us are convinced we have to take any old job just to pay the rent and put food on the table. That’s not such a great bargain when our mental health suffers as we continue to show up to a job that’s an ill fit.

In the next blog entry The Business of You – Part Two I talk about how to qualify your job leads.

Once you have a better idea of the career that is the right fit for you right now you can then start conducting a targeted job search.

Christina Bruni’s Story

From the fall of 1987 to the summer of 1990 I collected a government disability check and received Medicaid. I lived below the poverty line. For two years back then I lived in public housing.

These earliest experiences changed me forever. They’re the root of why I have compassion for those of us who are less fortunate.

In fact I know plenty of people who collected so-called “entitlements”  when they needed them, and got off the government rolls when their situation in life changed.

Alas, the myth persists of “lazy freeloaders” collecting entitlements forever with no intention of bettering themselves.

Only other people should understand that for a minority of individuals holding a job and obtaining employment isn’t possible.

I’m aware that there are those of us with a diagnosis or disability who have a passive resistance to taking initiative to get a job. They are the exception not the rule.

I wrote You Are Not Your Diagnosis for people who have the desire and ability to work at a job and have a career.

Today it’s possible to stop collectingt SSI or SSDI for the rest of your life.

Today it’s possible to do what you love on and off a job.

Today it’s possible to have your own version of a full and robust life living in recovery.

I’m committed to serving people who want to recover.

My story offers hope and can empower people:

Within 3 years of getting the diagnosis, I stopped collecting government benefits and obtained my first job as an administrative assistant. Seven months later I moved into a studio apartment near the beach.

The wind-up of this story is that you’re not doomed to a life of poverty, unremitting welfare, and joblessness or homelessness when you have a mental health issue.

Wherever you are on the road of recovery whether just starting out or in your older years it’s possible to find the job you love.

The Occupational slice of the Wheel of Wellness should fit into your goals and personality.

I will in coming blog entries talk about a method of finding the job you love and would be happy to go to every week.

I detail this method for achieving occupational fitness in my own forthcoming career guide You Are Not Your Diagnosis.

Finding the Right Career Fit

I’m going to talk in coming blog entries about topics linked to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

After this I’m going to return to talking about fitness and nutrition.

My contention is that schizophrenia recovery outcomes are rosier than most people think.

It’s hard to peg how many people are doing well because most of us with jobs and careers and other successes are afraid to disclose.

Yet I refused to live in hiding. To remain silent would be complicit in reinforcing the rhetoric that no one can recover.

My motto is: “If you can see it, you can be it.”

Peers need to know that there are people just like them who have succeeded at finding and working at jobs we love, not just jobs that pay the rent or are the means to get off disability.

We shouldn’t be pigeonholed into accepting jobs simply because a vocational counselor thinks someone with our particular disability is suited only to those kinds of job.

What if you don’t want to be a janitor yet you’re told you should do that?

What if you want to do something that you’re told is impossible because you have a certain diagnosis?

Either way I’m here to tell you that a myriad of jobs exist. You can even create a job for yourself that fills a need in society.

Having the job or career you love can reduce the impact of your disability.

I say: if you want to work, you deserve to try to make that happen.

In the end working at the job or career you love is a kind of adjunct treatment.

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.

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.