This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website: www.aucd.org/ecp

21 July, 2010

There is still much (for you) to do

Although this may sound obvious and perhaps cliché, as you contemplate your professional purpose within the disability community and how to make our world a more inclusive place, let me remind you that there is still much for you to do to eliminate the physical and emotional struggles that people with disabilities and their families face on a continual and intimate basis. As we will witness next week the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we cannot deceive ourselves into believing that the pledge of the ADA has touched the lives of all people with disabilities.

Recently, my dad turned me on to an essay written back in 1911 that we both agreed speaks to the physical and emotional struggles that people with disabilities and their families still face today. In 1911, Social Critic, Randolph Bourne (1886–1918), wrote an essay entitled The Handicapped, which was published in the Atlantic Monthly. At that time, Mr. Bourne published his essay anonymously. Mr. Bourne, who had a physical disability, was writing about his day to day physical and emotional struggles as a person with a disability, acceptance of who he was as person with a disability, and his relationship with the world around him.

While reading Mr. Bourne’s essay, I found that his discussion about the same lack of inclusiveness for people with disabilities still exists today. For example, Mr. Bourne discussed his struggles to find and attain employment because of his disability. He described trying to find employment as one of the most “bitterest of struggles”, and by not having the same employment opportunities that people without disabilities had left him lacking confidence and self respect. Arguably, although greater employment protections for people with disabilities currently exist and more than what was available back in 1911, it is a fact that today there is a higher percentage of people with disabilities who are unemployed than people without disabilities. In addition, many people with disabilities work in environments that are not always integrated with people without disabilities and their wages are not always similar to people without disabilities. The bottom line is that the struggle for inclusiveness and equity in employment was apparent then, and still exists today.

In addition to Mr. Bourne’s employment challenges, the overall day to day struggles of his life led to emotional suffering and personal setbacks. He indicated that his lack of confidence stemmed from an overall atmosphere and environment where nobody was very confident in him. This in turn furnished within him a “background of consciousness” that reinforced his physical, but equally important, emotional struggles. Not surprisingly though, Mr. Bourne felt that his very real and own ambitions and energies were similar to people without disabilities. But like many people with disabilities then and now, he was not able to see his ambitions and energies through to their fullest potential. “With repeated chances to fail”, Mr. Bourne stated, “I was discounted at the start; and while people were not cruel or unkind, it was the hopeless finality of the thing that filled one’s heart with despair". Mr. Bourne seemingly felt that he was continually challenged by a physical and cultural environment that was not designed for him. I am convinced that there are many individuals similar to Mr. Bourne that currently feel this way about the world around them and would be eager to unlock their energies and fulfill their ambitions and potential as human beings in a more generic and inclusive environment.

I could go on citing additional references in Mr. Bourne’s essay that compare the similarities in the struggles that people with disabilities faced in 1911 to the ones that people with disabilities still face almost 100 year later, but I think a couple of examples formulate my point. The conclusion for me is that much more still needs to be improved upon in our environment, culture, and world for people with disabilities. Perhaps more importantly for you is that you can create the new advocacy and support that is needed to advance the disabilities movement and end the struggles.

I close by recommending reading Mr. Bourne’s essay, and then ask yourself like I did: What has changed for people with disabilities since 1911? In addition, what can you do now to make the world a better place to live in for people with all abilities? If you do not already, you may want to consider as part of your professional purpose keeping in the background of your consciousness the intimate physical and emotional struggles that people with disabilities still face on a continual basis in our world. Perhaps keeping this thought in your background consciousness will hold the key to motivation for you to advance the disability movement in ways that have not been conceived of by others in the past or currently. Acceptance of all people with all abilities in our world is much needed. As such, there is still much for you to do.

13 July, 2010

The Balancing Act

This is a common theme in our office, so I will continue where blogger Crystal Pariseau left off last week!

All of life is a balancing act but what you are balancing shifts and changes depending on your age, priorities and many other factors. How easily you adapt to those changes and re-balance your life is a part of both your professional and personal growth.

As a full-time professional, mom of two, and part-time graduate student, balancing priorities is part of my everyday life. But it has also taught me that with the right combination of support and discipline, you don’t have to put aside your career or another degree for your family or other responsibilities. For women in particular, these can seem like all or nothing choices – you either take a break and have a family or you put starting a family on hold and go to school and/or have a career.

What might seem like a sacrifice, however, can really be a gain. My time at school and working on my studies, while sometimes demanding, is unfettered me-time and has enriched my life both professionally and personally. This in turn strengthens my relationship with my family and gives me more confidence in my work. What a win-win!

Doing non-profit work has always defined me. From my eight years at the American Red Cross national headquarters to a smaller non-profit, then to AUCD, I have gotten married, had two kids, and gone back to school to earn a masters degree. There are certainly times that I wonder if I can manage it all, but I never consider not working, going to school or continuing to do something I love and feel passionate about.

So how can you find you own balance? Here are some tips for making the pursuit of your personal and professional goals a reality:
  • Find an employer who is supportive of both your professional and personal goals and needs.
  • Advocate for yourself! Don’t be afraid to request time (and financial support) of those around you to help you work towards your goals in the workplace, at school, in your home life, etc.
  • Being a mother, father, partner or care-giver (of parents or children) does not diminish your right to fulfill your goals and pursue your own dreams.
  • Find support in your communities – neighbors, co-workers, family and friends – they can all provide time, energy and other resources to help bolster your busy life.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” to other requests for your time and assistance when your personal plate is especially full.
  • Share your experiences with your family - talk with your kids and loved ones about the excitement of going back to school or an interesting project at work and how much their support means to you.

Last year, my then six-year-old daughter wrote me a note that I keep taped to my monitor that says, “I love you mommy. I think you are the best. You do good things.” If that isn’t validation enough that the balancing act is worth it, I don’t know what is!

06 July, 2010

On the Beam

Your voice mail has 7 new messages, and there are 237 unread emails in your inbox. The summary needs to be written, and a stack of journals is sitting at your elbow. The document needs re-formatting and the spreadsheet is out of date. You desperately need a haircut, and you know the vacuuming hasn’t been done in a week. There’s a presentation coming up and your handouts aren’t quite perfect, and the boss is asking you to attend a 3-day meeting that screams “big opportunity” for all the people you’ll meet. You forgot to make the cupcakes for the kids’ party tomorrow at school.

You’re long on desire and short on time. Thus is the life of many, especially the early career professionals. Now is the time you want to grab every opportunity you can to follow your passion… and you should! You were trained to be a leader, so you know the value of taking advantage of every chance to advance yourself and your career. And what better chance to do it? But if you’re anything like me, you’re also a bit of a perfectionist and over-achiever, striving to make a good impression and constantly prove yourself by ambitiously tackling new projects. Your ideas are brimming over, and your enthusiasm shows. Good for you! But when the project runs into a snag and you feel as if you’ll never leave the office, it’s time to regain your balance.

Demands for your time are getting stronger and stronger, especially if you are working in a setting where money’s tight and tasks are plenty. Time is even tighter if you’ve got family and kids at home. Sometimes you just need to pause. Take a “walk around the block” break. Spend some time in the garden. Talk to your coworker about a non-office related topic. Play the newest video game. Regain your balance.

There’s always something that HAS to be done – and done yesterday. There’s always going to be another innovative idea right around the corner that you really want to tackle. But your mother was right – if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else. WebMD’s article on 5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance suggests protecting your private time so that you can be more successful and fulfilled in your work and personal life. If you don’t take a moment to clear your head, all those great ideas will get jammed up and never come out. One of the worst things you can do is get over-stressed and burned out.

So take 10 minutes and a good office friend and walk to the bakery down the block. You’ll be back in no time, refreshed and better than ever. Then tell your boss you’ll gladly attend the Big Opportunity Meeting. While maintaining the right balance in your life, you’ll also get those slides finished in no time. But balancing your desire to eat the kids’ cupcakes you bought on your walk is another story…