A Career that Wasn't
NOTE: This is the second of two personals stories from our guest blogger "Anonymous", who describes individual academic and career struggles as a person with LD, and who has a desire to be part of a supportive community of other dyslexic/LD adults.
Photo by Eileen Tait-Acker
Everyone has issues in their life. One of my acquaintances had an eating disorder. Another friend struggles underneath the surface with the fact that she is adopted. One of mine as an adult has been my career. Or lack thereof.
When we go off to college we have a picture in our minds of the next twenty years of our careers. We spend our college years picking a major, having fun, learning everything from how to write a paper to how to live on our own for the first time. (This, of course is what it looks like for those with the “typical” college experience, which mine wasn’t). No matter what you major in, you graduate with a ‘here’s how it’s going to go’ plan.
I’ll get my first job (maybe I don’t even expect it to pay a lot of money); work my butt off, stay for a few years and move on to the next. The positions will get better with each new job, I’ll make more money with each new job, I’ll move up in the world one job at a time. Perhaps I even expect a few bumps along the way. I don’t expect all will go perfectly as planned but there will be progress with each job and as the years go by. Sound familiar?
This is the way it’s supposed to work right? But what does it look like when it doesn’t. This has been my life.
First and foremost I feel like a failure. Second I blame myself. What went wrong?
Is it the Learning Disability I didn’t know about or understand until I was in my twenties? Over the years I have wondered often how much this particular issue has influenced my long struggle in jobs or with building a solid career for myself. All the LD organizations promote and champion people who ‘struggle though, overcome and become successful after a childhood discovery of a Learning Disability but nobody talks about the people who don’t. Those who drop out of high school or college. Those who get into trouble and wreck their lives in some way; drugs, alcohol, prison. Or even those who do everything right by graduating high school and college and still go through life in low paying, dead end jobs because they can’t get to that next step.
Many LD children and adults don’t fit the “normal” success model; It seems we (if you’ll allow me to speak for others) have enough pressure from the education system, colleges and employers to fit in, to get good test scores, to interview, get and do well in a career, to be the success I may not be, that I don’t want to feel it also coming from LD organizations when I am only shown people who do reach the “normal” success model.
Those of us with a Learning Disability are a varied group; some more successful than others, tell me that, show me examples of those people. I am supposed to feel inspired, hopeful, with an ‘if they can do it I can too’ attitude seeing all those success stories and hearing advice from these groups. Instead they remind me of my failure. The irony is that I have been invited twice to speak at a Learning Disabilities conference; twice I have had to back out because I was unemployed and broke at the time of each.
It’s possible my job difficulties don’t come from my LD. Is it what I majored in in college instead or where I went to college or that I no longer want to do that career I studied (although that doesn’t account for all the years before I felt that way)? Is it a terrible economy and job market that has lasted for years (also doesn’t account for the years before that)? Is it a job application process that is inefficient, ineffective, automated and inhuman among other things (we call it an internet black hole for a reason)? Is it just dumb luck (of which I’ve never had any)? Is it a mix of all of the above?
What I can tell you is it has not been for lack of ambition, lack of trying, lack of desire to have a good job or laziness. I have worked of course in the twenty years since I left high school. Many low paying jobs. Many part time jobs. Most not what I wanted. A couple full time positions that finally gave me enough money to live on but which I derived no satisfaction from my work. Lots of rejections. Or just as bad hearing nothing at all after an interview. These twenty years also include periodic unemployment for several years at a time. These times are much worse than the jobs I didn’t like.
The effects of this type of career path range from the practical; will I have enough money to live on?, How bad does it look on my resume to have one low paying, continual low level responsibility job after another? How bad do those years of unemployment look on my resume?, What are the chances of getting what is effectively an entry to mid-level job at my age, to the psychological; constant stress and worry, boredom beyond what school ever was, a huge hit to your self-confidence, constant doubt about your abilities and the choices I’ve made, fear that it won’t change, disappointment in myself and anger about all the wasted time. It’s a wonder sometimes that I’ve kept my sanity.
I admit I am my own worst judge. I don’t know why. But I have little appreciation for my struggle; for the things I have accomplished (my college degree being one of them), for the fact that I am still trying and I still want a job, or for any determination, resolve or strength that others see in what I have experienced.
And none of this takes into account how I really feel about my long struggle, myself, the state of hiring practices or the way potential employers treat applicants. Frankly I am sometimes so fed up and angry about this struggle it would probably surprise people if I expressed it. If someone were to ask how I keep going the only answer I could offer is, do I have another choice?
I keep thinking that a good well paying full time job that I enjoy will solve so many things for me. I can’t know that for sure since I haven’t had one but I can tell you for sure that not having one has been detrimental.
I am surrounded (and have been for years) by people and stories of people I don’t know living the picture I painted for myself in terms of their careers. Friends, acquaintances, scores of college alumni that I don’t know, even my boyfriend with a new job he got last year. It can be hard to listen to and watch the people in your life living what you didn’t have and don’t see in the near future. Some days I am jealous. Some days I am resentful. I would never wish my experience on any of them; I just want something more for myself.
Unfortunately I have never been surrounded by that helping hand or “chance” that is often talked about by those who are successful. Please don’t misunderstand; I am not looking for a hand-out. I am not looking for someone to give me a job I’m not qualified for. I am not even looking for sympathy in writing all this. I do not expect to be handed the perfect job, but sometimes this struggle feels ridiculous and stupid.
All I’ve ever wanted when it came to my career was a chance. A chance to prove that I am capable and can do something. To prove to myself and others that I am not stupid or lazy or a dozen other things I have thought about myself. To show the world (at least those in my world) that I am creative, resourceful, empathic, and can be successful. Somebody at the hundreds of good jobs that I’ve applied to and interviewed with to say YES!
What I found in all these years is that a career or even a job search is never a straight line to employment or success. My path has been difficult, interrupted and varied; I don’t (and have never) fit your perfect cookie cutter mold. This does not mean that I wouldn’t be a phenomenal employee; a hard worker who is reliable, prescient and a problem solver. I am all those. I believe people want to be inspired by what they do as much as they want to make a contribution. I believe people will go above and beyond for an employer if they love what they do. An employer only has to give those us with this type of history a chance. I could be one of your best employees…
I can’t be the only person in this country to struggle to find and have a well-paid, successful, long lasting career. At least that’s what I tell myself. I can’t be alone in this.
I do not have the answers for how to solve my problem. If I did I would do whatever it is. And before you start making well-meaning suggestions, please reconsider. I know people mean well. My experience though has been that suggestions and advice are often not based on what works for the person they are talking to but for the giver. Or the advice ends up feeling like criticism.
Since I don’t know what to do, instead I fumble around for ideas to change something. I’ll move to a different part of the country. I’ll apply to different types of jobs than I applying to before. I’ll change my resume and cover letters. And with every difficult application or automated rejection I think I’ll write a book about what’s wrong with employers hiring practices these days. This, oddly enough has been what I’ve been doing with my free time recently; I wrote a book (fiction, not about hiring practices). Maybe one of these days I’ll publish it, become a wildly successful writer and stop living in the cycle you have been reading about.
Until then, here I am, continually trying; continually looking for a career that I haven’t had but very much want. I’ll give you a hand if you give me one…
Thank you, Anonymous, for sharing your personal experiences with our community. - The Headstrong Nation Team