With my advocacy and consulting career starting to bloom in so many directions, I decided to undertake the mission of adding another social media account to my life – LinkedIn. I spent the last two weeks reading dozens of articles about how to best utilize LinkedIn for finding new and interesting jobs, connecting with the community and organizations, and advancing my consulting services.
To say it’s mind-boggling would be an understatement because I presently have 31 important strategies I’ve read to best use LinkedIn, which if I employ them all I will basically have a full-time job just on LinkedIn. I’m still trying to navigate how to best use this platform for my purposes, but as I was filling in my summary, which apparently is the most important part of your profile to grab a reader’s attention, I was faced with an interesting consideration I had not thought about before.
I wear multiple hats in my professional career including writing, speaking, editing, health insurance consulting, daytrading, and am a full-time employee. It was not very challenging for me to write down what my skills include, job descriptions, extracurricular activities including being on the boards of organizations, etc.
I think of myself as a chameleon because I can pretty much work with many types of people in the world, think critically, write eloquently, meticulously research, and am very adept at strategic planning. I believe I am the kind of person who can adapt to pretty much any situation and fit in quite quickly, learn a skill, take my own initiative, and succeed at the task at hand with good old-fashioned hard work.
While many of these skills have come from my actual employment it got me thinking about many other skills I’m pretty well-versed in that I’ve been forced to learn, which have nothing to do with my professional employment. These skills have been learned over the last decade in my life simply living, surviving, and thriving with a spinal cord injury.
How’s that you may ask?
Well, living a life with a disability teaches you these incredible life skills you simply cannot learn on the job. Every moment of every day I have to pay attention to every aspect of my life for survival. I don’t have a choice unless I want to die. I, as so many other folks in my situation will likely attest to, essentially have yet another full-time career in spinal cord injury, but we don’t always get paid for it. We could and we should, but we have to be strategic about it.
Think about careers in, for example, strategic planning, human resources, and management – what do all of these job titles and careers have in common?
You have to be the type of person who is skilled at working cohesively with people, being meticulously organized, paying attention to detail, thinking critically, advocating, working through conflict, thinking on your feet quickly, the list really could go on.
I’ll take my own life as an example for the moment to illustrate some skills I have excelled out over the last 10 years simply from being paralyzed.
1. Interpersonal and Communication skills
Each day I have multiple caregivers, my mom, and my husband who come into my home to take care of me. I have to juggle multiple personalities at every moment of everyday to keep people happy, so they want to help me. I am frequently put in the position of working through conflict resolution, make sure people’s needs are met, but also making sure productivity remains fluid.
2. Critical Thinking & Research Skills
When I run into a medical challenge such as a pressure sore, high blood pressure due to some internal trauma in my body, mysterious infections that popped up, etc. I am forced to stop and think. Most medical professionals I encounter are pretty clueless about spinal cord injury, so I have to do my own homework by researching possible causes of each of the symptoms. I then bring the research to my doctors and methodically strategize about a plan moving forward. If one plan does not work out I have several on the back burner to try. I have to be a constant scientist in my own life for survival. I have to think on my feet quite quickly and, oftentimes, need to quickly reverse direction when something does not go my way.
3. Organization & Attention to Detail Skills
When you are paralyzed and cannot feel most of your body you have to be extremely careful not to get a burn, an ingrown toenail, a urinary tract infection, etc. This requires extreme attention to detail. I check my body multiple times a day to ensure I can keep my body as healthy as my mind. More than that, I have to be organized. I have medical supplies, house chores, exercise programs, work schedules, doctors’ appointments, and zoom calls; all of which require a delicate ballet of organization with respect to time management. I would get nothing done in my day if I didn’t have a plan. You have to have a plan and execute it with laser like focus. This is your life after all.
Truthfully, I could make you a list spanning nearly 10 pages of all of my life skills, but the salient point I am trying to make is this:
Many of us with disabilities, especially those who were injured at a very young age, are faced with the sadly unfair and daunting decision of how to financially survive after spinal cord injury.
A Broken Governmental System for the Disabled
To Be or Not to Be put on Government Support?
That is the Question?
If you are part of the Medicare or Medicaid system or receive SSI or SSDI, there are income limits to how much money you can make before your benefits are revoked. This can be extremely burdensome on most because many people do not make enough money to have a full-time job to pay for all of the expenses that come along with being disabled. So, many people decide to not get a job because they simply can’t.
The other major hurdle to this problem is that if you spend years on end just trying to get a handle on your injury, how to live life, survive day-to-day, and hopefully thrive at some point – it doesn’t leave much time for building up a stellar resume with years of experience in the field of your choice or pursuing a secondary education. Please don’t misunderstand me, I know a bunch of rock star quadriplegics who do it all, but everyone’s circumstances are different.
The skills many of us gain from simply living a life with paralysis have the potential to be really beneficial to so many companies in the management field, consulting field, strategic planning field, communications field, etc. However, without the experience to back it up many of these companies will not even give us a chance. I know it’s the way the world works and while it can be devastating to your ego, I want those reading this article to realize that, not only are you a rock star for making this challenging life work for you, but you have more skills than you realize.
Don’t sell yourself short. You may have 50 rejections in a row, but constantly reaching out to companies, even for part-time work, while simultaneously elaborating on your life skills from simply having a disability can really be to your advantage.
Make your disability work for you!
If you are motivated enough you do have the ability to slowly start building up your resume with the life skills you have accumulated by simply being a productive disabled person.
I decided to write this article because as I was engaging in building up my own LinkedIn profile, and while I do have a lot of skills I learned prior to my injury, I realized that having a disability has the potential to be a real advantage if you just stay focused. I appreciate I may get rejected 20 times in a row, but being tenacious is just part of the process and not giving up. You don’t have to work full time so you can stay on your government benefits, but you can work part-time and likely from home nowadays post pandemic world.
You don’t give up in your life with spinal cord injury, do you? If you really want a job and to start building a career of your own, just treat job hunting like you would your disability. Think critically about the skills you have gathered over your disability career and how you can apply them to each skill a company requires.
“Never, Never, Never Give up” as Winston Churchill famously exclaimed. You can do this and asking for help is not a weakness. It can be one of your greatest strengths.
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