Opinion by Thought Leaders
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High-Functioning Disabilities at Work: A Roadmap for Success

 

If you are a high-functioning individual suffering from a mental or behavioral health ailment (which may or may not be protected under the disabilities act for reasonable accommodation), your daily life at work is quite possibly a tough battle. A tougher one possibly than of those who are off-work on leave and therefore, although quite possibly much more debilitated, can have some level of control on the amount of uncertainties that will disrupt their wellbeing. Whether you are depressed but your severe phases come in cycles, or are a GAD (general anxiety disorder) sufferer who can pull through most of the days but not all, or suffer from a Psychosis that occasionally manifests at work but doesn’t completely impede your ability to be employed, you are someone who shows up to work and does great (either because or in-spite of your disorder) while pedaling like Stanford ducks underneath the surface. You either didn’t disclose your disability at work, or even if you have, will not avail (unless it’s the last option) the ‘reasonable accommodations’ available to you. But most challenging is the fact that no one talks about the likes of you. There are no career development articles, best known methods, behavioral guidelines, leadership skills, that will acknowledge you, let alone provide direction. No one wants to talk about us. We ourselves don’t want to deal with the not normal parts of our otherwise normal days. But we are the new normal. Mental health at work is becoming more and more a matter with work and life complexities skyrocketing. So, the counsellor’s couch toolsets need to come into the mainstream career conversations, not just tip toe-d around in chapter seven of self-help books.

This is an even bigger problem for women because of unhelpful gender stereo-typing and unfair labelling. Hormonal. Emotional. Un-professional. No, we are not, but men are in majority and therefore, ‘testosterone-ic’ behaviors are considered professionally more acceptable, and even downright desirable, even when they are outcomes of the same struggles that manifest as tears for women. Reactions are also grouped, and gender labelled, instead of categorization by mental health condition which could serve the helpful purpose of mental health awareness.

I have had to craft my own guidelines, success definitions, and daily steps. The first step is to address head on the fact that we, and others like us, exist. Note: this doesn’t suggest mandatory declaration or disclosure. In fact, my advice on that is to tread very carefully irrespective of what printed policies say. There’s a lot of progress still to be made on unconscious bias and mental health awareness. But we need to ruthlessly trash any of the shame we might feel within ourselves. And then, we need to be aware of signs in others that would require us to have higher self-control and greater compassion. Empathy is one gift out of this curse, and we should take advantage of that by being the higher EQ individuals in the room. We will need that to shield us against our behavioral ‘eccentricities’ which we will not be able to always control. We also have to take a social responsibility, if I may call it so, to be vocal in our own ways possible appropriately. Finding a tribe, an outlet, and working to help a cause that affect us daily is a great strength provider, and the base of this pyramid that I will try to build here for excellence at work for the likes of us.

There are two well-known principles I am going to base this roadmap on. One is the known concept of run the business, grow the business, transform the business (or you might have heard it as keep today secured, plan for tomorrow, transform the future – or similar – you get the theme). This is a familiar concept for business. Now think of this and apply this to what I’d like to call a ‘self-aware roadmap for career sustenance and development’. First, acknowledge that you have some limitations, know what they are, what your triggers are, and have foolproof, well-practiced plan for managing them. First for today, and then for tomorrow. Below are some tips on that.

Meditation and Mindfulness

This horse has probably been beaten to death, but not in a way that can work for high-functioning strugglers who need some tools while at work. Focusing on your breath while driving to work on your worst days and forcing yourself to continuously re-ground through tools like counting, concentrating on a sound, tapping is something you need to not only know of, but also have written down somewhere to be able to use regularly. It takes a bit of time and on our worse days, a lot of determination, but eventually the calming effect of focusing on the moment starts becoming more and more apparent.

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New Age Career Management: Make Flashpoints a Part of Routine

 

We get to hear about career flashpoints almost daily these days. In search of anecdotes for career setbacks, or while in the middle of reflections that are leading to nowhere, we possibly look for these ourselves and stumble upon articles after articles on how life’s severe downturns – from divorce, to health diagnoses, to job loss – forced stepping out of comfort jones and ultimately more fulfilling career happily ever after. These accounts are quite accurate no doubt, for that is how life works. It’s a chaotic dynamic equilibrium in which persistent strategizing eventually works, as does random events.

Either small gains, or great achievements, always emerge out of most situations. And since finding fulfillment is a whole different matter from achieving absolute success and absolute success can’t be defined absolutely (unless we are talking Bill Gates), all really ends well at the end. The point however is that unless it’s a physical end of life, ‘the end’ is really never an end. It is just the current point in time. Those who are writing those articles, unfortunately will go through both beautiful highs and frustrating lows again.

Therefore, flashpoints, or turning points - no matter what we call them - never stop coming. Most work environments today are going through an interesting dichotomy of ‘take more time to reflect, foster human connections, introspect, go after fulfilment, keep your core values in mind’ but ‘work faster, cheaper, longer, constantly, keep upskilling, ensure continuous increase in productivity (aka increase value to shareholders) and be obsessed about the customer(read work).’ Flashpoints are bound to become more frequent. Less big bangs and more continuous clustered fireworks. And bounce back times are going to be shorter.

For me, given the high flux, high churn and mostly ambiguous environment I work in, it is more a continuous evolution. A point by point (often weekly if not daily) re-strategizing. Those ‘oh my god’ moments followed by months of reflection and nirvana that I thought would happen one, maybe two, times in a 20/30-year career have become the norm. Redeployments, job losses, change of bosses, personal crises will cause no shortage of forced reflections, but it’s almost given that for most of us (barring some who have fallen into a career sweet spot of promised decade long or longer tenure), there will be no luxury of years of introspection driven re-invention. Therefore, this needs to be continuous too.

Below are three guidelines, or verticals as I would call them, that I cluster my continuous career strategizing around. It took me a bit of time to put some guard rails in place instead of the chaotic, frantic, what do I do and what should my career (or life) thoughts be based on (which would often be tailored to nature of the immediate crises) modus operandi. I now find these immensely useful, for doing this frequently is not easy if not made into a structured habit.

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