Here are some stories that we hope will encourage you to see past your own troubles and use them as inspiration to see that you can conquer that disability.
In this and the following chapters, I'll share some stories about people I've had the pleasure to work with over the past 8 years, as they did what they had to do in order to get back to meaningful and productive work. Their names and some details are changed to protect their identities.
The headlines before their stories summarize the main thing they taught me through their experiences and the way they acted to turn seemingly negative events into something positive. I'll start with one who taught me about .....
Visualizing... and Learning to be a Gracious Receiver
Tim G remains one of my favorites. A Sales Manager for a publishing company in his late 30s, he had relocated from Maryland to Colorado after learning he had multiple sclerosis. At one point before I was asked to work with him, he had decided that his physical problems were just too much, and he told his wife she might be better off to leave him because he was giving up and would probably die before too long. In her strong, quiet way, she read him the riot act. Every day, she reminded him, she makes the decision to either stay or leave, which is always an option.
She hadn't married a quitter, and if that now became his choice, she might just decide one day to leave. But for now, for today, she was staying, and asked him to return the favor by deciding to make up his mind to improve, physically and emotionally. That turned him around. They decided he should attend a 2-week camp in the northwest run by a stern, 80-year-old European lady who was so agile she could dance like a 30-year-old. Her camp was geared to help people like Tim, who had lost most of their physical mobility, to learn a dozen basic exercises that would improve their physical conditioning.
On the first day, they placed him on the mats, but he couldn't even bend his leg to get into position to do the first exercise. The woman instructed her assistants to place him on the side of the mats, then continued with the other participants.
After she was finished, she walked to the side, stood directly over him with one leg on each side, pointing her finger in his face, and told him in an authoritative tone, "You .... tonight you visualize yourself bending your leg."
As it turns out, Tim's wife was a big believer in visualization, and had apparently used it to good advantage in her life, so he assured this woman, as he lay there looking up at her, that he knew how effective visualization could be, and would certainly follow her instructions.
In his heart though, as he later told me, he was greatly discouraged and didn't really believe it would help him. He was lying in bed that night thinking how easy it would be to just give up, when he thought of his wife and decided that he didn't have anything to lose by at least trying.
So until he fell asleep he lay there visualizing himself bending his leg. But he didn't believe it would work, and felt the same way in the morning, experiencing a sense of despair and hopelessness as they once again placed him on the mat.
A few minutes later, much to his own amazement, on command from the 30-year-old 80-year-old, he was able to bend his leg. That filled him with such excitement that during those two weeks he quickly progressed through the basic exercises, and in another two weeks after returning from the camp he had mastered all twelve.
Shortly after that he began a two-year course in computer programming, but by the time he completed it, there was no market for programmers in his area, so the Vocational Rehabilitation Coordinator asked me to help him find another way to make a living.
By this time he was getting around with a walker and a wheelchair, which he could take in and out of his specially equipped van, and had an office setup in his basement. He figured he might have enough energy and stamina to be able to get out of the office for 1/2 day per week. He didn't have any clear idea of what he might do, however, since he'd have to work primarily from home.
After reviewing his achievements on my forms, which are designed to identify the action steps people used in the past to achieve results, and after experiencing his upbeat personality over the phone, it became apparent to me that, theoretically at least, he had a number of talents that could be valuable to different types of businesses.
For salespeople on the road, he could function as a customer service person, providing in-house sales support and followup. For any small business, or for one just getting started, he could set up their administrative systems, keep their records, and help plan their marketing, advertising, promotion, and sales activities.
He could also help them select their computer and software purchases, and get that system up and working. I created a simple one-page summary of the services he could offer, and some prototype letters he could send to various types of prospects, who were identified through a computer search, combined with some local directories.
When I visited with him, we rehearsed different types of sales situations he'd face over the phone and in person. Until he saw the summary and letters, and rehearsed what he'd be saying to prospects, he didn't really believe it was feasible for him to either sell or deliver those services.
But he had to admit that all the things he saw in writing were based on information he himself had provided in my forms. And the action plan we set up for selling those services made plenty of allowance for his limited mobility, energy, and stamina.
So suddenly, he had everything he needed to get into action as an independent consultant. The only thing that could hold him back would be his own beliefs in limits. Within two months he was functioning as a sales followup / customer service person for an independent distributor of heavy machinery who traveled most of the time.
He had also gotten three other clients, small businesses in his area that needed administrative and sales-related help as they expanded. This small but very fast start, due primarily to his winning sales personality, brought some other forces into play.
He was so encouraged by this activity that he seemed to have more energy than he had anticipated, and was able to spend two half-days per week outside the home, not just one. He developed more confidence.
This led to his contacting a lot of people, including many new prospects and a number of old business associates he hadn't been in touch with for some time. This led in short order to The Opportunity Collision.
An ex-boss told him of another publisher who could probably use his sales followup services in Colorado, and offered to forward his single-page summary of services to that publisher with a note of recommendation. A week later he got a call from that publisher, and within a few more weeks he was their exclusive representative in Colorado, which occupied all his available working hours.
Technically he was still an independent, but in substance he had won what amounted to a full-time job. The truly remarkable thing here is that the MS remained in remission, his energy level continued to increase, and within two years Tim was the rep for three states, taking 3-day trips in his van. One of the keys, he told me, was Learning To Be A Gracious Receiver.
Where previously he would never let anyone help him, now he would not hesitate to ask maintenance people who came to know him at the schools and offices he visited, or just plain passersby, to hold a door or give him a boost. A few of them told him he'd made their day, but they didn't have to say it.
The positive look on their faces was testimony enough to the truth that when you let others help you, you give them a great gift.
Once he understood that, and overcame what he termed pride and stubbornness that kept him from using a wheelchair as often as he might, he found he could cover a lot more territory with a lot less energy expended. And make a lot of people happy in the process.
Patience and Perseverance
Karen B had been on disability for five years when our paths crossed. Back problems resulting from an accident had made it impossible for her to continue in the public relations job in southern California that she enjoyed so much.
The enforced idleness for such a long period had taken its toll on the spirits of this talented woman in her late 30s, but she clung to the hope that somehow she could get back to work, even with the limits on sitting, standing, bending and carrying that she had to endure. So she asked her insuror if they could provide some help in a return-to-work effort.
It was apparent from the start that Karen was very intelligent, with outstanding communications skills. What wasn't apparent until later, was a strong character, an ability to endure disappointments that would severely try the most steadfast personality and never give up, which remains impressive by any measure.
Karen's talents were abundant enough, and her experience broad enough, that it made sense to create four separate resumes for her, one for sales, another for marketing, still another for public relations, and a fourth for journalism.
It's unusual that my clients will do well by answering ads, but because her experience was strong, her resumes well written, and she made such an excellent personal impression, she did quite well.
Within two months, she had interviewed for eight positions, and implemented extremely well the interviewing techniques she learned in our personal meeting. Three situations looked promising, one in sales, one in marketing, and one in public relations. For a number of reasons, she chose the opportunity in sales, with a growing company in the health services field.
The woman who hired her had just been hired herself by the President to fill the Sales Manager post, and in good faith spelled out for her the environment in which she'd work and the opportunities available for those who performed well. It sounded ideal, and it was.
Problem was, as sometimes happens in companies undergoing a lot of change, there was an internal political struggle which the President lost, and things changed, but not until Karen had been there long enough so that she was no longer on disability payments.
Now she had no disability payments and no job. Enter true grit. She wasted no time feeling sorry for herself, took part-time positions to survive financially, and revved up her job search again.
Some clients will stay in touch even though the insurors no longer retain me to assist them, and Karen asked me to continue providing some guidance, which I'm happy to do. To make a long story short, over the past four years she has landed and lost three jobs, although employers will be quick to point out she was an excellent performer.
In one case she lost the job after being recruited there from another position. But she has never lost her spirit. She's human, so it has sagged at times, but she's never lost it.
Her employers have included a law firm, an accounting firm, and a public relations firm, where she has filled marketing and business development posts, and met or exceeded goals, but the combination of internal politics a few levels above her, and a poor California economy, prevented any of those from developing into long term situations.
She recently moved back to the midwest, and based on her latest input, chances are she'll soon win a desirable position there. Yes, she still has back problems and some pain, but she hasn't let that stop her. She's living testimony to the power of perseverance in the face of adversity.
Keeping Your Eye on the Goal, Not on the Pain
Debbie B, in her early 30s, lives in Manhattan. Like a number of people I work with, she had more than one disabling condition. The official cause of her disability was severe colitis, but she also had an unusual eye disease that required surgery, and suffered from hypoglycemia.
At one time during our work together she traveled to Europe for special treatment of the eye disease. The colitis could be very painful, making it impractical to get anything accomplished on the "bad days."
She had worked in the Human Resources department of a major consulting firm, where she had routinely put in 50- and 60-hour weeks, and enjoyed it. But that was no longer possible.
After she returned my forms, I was able to construct a resume that did not over-identify her with Human Resources, but instead positioned her for a broad range of positions within a service firm. She could use her old resume for Human Resources positions.
Despite a number of "bad" days physically, Debbie maintained her upbeat outlook and her determination to find a job she could handle without setting off colitis problems. Our first priority was to find a part-time position, for which her physician had cleared her. She was confident that if she found a challenging job in the right environment, her improved mental state would help improve her health.
In a similar circumstance, in the face of that much pain, I doubt I'd have the same level of determination, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that the people who have these disabilities seem to have a great deal more internal strength than the average person.
Maybe it's born out of necessity. I don't know. I do know that, after she returned to the U. S. from a European trip where no significant progress had been made on her eye disease, she redoubled her efforts in the job search.
And within a matter of weeks she was successful. She won a Manhattan-based position with the headquarters staff of a major pharmaceutical firm, in which she could fill a number of functions. The environment, salary level and hours were precisely what we were looking for, and there was opportunity for advancement in the future.
As is the case with many clients, we never met personally, but established close rapport over the phone. This remarkable young woman wrote me a note of thanks, saying I had helped her build confidence and maintain a positive focus, but I know she did it herself. It's typical of many of my clients that they will give me and others more credit than we deserve.
On the other hand, there may be truth in what Leo Buscaglia says in his book Born For Love, about the many opportunities we have to make our love felt, and that too often we underestimate the power of a kind word, a listening ear, or the smallest act of caring.
Trying Again, And Again, And Again ..... and One More Time
Don S's disability involved depressed cardiac and lung functions, and put limits on his energy and stamina, but not so much that this midwesterner couldn't learn computer programming after his disability. He had previously achieved a lot in engineering as a Project Manager for an automotive parts company, but returning to that kind of demanding position was no longer feasible
Instead, while working part-time as a computer operator, he had been trying for three years to get a job as a computer programmer, but without success. He had done a number of imaginative things, and wasn't sure there was much more he could do. He'd had so many disappointments that he was beginning to think he'd be trapped in his current dead-end position.
Fortunately I was able to put together a resume that, for the first time, presented the combination of his engineering experience, computer experience, and education in a way that made it obvious he was qualified for far more than an entry level position. This lifted his spirits, gave him a lot more confidence, and prompted him to take up once again his job search efforts.
The fact that somebody else cared, didn't hurt either. But he lived in an area with relatively few opportunities and the going was rough. When he was about to lose hope again, he got a call from an employer who had rejected him for a position before I had started to work with him.
During our work together he'd learned to develop a mindset that kept him open to nurturing anything that sounded even remotely like an opportunity. He put that to good use with this employer, and within a week of the call had gotten an offer for what we agreed was an ideal position in many respects.
He would be a programmer in a small software firm where he would be an important performer for them, while he would learn those aspects of programming he still needed to master.
Three years is a long time to spend in a job that isn't challenging. It's a long time to be looking for something better, without success. No one would have blamed Don for giving up. I'm personally happy he didn't. Like Debbie, he insisted on giving me credit for building his confidence and helping him remain open to opportunity, but like Debbie, he did 99% of it himself.
He got in touch afterward to let me know it was going well. Then he got in touch still later to let me know it wasn't. I helped a little. And he moved again to a still better job.
Perseverance is the Key to Job Search Success
Another tale of perseverance, which also underscores the value of a supportive spouse, is that of Jerry C. I won't even admit how long I worked with him, but he was my longest running client.
Jerry's disability was chronic fatigue syndrome, and he lived in New Hampshire, during a period in which that state led the nation in terms of worst economic depression. That's one reason why it took him so long to land a job.
He's a dedicated fellow in his 30s, and he worked very hard. Many times he came close, but never quite scored. His background was in financial operations, and he came close not only in that field, but in retailing, insurance, food processing, and other types of businesses.
His disappointment at not winning these jobs was tempered somewhat when he learned, as he often did, that the company which rejected him had gone out of business shortly afterward. New Hampshire was that bad at the time.
But he persevered, and was able to stay afloat financially because his wife managed to not only keep her job at a large catering firm, but to win a promotion as well. Finally he was offered a position as a member of the faculty of a business college. The only hitch was providing a number of enthusiastic references.
I instructed him on how to go about doing that, and he won the job. To this day I marvel at his patience and endurance, and his ability to spring back into action after disappointments, of which there were far too many.
The Power of a Kind Word or a Listening Ear
Kyle S, in his mid-40s, had been a federal government employee, with a background in security and other areas. He'd had a number of operations on his back, from which he had some continuing pain, was experiencing severe financial difficulties while trying to keep a son in college, and was trying to care for his mother, who was ill and lived in the southeast, a 6-hour drive away.
He confided that he was starting to feel pretty depressed. Who wouldn't be? Our first conversation ended up being a long one. I'm not a psychologist, but the nature of the work is such that you've got to address issues, beliefs, and assumptions that affect a client's emotions.
We talked about a number of things, including his assumption that the government wouldn't take him back, and how he might start to become active right away as a consultant working with existing firms in one of two areas - security, and securing startup funds for new and second-stage companies. He had expertise in both areas, and as it turns out, had at one time run his own business.
We had only that one long conversation, followed up by a letter from me, and then a few shorter conversations, when his case closed successfully. Whatever was said in that first conversation, I wish I knew, but somehow it had tempered his depression and helped him see things in a more positive light.
For the first time, he told me, he felt that maybe he could exert some control over his situation and change things for the better. He followed my advice about getting back to the government, and it ended up in his getting a long part-time consulting assignment, which eased his financial situation.
He also got more aggressive about soliciting startup funding projects, and secured two that looked promising. One even had a stated promise of long term employment in addition to his fees, should the financing come through.
To support that business and perhaps get started in security consulting as well, he requested and got a settlement, which made sense with the stability of his additional income.
It wasn't anything I said that helped Kyle turn things around, but rather, just the fact that I was a willing ear ..... willing to listen to him sort out his own problems and decide on his own course of action. Fortunately, it was enough.
The Problems of an Overachiever With "Too Many Strengths"
Darlene L is an extraordinary lady living in New York State, a nurse who had back and bending problems. The number of things she has done incredibly well boggles the mind, including a variety of hospital positions that involved training, direct care, emergency helicopter services and others, as well as positions outside the medical field.
But she hadn't gotten offers for some jobs she wanted, and was fearful that she was seen as overqualified by some employers, while for others her broad-based experience didn't include all the specific "specialist" elements they were looking for.
Her problem was twofold. First, she had so many achievements in so many different positions (about 12), that it was difficult to get across all her strengths without confusing the reader. But we succeeded in doing so on her resume and it impressed a lot of people, including Darlene.
Second, she needed just the right words to say, so that prospective employers would feel comfortable that such a high-powered person would be happy in the position they were offering.
We hammered out the right words, and you only had to tell her once. Before she had even received my followup letter, she had used all the techniques I recom-mended.
Next day in fact. Within 10 days of getting the new resume, she had three potential offers to consider in each of the three areas where she had an interest ..... a law firm, a hospital, and an independent emergency medical facility. We sorted out her priorities as we discussed them, but once again, the "close encounter" with each option made her decision an easy one.
She discouraged the law firm from making an offer, maintained positive relations with the hospital while turning them down, and accepted the offer from a group of doctors to manage the startup of an independent emergency facility, after we reshaped the job slightly to accommodate her situation.
Battling Discouragement When You Keep Coming In Second
Marty D from New Jersey was a salesman in his late 30s who had been successful in selling to supermarkets for a major biscuit company. When we started to work together, he'd been out for 18 months due to a back injury. He'd also gone through a recent divorce. His resume conveyed no achievements, although he certainly had them.
Clearly, it was going to take not just a stronger resume, but also a lot of encouragement to help him build the emotional firepower he'd need to come back from these negative events. Come back he did, though, and he worked hard to implement the action plan we had designed.
In each of the four basic action avenues for uncovering job opportunities, he would do whatever was necessary. He was willing to move, and we were able to expand the number of industries where he would have credibility by highlighting selected areas of achievement, so he got a lot of response from recruiters.
Response, that is, but no interviews. Over 60 recruiters, out of 500 contacted, called him with positive feedback on the achievements in his resume and "future prospects" in their area.
But not one led to an interview. That's very unusual. Recruiters usually don't call unless they have an assignment that fits you, but this was a particularly difficult time for recruiters.
Fortunately for Marty, answering ads, contacting employers directly, networking, and developing opportunities based on events, all proved to be more fruitful. He interviewed for over a dozen good jobs in six months, but each time came out second or third.
His spirits sagged then, probably lower than they had a number of times before. Suddenly, as so often happens when things look bleakest, three good opportunities surfaced.
He was a finalist for all of them. At last, no more "Mr. Second or Third." Two turned into offers, one in medical products and the other in foods. Both met our criteria for a suitable job, and both promised future growth potential, but he opted to go with the industry he knew. His back condition was not a problem for the national company that hired him.
Getting Past Doubts About Racial Discrimination ..... With Enthusiasm
Ed T remains one of my favorite clients. A former bench chemist in a southwestern state, Ed had developed back problems which caused him to go on disability. His condition had improved to the point where he had been searching for a job more than three months when he asked the insuror for assistance, and was referred to me.
Ed was a brilliant fellow, with degrees in Chemical Engineering and Math, graduate studies in Operations Management and Industrial Technology, and a solid work record. There were some problems, though. He was extremely soft-spoken and, as is true of many people with a scientific bent, not very adept at self-promotion.
Also, he had decided to switch from chemist to a process engineering position, and while he had the educational credentials, didn't have experience specifically in process engineering.
Complicating matters was the fact that Ed was an Afro-American, and sometimes felt people were surprised when a black man showed up for the interview. This was beginning to get to him emotionally, since he never knew when, where, or whether this might be a problem.
We got past that quickly. Ed agreed with me that he didn't want to waste time interviewing with anyone who'd reject him on the basis of ethnic group membership, so we included in his cover letter the fact that he was Afro-American, which might be important for employers trying to meet Affirmative Action goals, but that he wanted to be hired only for his ability to contribute, not to meet some numerical goals.
No more surprises at interviews, and no more uncertainties about motivation. The resulting peace of mind helped Ed considerably.
We conducted a multi-state job search, contacting hundreds of recruiters and employers identified in a computer search. Ed had over two dozen interviews over the next three months, but while people seemed to react favorably, he didn't get any offers.
We worked on ways he could express more enthusiasm in his low-key manner, and hammered out specific words he could use in followup letters, that would reinforce the enthusiasm factor.
It finally worked, and he got what he considered an ideal position, finally making the switch from chemist to process engineer. Three weeks after he'd been hired, his boss told him that they liked him originally, but not enough to hire him.
It was after all three people who interviewed him got a personalized enthusiastic followup letter, that they changed their minds. In a meeting the day they got the letters, the boss had said to the other two, "How can we pass up someone who is this excited about joining us?"
Coming Oh So Close ..... and Missing
Jim V had been a highly successful medical sales rep, selling primarily to hospitals in a large midwestern city for a major medical products manufacturer, and then taking on an international marketing position, before his stroke.
He had largely recovered after two years, but wasn't having much success in a job search, and asked his insuror for some assistance. In his late 50s, he felt his age was against him, as well as the perception of some people that a stroke leaves you less capable on a permanent basis.
While he had gotten some interviews, he hadn't received any offers. The letters and resume he had prepared were just average, and didn't really get across his strong record of achievement that was evident from the information he filled out on my forms.
We developed stronger materials, and an action plan that included not only local opportunities, but also contact with national firms that might want a rep to cover the region surrounding the city in which he lived.
For specific contact information, we identified a suitable directory, and Jim succeeded in developing some interest on the part of many companies, but none quite strong enough to create a new position for him. The Opportunity Collision came into play here, as Jim suddenly received an offer for a job he hadn't really sought, totally apart from the medical field.
He and his wife had been active for some time in church activities, helping teenagers, and now the church at the national level was interested in hiring a couple to tour a large midwest region, training the local trainers for its program aimed at helping teenagers. It didn't pay the kind of money Jim wanted, but the other satisfactions of the job outweighed that, and he had decided to accept it.
He did, and was on an emotional high in anticipation of all the good he could do, when the offer was suddenly taken away. Politics can extend even into church organizations, apparently, and another, more "connected" couple was offered the position. Jim was embarrassed, depressed, and not sure he had the motivation to keep searching.
I have a theory that when people spend a great deal of energy and emotion pursuing something, and almost but don't quite make it happen, all that energy kind of hangs around in the air somewhere, just waiting to make something else happen, so that inevitably something else does pop up very quickly, and it's likely to be every bit as appealing as the thing that didn't happen.
Theory or no, in Jim's case it happened. Within two weeks of his big disappointment, he started his job search efforts again, and one of the four action avenues (this time networking) turned up an old acquaintance.
It seems this fellow had started up a medical products company in another midwest city, and needed someone with Jim's background to handle marketing and also act as National Sales Manager, signing up reps or distributors in various parts of the country.
After a few discussions, a job description was worked out that suited Jim perfectly. He'd spend one week per month in the other city, one or two weeks traveling, and one or two working from his home town. His wife could travel with him when and if she pleased.
In retrospect, Jim feels he never would have found this opportunity if he hadn't first lost the other. He's also convinced somebody "up there" is watching out for him. Maybe. And maybe it's a case of just not giving up.
Still More People Who've Gotten Jobs, And Taught Me About .....
Searching Through The Pain, and Finding The Silver Lining
Ned was a key executive with a large retail chain, working in the Southeast, when severe colitis forced him to go on disability. He'd been out over a year when he was referred to me.
He still had a lot of pain on occasion, but wanted to get started on a job search. As good an executive as he was, he hadn't really appreciated just how valuable his contributions had been, until he filled out my information-surfacing forms and saw the resume created for him, based on that information.
This renewed his confidence and enthusiasm, and letters were created showing him how he could approach people in the industry on an upbeat note, with an eye toward the future, rather than taking a defensive tone about the disability.
We laid out a carefully structured plan, involving hundreds of contacts, and over ten months' time this resulted in several interviews for high-level executive positions in retail all across the country.
But nothing clicked. Despite very positive feedback after interviews, in many instances where there were no other contenders, no offers developed. We checked out potential reference problems, and found there were none.
It seemed a case of his position being so important, that it often was not just a plain hiring decision, but rather, a question of the basic direction a company was to take, and inertia usually prevailed.
Ned's physical condition took a turn for the worse at this time, developing into Crohn's Disease, causing more intense pain, and we called off our efforts for a few months. His doctors did some good things for him, and he was ready to start again, but we had noticed a correlation between the pain and the job search activity.
Our conclusion? The stress of the job search exacerbated the pain. So we restricted job search efforts to contacts with friends, and only then on a basically social level, not actively seeking referrals.
It's a good thing we did. For one thing, it gave Ned an opportunity to do a lot of reading and reflecting, and he dealt with a number of issues involving the human spirit and relationships. A few of his key relationships improved substantially, and he built a new perspective on life, which gave him greater peace of mind.
For another, Ned's conversations with a friend who had been successful in a different segment of retailing, were not only very calming, reassuring and full of positive reinforcement, but they also led to a referral on the West Coast.
It seems a fellow there had built a profitable men's clothing chain, but needed another capable executive to help him grow it to the next stage. The situation was made to order for Ned, and he was hired as President.
He contacted me a year later to let me know that all aspects of his life were now quite satisfying and continuing to improve. He's another among a long list of "Silver Lining" clients who say they would never wish their disability on themselves, but that a number of good things eventually resulted from it.
Pursuing the Opportunity Collision
Mary J was an exceptionally competent attorney with severe allergy problems. She had worked in a high-rise building in a major city, and while it wasn't a "sick building," its air conditioning system put out air that set off her allergies to the point where she couldn't work. She found that to be the case in most high-rises.
One of the few places in the country where she found relief was on a section of California's southern coast, where she could swim regularly, and where some of the office buildings were just one or two stories high, often with windows that opened to let in fresh ocean breezes. She decided to move there, and relocated to one of the more desirable coastal cities.
When I met her, she had already requested a settlement from the insuror that she considered sufficient to meet her financial needs while she established a practice in a new state. Part of her settlement was to have my services in helping her get established.
We implemented a job search locally, with the proposition that she could work in a number of important behind-the-scenes functions for a law firm until she was admitted to practice law in California.
With her confident and creative personality, she remained open to any opportunities that might come her way, regardless of whether they fit her idea of the ideal position. With each passing week her physical condition improved in the coastal environment, and she was able to energetically pursue a number of options.
It was this combination of open perspective and enthusiastic implementation that led to an unexpected opportunity. One of the largest law firms in the town she had selected needed to hire an Administrator. But they had determined that this position would be unusual.
Not only would the individual manage the business operations of the firm, but also serve as public spokesperson, helping to set and implement policy with respect to public and community relations, as well as coordinating the firm's efforts to attract new clients.
Mary had achievements in each of these areas with her previous firm, and the job was well suited to her personality. The multi-aspected nature of the job appealed to her, and she decided to accept the position, even though she would not be functioning as an attorney.
There was an understanding that if she wanted to function as an attorney after she'd been in the job for a year, she could train someone else for her position, and make the move then.
Six months later she was still feeling good about the move, and feeling better than ever physically. By remaining open to The Opportunity Collision, she apparently found a position that was exceptionally well suited for her.
Rebounding From an Emotional Low
There will always be a special place in my heart for Don K. A young man in his late 20s, he was referred to me by an insuror after they got a report from a local agency in the midwest that Don was not motivated or cooperative, and was probably depressed, even though his disability was a physical one related to back pain.
I never met Don, but in our first conversation he expressed what seemed to me to be a very sincere desire to find a good job, and he didn't feel the kinds of jobs he'd been looking at were challenging. He considered them dead-ends.
I explained I might be able to help him get a better job if he had experience and achievements that would impress a potential employer, and asked him to tell me some of the good things he'd done, how he'd improved things for previous employers.
What I heard impressed me, so I asked him to fill out my information-surfacing forms, which he did quickly and returned them to me. Based on that information, I was able to construct an accurate resume highlighting many achievements which would qualify him to manage a retail operation, or some aspect of a business.
I also created some letters Don could use as the first step in contacting potential employers, and in implementing the other action avenues as well. These materials really boosted Don's morale, as he saw for the first time in writing just how much he had contributed, and how creative he'd been in coming up with good solutions to business problems in the past.
We agreed on a simple action plan that he could implement quickly, and with each action step his enthusiasm grew. It was only six weeks before he had an offer for what he considered an ideal position, managing the operations side of a local service business involved with commercial building maintenance and the repair of equipment.
Getting Past The Problem of Being Stuck in One Industry
In one form or another, Joe A from Virginia had been in car sales, or Finance and Insurance related to car sales, for most of the previous ten years before his disability, back and leg problems, which resulted from a car accident. Joe had recovered enough to start looking for another job, and approached his insuror to see if they could provide any assistance. That's when I was asked to work with him.
We created two resumes, one for sales or sales management, and the other for operations manager in a service, financial or "information" industry. We also developed letters that focused on the future and what Joe could do for an employer. We targeted away from automotive sales because, with a few exceptions, Joe felt the dealers in his area didn't have opportunities with a promising long-term future.
Joe used all four action avenues, and interviewed for a number of positions outside the auto industry. Because he had to write a lot of letters, he purchased a used computer and developed some skill in using it. But over a period of eight months, he wasn't able to get a single offer.
During that time he even approached car dealers he thought might provide long-term personal growth, but got no offers. Joe suspected that one bad relationship from his past might be the cause of his problems in the auto industry. Fortunately we never got the chance to find out.
That's because Joe had refused to let himself be limited to autos, and had come to think of himself as a sales-oriented manager who could function well in most industries. It was that mindset that opened an ideal opportunity for him.
Two people he had met through friends owned an unusually successful computer store at a time when many were failing. They handled a lot of sophisticated problems for their customers, who relied on their special expertise.
They wanted to open a second store that would target non-sophisticated users, again offering some unusual services and advice to people in that market, as they did in their existing operation.
But they had no time to manage it, and realized that the best person to manage it would be someone who had recently learned computers and could therefore relate to the average customer. They hadn't found that person, so they hadn't opened the second store.
They were discussing this missed opportunity in front of Joe and his friend when, without a moment's hesitation, Joe told them they had just found the ideal person, so they should now move ahead. Within two months he was managing their newly opened store. During that time he had learned much more about pc's, but when he didn't have an answer he knew it was just a phone call away.
It's unusual for people to call me a year after we've completed our work together, but Joe did. He wanted me to know that, despite all the bad news about retail computer stores, the one he managed was flourishing, and he'd hired two people.
More important from his perspective, he'd now shown he could function well even in technically demanding businesses, so that whatever happened to computers, the credibility he had gained gave him greater job security than ever before.
Moving From Clerical to Management ..... With an Unexpected Employer
Linda P was an exceptionally competent New York City woman in her late 30s, but she'd been underemployed for the past five years, working in secretarial and clerical positions for a major broadcasting company, after taking time out to care for her children.
Ten years earlier she had held a variety of highly responsible positions in a family construction firm that built many types of commercial structures. I was asked to help her find a new position after she was sufficiently recovered from painful gastrointestinal problems that had caused her to go on disability.
As we began to work together, it quickly became apparent that she really didn't want to go back to a secretarial position, yet she had lost her confidence for taking on the kinds of responsible jobs she had held in the past.
I've never had any success helping a person go after a job they weren't excited about, so that left us one option to go after a more responsible position. We worked first to restore her self-confidence. Filling out the information forms helped a lot.
Discussions in which she had to admit she'd really done all those good things helped a lot more. And seeing the resumes and letters finished the job. There were two resumes, one positioning her for facilities management, (you don't necessarily have to emphasize your most recent experience if it doesn't help), and the other for office management.
Linda had to admit she was well qualified for both positions, and either one would be satisfying. Over the next four months she implemented one of the most creative and well thought out job searches I've had the pleasure to work on, uncovering dozens of potential opportunities with architectural and construction firms, consulting firms, and many other types of companies.
In the course of doing so, she got back to the broadcasting company as instructed, to make sure she'd have the right kind of enthusiastic references.
And the unexpected happened.
The new resumes combined with a few well-rehearsed CARE stories had the desired effect, but not with the employers for which they'd been intended. Instead, more than a few people at the broadcasting company now saw her in an entirely new light.
For the first time they appreciated all the talents she'd had but never used while working there. And one of them referred her to the Facilities Manager.
Within two weeks Linda was working in a position three levels higher than the one she'd had when she was forced to go on disability. She was heavily involved in creating new sets for shows hosted by famous personalities, working closely with them, and loving it.
At the same time she coordinated the refurbishing of offices owned by the company in many parts of midtown New York. The versatility demanded by this job equaled that of her previous position in the construction firm. She was where she felt she belonged, and she'd never been more productive.
It's rare that a person can move up so dramatically in the same company, especially after a disability. What happened? Well, as Linda pointed out six months later at lunch with her husband and me, her experience hadn't changed, but the way she looked at it and talked about it sure had. And when she started to believe in herself once again, it was easy to make believers out of other people.
And Finally More People Who've Gotten Jobs, And Taught Me About...
Reassessing Where You Fit at Age 56
Imagine this. You're 56 years old. You're significantly overweight. You've been out of work for two years on disability, diagnosed as severe depression, but you come back to the point where you're considered okay to return to work.
When you go out after a job, you are totally unsuccessful, even though your resume shows that as a reporter you covered high level events and personalities in the nation's capital.
Likely as not, you wouldn't be feeling too confident or optimistic. That's how it was for Harry C when I met with him in Virginia. Fortunately, it turned out he was creating a lot of his own problems. He was limiting himself by thinking he could work only for one of the major networks.
And by including on his resume the names of famous personalities and events, he was giving employers the impression he'd be happy only with a top position that had lots of visibility, even though that wasn't the case.
And he hadn't given careful thought to the many valuable things he could do for other types of news-related organizations with his years of experience. Once we identified them,
Harry realized that, while news and broadcasting had changed dramatically since he last worked, there were still plenty of niches where he'd fit quite well, and where he could make important contributions. We created letters that focused on these areas of future contributions, rather than a resume that focused on the past. Harry lost over 60 pounds.
We worked on an interview approach that included a lot of CARE stories. His confidence and self-esteem took off on a vertical climb, and he started to open up opportunities in the less glamorous but highly challenging segments of the broadcast industry.
Within six months he had won what he considered the ideal job - a position as Executive Producer for a company that produced video news releases for major associations and other organizations.
He had succeeded against what he had considered some pretty high odds - until he realized a lot of the odds were only in his own mind. He was now the proud possessor of a new and positive outlook on life.
Beating a Disability, a Reference Problem, and a Lousy Resume
Tyrone N had been a youth counselor in Washington DC, and a good one. When I met him, he had already beaten a physical disability associated with lower back pain, taking a little over a year to do it. But he wasn't successful in getting a new job, so the insuror asked me to help.
I soon learned that he had not only been an excellent counselor, but had also developed and put in place new methods, procedures, and programs that were very successful in practical working situations, and had been selected to receive special instruction at a national training academy, after which he had created even more innovative programs.
But none of this was on the resume. It came out only after discussions based on my information-surfacing forms. The resume we then put together gave a clear picture of a truly outstanding performer, and Tyrone began to get a lot of interviews for positions he wanted. But he wasn't getting any offers.
To our surprise, we learned he was getting a bad reference from a previous boss. Why? No good reason, really. Mainly it was a case of the boss feeling she was made to look bad by comparison to Tyrone's achievements, and was improperly labeling him "difficult to manage."
There are standard things you do in such instances. First, you try to avoid the reference, and you make sure the other references emphasize the opposite of what the bad reference says. If that doesn't work, you explain to employers that you had an honest disagreement with that person, and describe the situation from your vantage point, attempting to "defuse" it.
If that doesn't work, you directly confront the bad reference, and ask them to stop. If that doesn't work, you need to make it clear you're being deprived of making a livelihood and will be forced to legal action.
In Tyrone's case, we only had to go the first two steps, avoiding the bad reference and making sure the others emphasized how easy he was to manage. Within weeks, he had an offer that combined counseling and management, which is what he wanted.
Making It In a Man's World Twice
Lillian W had risen through the ranks to hold a responsible position in materials management, production scheduling and control, with a major food processor in the Pacific Northwest, the only woman ever to do so in that facility.
But a lot of people resented her, even though she had a delightful personality. When I spoke with her by phone, she'd been out for more than a year with a physical disability, but there had also been an overlay of depression, due to some bad experiences on the job, compounded by marital and family problems that resulted in divorce.
Although I never met Lillian, I came to respect her as an especially resilient personality, who was capable of putting bad experiences behind her and getting on with life, choosing to take a positive perspective about the future.
There was no job for her with her previous employer, and she wasn't sure whether she wanted to go back into production, seek out a position in Accounting, where she'd taken many courses, or switch to sales and customer service, taking advantage of her pleasing personality and what reports had indicated were her good looks (confirmed some time later by a photo she sent me of Lillian holding her two-year-old daughter).
Our solution was the Close Encounter With Stated Goals, and I created resumes and letters for Lillian which positioned her for each of the three options. Despite the fact that she was hard-pressed financially and couldn't afford to live on her own, she was exceptionally diligent in implementing all four action avenues.
I don't think she could have done it without the computer-generated information on employer prospects I had provided, or without the help of her parents, who happened to be my age. Her mother served as her "search coordinator." She and I became "phone friends" over time.
Eventually Lillian uncovered opportunities in both Oregon and Washington. She accepted one that lasted just a few weeks. The employer had misrepresented some aspects of the job, and hadn't informed her about the active opposition the primarily female work force in that part of the plant would put up against any female boss.
After a number of months Lillian found the ideal job in Seattle. Once again, she had chosen production in the food industry, even though she also had an offer for an accounting position. This time, though, she had done her homework and knew she'd be working in an environment in which she'd be appreciated for her abilities.
She was right. The last I heard from her, she'd already gotten a promotion, was living on her own, happier on the job than she'd ever been, was enjoying her daughter, and had two handsome fellows proposing marriage.
Making an Unexpected Switch Geographically and Career-wise
I'll never forget Jack R, if only because my meeting with him involved the smoothest car trip I've ever had coming back from New England. It started at midnight after a snowstorm, and I don't believe I saw more than a dozen other cars on the 250 miles of newly cleared highways until I got into the Metropolitan New York City area.
I had met with Jack at his home in southeast New Hampshire, after the insuror had asked me to help him. Before he hurt his back, his most recent positions had been in inventory control and production scheduling for an electronics manufacturer.
He had been working with an agency in New Hampshire that helped him find a production job with a roofing company, but it hadn't lasted more than a few weeks. Because I was traveling to Massachusetts anyway, I'd arranged to meet him almost as soon as he was referred, with no opportunity for him to complete my information-surfacing forms.
So he provided me the information verbally over his kitchen table. I've learned not to be surprised by what I learn in such instances.
Given Jack's outgoing personality, I wasn't really surprised to learn that he also had some sales experience. Still in his early thirties, he had a nice blend of experience that covered sales, production, materials, and purchasing. I explained that this opened up many different kinds of opportunities, including that of general management for a small company.
Jack hadn't really thought much about his sales experience before, and really hadn't considered himself qualified to be a general manager, no matter how small the company. As we discussed the specifics of his achievements, however, he had to admit that he had experience in all the component parts of management, and probably was qualified after all.
We created two resumes and a number of letters that enabled him to pursue different types of positions, since he wasn't sure what he wanted. Our computer search for employer prospects included parts of New England and the Tampa/Clearwater area in Florida, where he thought he might want to live if he decided to relocate.
One of the key things I taught Jack was to tell CARE stories that got across how he had initiated new procedures or made improvements in old ones to increase productivity, and how he had won new customers in sales.
His resumes and letters opened up opportunities in New England and Florida, and he used his CARE stories well to impress prospective employers. The most promising position was in Florida, where he became General Manager of a small electronic component manufacturer that couldn't afford both a sales manager and a production manager, so they got two for the price of one in Jack.
Two years later Jack told me that the company had grown, and he was forced to admit he'd done a good job as General Manager.
Gaining New Direction from the Close Encounter
Seemingly by coincidence, I had two California clients at the same time who both chose new directions after a Close Encounter With A Stated Goal. Ronnie L thought he wanted to start a sales training business for route salesmen, using the techniques he had learned to become very productive in such a position over the years.
His arm injury wouldn't keep him from doing it effectively, he reasoned, and a lot of companies with route salespeople had already expressed strong initial interest when he had approached them.
So I quickly put together a first draft for a brochure, created letters that would serve as initial contacts with prospects, and developed a step-by-step action plan that would have him contacting prospects within two weeks. When I didn't hear from him after three weeks, I called, suspecting something had happened.
It had. As soon as he got my materials, Ronnie realized he could be in business the following week, and it brought home to him some strong feelings that he really didn't want to do sales training anymore.
He never would have realized it unless he got close enough to actually feel it, he said, but now he was sure that what he really wanted was ..... jewelry repair !! He'd always enjoyed it as a hobby, and now he planned to take a job with a local jeweler, perhaps opening up his own business at some point in the future.
It was pretty much the same kind of experience for Dorothy V. Until her stress disability, she had done an outstanding job for an investment banking firm, heading up their automated office operations and managing conferences and events they sponsored. She now felt she wanted to either sell some of the sophisticated equipment she used to purchase, or become active in public relations.
So I created two resumes for her, and some letters, and promised two more resumes for other directions she wanted to pursue, but asked for her feedback from the first two before starting the others. Well she loved the resumes, she told me, but they'd had an unintended effect.
As she read them, she began to realize it was likely she could actually win one of those jobs, and that made her face squarely her current priorities, values, and life goals. When she did, she knew she didn't want any part of the stress that went with the types of jobs she originally said she wanted. But she found that out only after "getting close" emotionally to the prospect of winning those jobs.
The option she chose was a new field at the time, fingernail painting. She intended to work first in the shop of another woman, and then she planned to open her own shop. It gave her an outlet for her creativity, and instead of stress, the daily working environment was one that she found to have a beneficial healing effect on her, physically and mentally.
I told her it was wise to follow her own inner instincts, but that if she tired of the fingernail painting, or wanted to try something more aggressive in the future, to be sure to get back to me. She thanked me, volunteering she never would have known what she really wanted if we hadn't gone through our process, and said she'd be sure to get back if and when things changed. She never got back.
Whenever there's a seeming coincidence, such as having Ronnie and Dorothy as clients at the same time, with almost identical results, I feel that life is trying to teach me something, and I look for the lesson to be learned.
Maybe the lesson here is that Close Encounters can sometimes lead to totally unexpected directions, and even when they appear to make little sense at first, if they feel right, they're worthwhile following through. There's usually a sound logical reason why we have impulses that seem to come out of nowhere, and the unexpected often turns out to be quite suitable.