Gearing up for my new job

Getting everything in place

In three weeks, I will be at my new job. It seems surreal. I am finishing up with my current job, just trying to get all my “ducks in a row”… along with rolling with all the change that’s going on in the organization.

It’s a hard time for most people there. And it’s hard to not get pulled down into their frame of mind.

So, to counter-act that, I am expanding my skillset and gearing up for the next stage in my career. I’m taking some courses that will get me prepared for my new job — and my new career. I’ve always been out on the “front lines” of my industry, and this is giving me the chance to get out ahead of it again.

It’s pretty amazing. Exciting. And the beauty part is, the line of work I’m getting into is so new, there are no real college degrees in it, so the fact that I don’t have a Bachelor’s or Master’s doesn’t work against me. Nobody has that, yet. It’s all about practical results. Being able to do the job. Produce the numbers. Meet the need that my employer has.

I’ve got them covered, in that respect.

Anyway, I’m feeling like I have a new lease on life, with this new job. I’m finally getting out of the rut I fell into, when I crashed my head down those stairs in 2004. It’s taken me 10 years (and a few months) to get myself functional again the way I want to be… the way I need to be. And I still have a ways to go.

I can get there. I’m not going to be held back. I can use the same sorts of skills I developed in my TBI recovery to recover my career, as well.

Now, this isn’t all happening overnight, and it’s not happening in a vacuum. Nor is it some situation where my fairy godmother or a genie from a bottle is showing up to shower pixie dust on me. I have put in a lot of hard work, over the past years, to get to this point. I have been studying and studying, working and working. Back when I was injured in 2004 until around 2010, I was unable to read books the way I had before. I had always been an avid reader, but I lost the ability to keep information in mind long enough to go from page to page. I would literally lose the train of thought if it went on past several paragraphs.

So, I quit reading, period. I read websites, in bits and pieces… news… etc. Whatever I could, without wiping myself out. I studied TBI and the brain, because that was the only thing that held my attention. It was the only motivated reading I could do, and even that was in fits and starts. One of the books that changed my life — The Brain That Changes Itself — I had to read in bits and pieces. In fact, I’m not sure I ever completely finished it (I should do that now).

I surfed the web and researched brain injury. I struggled to find really good sources of information — partly because there weren’t as many out there as there are today, and partly because it was hard for me to sort through all the search results and decide what was helpful and what wasn’t.

I also studied trauma and its effects. I managed to read a few books about trauma, but it was slow going. I had to find summaries online to really make sense of things.

Over time, my ability to read improved — ironically it came back after I had given up on it completely and decided, “Well, I’ll never read again…” It was slow going — fits and starts. But eventually it came back, and I worked my way back slowly.

One of the books I read (Aging With Grace – a study of nuns who outlived the surrounding population by 10-20 years and stayed sharper and functional longer than was typical for their geographical area) showed how “idea density” can contribute to holding off Alzheimers and other kinds of cognitive decline. Basically, with “idea density”, the more ideas that are packed into a sentence / paragraph, the more “dense” are the ideas. And I found out that scientific research papers had a lot of idea density. Not the most, but a pretty decent amount.

So, I started actively looking for scientific papers about TBI that related to me. Long-term outcomes. Childhood head trauma. Behavior issues. Mood disorders. Mental health issues. Sports injuries. Recovery approaches. Rehab. Frontal lobe and executive function. Mindfulness. I specifically searched for information that related to me, that would be useful and meaningful… and I could put to good use.

All together, over the course of several years, I found and downloaded over 300 research papers about TBI and TBI recovery. There were a lot more that I found and did not download. I did not read all of them from beginning to end, but I did read the summaries and abstracts, and sometimes I read the discussions recapping all their findings.

That was the best rehabilitation I could have asked for, because it was intimately related to me, it was self-directed, and I believe it even helped with my gist reasoning.  When I did read the whole papers, and then I read the abstracts again, I could piece together the central theme of the data that was collected, and learn to screen out the things that did not matter. So, many, many researchers have indirectly contributed to my recovery.

Slowly but surely, I’ve felt my abilities improve. It took time, and it took a lot of diligent effort. Each and every day, just about. Each and every weekend. On my free time. During my not-so-free time. I have had a total life orientation towards TBI recovery that has paid off.

I never felt like there was a choice for me. I have been given a lot of gifts in life, and I believe it’s on me to ensure that I return the favor to the universe — or whoever else has helped me.  I really feel that sense of responsibility. Even when I’ve been at my worst, I never lost sight of that. I knew I had to get back… I was on a mission.

Now I can read books again. And I can remember what I read, pages and chapters later. Miraculous. And I’m gearing up for my new job by reading some more. And thinking. And taking some classes. One class I started, but I’ve realized it’s best that I do another class first, so that I have a better foundation. I also need to strengthen some of my skills, including math. Geometry has always made perfect sense to me, and I was doing advanced fractions when I was in elementary school, years before most kids even had a concept of fractions.

It all just made perfect sense.

But over the years, that sense got kind of trained out of me, because nobody was really qualified to help me excel. They were so busy trying to get kids “normalized”, and I was so un-normal in some ways, that they focused on my weaknesses, rather than my strengths. And in the process, any latent ability I had for advanced materials got lost in the shuffle because of my attention/distraction difficulties, behavior issues, and trouble understanding what people were saying to me. I kept getting punished because I simply did not understand.

Now things are different. I’m all grown up. At least that’s what they tell me 😉 And I have to let go of that earlier conditioning. I’m not stupid. I’m just out of synch with a lot of the world. And now I have a new chance to start fresh in a line of work that suits me so well, it’s scary. I’m going to my dream job in less than three weeks, and I want to be ready for it.

So, I’m studying. I’m finding more papers to read, that have to do with my new field, rather than only TBI. I’m also pacing myself, taking my time, not getting ahead of myself and being very systematic about my approach. Because it matters to me so deeply, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow.

On top of it, I have an appointment tomorrow with a trainer who focuses on strengthening specific neurological features. I’ve been reading about this method over the past couple of weeks, and I’m very excited to see what comes of our meeting tomorrow.

It’s all good.

Onward.

Learning for its own sake – and everything else, too

So, I’ve got this new perspective on things, and I’ve got this new role at work, which is expanded and far better than what I was doing before… and all the while I know that it is not what I truly want to be doing, over the long term. I also know that it actually puts me at a disadvantage to focus 100% on this role and make it my long-term choice, because I do not have a college degree (I attended for four years, but ran out of money and hit a rough patch, and I could never afford to carve out the time to go back to school. I had too many health / TBI / learning issues, and I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants, from the time I hit the workaday world. So, no college degree — and there’s probably never going to be one, unless I become magically independently wealthy and can take time out of my life to do the coursework.

Yeah, not much likelihood of that happening anytime soon. I’m pushing 50. Maybe after I retire — at age 85 — I’ll have the time.

Anyway, what this means, realistically speaking, is that for the type of leadership work I am going to be going into (that is, being in charge of getting people on board and ensuring they deliver on what they’ve promised), if you want to progress in any organization — especially a global one — you must have a degree — if not several. You can’t just get by with “equivalent experience” — in order to play at the top levels, you have to possess that piece of paper… preferably several, most of them advanced degrees… in order to move up.

So, while it’s all very well and good that I’m in this high profile leadership position in the new organization, I have to be realistic and expect that it will not be long-lived. So, I have to stay fresh and current in the cutting-edge areas that don’t yet have a lot of coursework associated with them. And I have to keep building my portfolio of products I’ve helped create, so that I have something to show for all my work.

That is the one area where I am well-appointed — an actual track record of things I’ve produced and helped to build.

Now I just need to get them all together.

And I shall — especially because the most beautiful part of this whole portfolio building process is that I will be using the technologies I am seeking to perfect — so I will get more bang for the buck — a double-whammy of “how you like me now?” that speaks for itself, even where my educational background falls down.

Yes, this is good. I am in a good position at work… and I am in full possession of the realization that this will not last forever, and the bubble will eventually burst. Heck, it could burst in a year, when they re-org us again. Or it could happen sooner.

Bottom line is, I can’t waste time and rest on my laurels. That would be a terrible mistake.

So, I’m getting inventive and taking initiative. I’m training myself and using what I’m learning, not only in my daily job, but also in my side activities. And it’s good. It’s really, really good. For three reasons:

  1. It is keeping me current with emerging and highly popular and in-demand (and lucrative) technological skills.
  2. It is giving me a safety net of skills I can fall back on, if/when the current managerial/leadership position ceases to pan out.
  3. It is helping me get my brain back to where I want it to be, learning-wise, so I can not only know how best to learn, but I can also know that I can trust my brain again.

These are three incredibly important aspects of my life that — more than any amount of money — are the true “safety net” of my life.

  1. Proficiency
  2. Fund of marketable knowledge and skills
  3. Confidence in my ability to learn and adapt

I let these things slide before, when I got comfortable and over-confident… and never imagined that a fall down some stairs would derail me this severely. I made that mistake repeatedly over the past years, when I figured I was “good” where I was, and if I just kept doing what I was doing, everything would be fine. I was wrong – so very, very wrong. And I have a lot of ground to make up.

I’m not making that same mistake again. This is a new day for me, a new world. A new life.

So, that being said, I’m going to get on with my day, learn some things, and make the most of this day off, before I go back into the fray.

Post-TBI Job Strategies for the New Year

I’ve been thinking a lot about my job strategies for the coming year. Even though it’s been some years since my latest head injury, I still have yet to fully adjust my career approach to this reality. But since getting confirmation from my neuropsych that all is in fact not perfectly well with me, cognitively speaking, I’ve been literally forced to look at the decisions I’ve made with regard to work — and with regard to the work I’m considering doing — so that I don’t get myself into hot water that has me end up like a frog in progressively hotter water… never fully aware that the water around me is heating up, until I’m drawing my proverbial last gasps in a boiling cauldron.

I’ve always been a pretty vain person, professionally speaking. Academically, I always knew I could do better than I did. At least, I was convinced I could… I just didn’t “feel like it,” I told myself. In most things in life, where I encountered difficulties that I didn’t fully understand, I often told myself that I just wasn’t succeeding because I wasn’t fully applying myself, and I wasn’t fully applying myself because things were boring or I just didn’t feel like doing more than the bare minimum.

Looking back now, I can see that I often covered up my confusion and disabilities and difficulties at following what was going on around me, by making lame excuses that weren’t even true. And I realize that over the past four years since my most recent TBI, I’ve essentially done the same thing: told myself that I was consciously choosing to not learn the things I need to learn to stay employable, because they were “beneath” me, or they weren’t challenging enough to hold my attention, or I just had other things to do, than apply myself to mastering them.

But these days, I can see that not only is this not true — I do have trouble with learning in ways that used to come easily to me — but I need to fully own up to the fact that I have newfound limitations that have substantially changed the way I learn, the way I retain information, the way I relate to the world around me, and the way I go about starting tasks. I have to admit that my skills, sharp as they are, still move more slowly than they used to. And I take longer to grasp certain concepts that used to come quickly to me. I can no longer acquire information the way I used to: starting at the beginning of a book and reading through to the end and remembering everything I read, the whole way through. Now, I have to use other strategies to retain the information, and in fact I need to develop new strategies to even get started reading and learning the information. Forget retention. It’s the initiation that stumps me, these days.

I also need to realize that I cannot assume that just because I have my heart set on making certain “advances” in my career path, that it will work out for me. Things like managing other people and being able to navigate complex political organizational landscapes, are now not only annoying and frustrating to me — my diminished ability to deal with their complexities — can actually jeopardize my career path, even my job. Things that used to just irritate me or even roll off my back now send me halfway ’round the globe in a fit of frustration and anger. I not only have a harder time dealing with things like communication and temporary setbacks, but I also have a hard time dealing with my inability to deal with them. All too easily and quickly, I slip into a downward spiral of raised hackles, raised voice, and hot temper. Not good, if you’re in management, I’d say.

So, I need to rethink my career path and reorient myself towards the way I learn, the way I work, the way I get through my days.

Am I making sense? I hope so. But here are some examples, in case you’re as confused as I may be:

Old Way of Learning

1. Decide I want to learn something, just ’cause it sounds cool.
2. Pick up a book and read it through, using a highlighter to call out key concepts.
3. Now and then sit down at a computer and tap away at some exercises. Get the general gist of the new material.
4. Trust that I “get it” and start using what I’ve learned in the everyday.

New Way of Learning

1. Find out what skillsets are important and make me marketable. Pick one or two that I want to focus on.
2. Go online and find articles about the skill to read, to generally familiarize myself with them.
3. Install the language/program on my computer and get my development environment in place to work with it.
4. Find working, best-practice examples of the skills in action, such as code snippets and small applications, and then fiddle with them to see what happens if I make this change or that change.
5. Keep fiddling with the pieces, until I can see, feel, smell, taste, touch the way the language/application works, so that it becomes a part of me and it’s almost second nature. Start at the end, and work my way back towards the beginning, very hands-on and experimental, and involved with the inner workings.
6. Forget about trying to understand the underlying principles and the minute details of how it’s all put together from the start. Just concern myself with becoming familiar enough with the pieces, that I don’t get frustrated and confused and anxious and irate when I hit a bump with the language/application, and I can just work my way through it.

Old Way of Defining My Career Path

1. Trust my employer/headhunter to guide me in the right direction.
2. Keep an eye out for new opportunities and pursue them with all my gusto.
3. Keep moving up in the world, moving from production to management, and on up the mangerial ladder, into the corporate stratosphere.

New Way of Defining My Career Path

1. Keep a close eye on the job market. What are people paying for?
2. Focus on my skills, my technical proficiencies, rather than looking for managerial positions.
3. Keep my attention on jobs that involve working with machines and logic, rather than people. Forget about climbing the corporate ladder. That’s just not happening for me. I cannot deal with the complexities of politics and I cannot be responsible for the well-being of others. I really just want to code, alright?
4. If I start to be pressed for signs that I want to advance, assure my employer/headhunter that I’m much better off — and so are they — if I just keep my focus on dealing with machines, not people.

The last piece is tricky, because employers who have loved me in the past (and yes, in the past, before I fell and turned into a different person, they really did), have been really encouraging when it came to “advancing” through moving into management — project management, team leadership, you name it. As though the real value to their operations lay in my being able to make people obey me the way I could get machines to. Well, fortunately or unfortunately, people are not like machines, and even though I did a great job of handling people in the past, and I was able to really motivate and guide others to do their best, the fact is that now I’m a different person with different skills and different inclinations, and a whole lot less interest in running other people’s lives, than in just making the most of my own.

It saddens me, yes, to think I need to let go of that old potential I once had. I feel a distinct sense of loss and grief, that my abilities have been so sharply curtailed. But on the other hand, I’d rather be realistic and honest and accurate about where I stand, right here and now, than hold out false hope for something that not only isn’t very realistic, but could have serious negative consequences not only for me but for my direct reports, if I ever bit off more than I could chew, functionally speaking.

This is a new way of looking at things. But it’s a necessary one, as well.