Following the Yellow Brick Road to Employment Happiness

A windy road

Choosing your life’s work is no easy feat. Young people are told they can do anything they want, which is a nice sentiment from parents, teachers, and friends. However, young people may not realize that achieving their desired career goal can take many twists and turns. The career they end up working in is not always the goal they chose as a teenager. My bumpy road from transition-aged youth to working professionals is just an example. 

My Journey 

Many people, including family members and professionals, supported me growing up. The professional who worked with me the longest was my teacher of students with visual impairments, Phyllis. In grade 8, she took me to a local elementary school to observe her work with two children with multiple disabilities. Although I don’t remember precisely what Phyllis did with the children, I remember this as a defining moment in my vocational journey. After that observation, I knew I wanted to be a vision teacher. I had no idea what obstacles would be thrown when I started my vocational journey. 

My mother signed me up for Vocational Rehabilitation services in early high school. North Dakota has only one agency to serve all disabilities, unlike Florida. At the time, I think my first employment goal in my individualized plan for employment was to become a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI). 

Exploring Options 

Later, in grade 8 or 9, I told my counselor I might like to explore social work. He arranged for me to meet with a man who had been a social worker for many years. The social worker discussed his job and daily tasks with me. The only thing that stuck with me from that experience was the social worker’s comment about not liking his job. He said he didn’t like his job and I shouldn’t even consider going into the social work field. After this experience, I decided I didn’t want to go near the field. 

Much later, I told my mother that I might like to pursue graduate work in social work. She told me that this was not a good idea because, in her words, there are too many social workers in the world. Being young and impressionable, I decided that she was right and that I shouldn’t even consider social work a possible career. 

Looking Into my Future 

Later in high school, I attended the school for the blind in North Dakota for career exploration activities. The staff gave the students interest inventories and arranged job shadowing opportunities in students’ areas of interest. In one of these weeks, I had a phone meeting with a clinical psychologist who was blind. That field seemed interesting, but I still wanted to be a vision teacher.   

In my undergraduate years, I decided to study education. Various things steered me away from the education field, even though I still wanted to be a vision teacher. I ended up getting a BA in psychology. I graduated in 2003.   

After Graduation  

I planned on attending a blindness rehabilitation program to prepare people to become assistive technology instructors. I wanted to enter this program because a teaching degree was not required. The short version of this part of my journey is that I did not pass the entrance examination for many reasons.   

Returning to School 

I decided to return to school to try to get my teaching credential. The school closest to my home allowed me to take courses to become a high school psychology teacher, but the experience was fraught with difficulties from beginning to end.   

The coursework wasn’t too difficult. I seemed to do well with assignments and class projects. The teachers were helpful and willing to accommodate my needs. 

A Difficult Return to College 

When it came time for me to student teach, I faced obstacles at what seemed like every turn! Due to many factors, I did not pass student teaching, so I needed to regroup and reflect on my next step. I knew I still wanted to work with individuals who were blind or with low vision, but getting my degree in Visual disabilities was impossible.   

After much soul-searching, I decided to study vision rehabilitation therapy. This path was also fraught with difficulties. I completed my internship semester without receiving a degree.   

Finding Work 

I decided to apply for work in the field of blindness, as some organizations do not require a degree or certification.  

In the fall of 2009, I was hired at a nonprofit in Rochester, NY, to teach assistive technology. I learned many useful lessons in this job. I learned that writing lesson plans isn’t always necessary. I also had many creative ideas to help students learn computer-related concepts. In 2012, I was let go from my position, although it was through no fault of my own.   

This caused yet more soul-searching. 

I found a job in another community at a university disability services office. I knew I wanted to work in this field because of my great experience with the service provider at my undergraduate college. I submitted my application for this job and was hired.   

In this job, I met with students to discuss accommodations and help troubleshoot any accessibility issues they might encounter in their classes or with instructors. My large caseload taught me many important lessons related to time management and organization. These lessons have served me well in future positions, leading to my present job.   

Continuing the Winding Path 

My next position was a teacher at a small nonprofit agency in another community. This was yet another cross-country move that necessitated learning another community.   

This job taught me many useful lessons, such as how to network with others and individualize my teaching to help students of all ages. I also learned important lessons on how to work effectively with supervisory staff and other colleagues.   

In late 2018, life changed, yet again, I was looking for work. I felt confident that I could find a suitable employment opportunity. I felt the lessons I had learned would serve me well. I was hired as a case manager with the state rehabilitation agency and found myself moving yet again.   

I was hired to work with infants, children aged 6-13, and adults not interested in working. I was more of a counselor and case manager. As I settled into this role, I realized this was where I belonged. Teaching was not my strength, but I enjoyed counseling families and providing resources.   

Where I Belong 

When a vocational rehabilitation counselor opening came up, I applied as I was ready to move on. I was hired as the transition counselor, which is the job I currently hold. I’ve been working at this job since March 2020.   

This has been a long journey with many ups and downs. I learned many lessons along the way and feel as though I am where I belong. My lived experience helps clients, as I can empathize with what they are experiencing. Working with transition-aged youth is a special joy to me because I feel I can give them advice I wish I had growing up.   

Learn More: