Journeying into the business world... one undiscovered culture at a time

Welcome to [Per]Suit of Anthropology, a blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist, with a special emphasis on cultural understandings of work-life balance and disability rights in the workplace. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include: Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide, invisible disabilities, Ignatian spirituality, work-life balance, and some discussion of issues of tourism and its impacts on culture, and common human capital practices in private industry and government.






Friday, July 31, 2020

In Honor of #ADA30 Reposting a reflection on working with an invisible disability

What it's like to be invisible

This blog first appeared at https:// usodep.blogs.govdelivery.com/2015/09/10/what-its-like-tobe-invisible/

Ahhh… Invisibility. It’s one of those superpowers we dream about as kids and, let’s face it, as adults too. How often do we wish we could be a fly on the wall, to listen in on conversations, to see what people are like when nobody’s looking? “To be invisible,” we think, “now that would be cool!”

Well, for those of us with invisible disabilities, being invisible is not always as great as one may think. On the one hand, no one can tell if we have a disability just by looking at us. And for those who face visible disabilities, I can only imagine how difficult that must be. Yet for those faced with an invisible disability, it can be difficult for us in school or the workplace to not feel understood as we deal with our own health issues. Many people see us as able bodied adults, and wonder why we can’t work an extra few hours, why we take so long doing problems or taking an exam or why we can’t pull our own weight. In short, it can be a very confusing and lonely experience.

According to the American’s with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, a disability qualifies as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.” Some of the major life activities include:

  • Caring for one’s self 
  • Performing manual tasks 
  • Walking
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Working 


In the case of invisible disabilities, some of these major activities may be compromised occasionally, or intermittently depending on the nature of the disability. Thus, the distinction of having, “a record of such impairment,” is key. In this case, the law helps people who, while they may not be impaired at a given moment, their condition may have, or could result in their inability to perform major life activities. These may include learning disabilities, mental disabilities, and whole slew of chronic conditions that can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.

For me, having epilepsy qualifies as a disability under the ADA. Although most days I look and am able to act without an impairment, when I have a seizure major life activities are definitely in jeopardy, as I lose consciousness, stop breathing and lose control of my body. Even after my seizure ends, I physically look fine, though my mind is in a haze and I have difficulty with memory, vocabulary or other cognitive symptoms – often impacting my ability to learn and work. It wasn’t until my last seizure I realized how frustrating it was. During my most recent seizure I fell on a hard, tiled floor. After my ER visit my arm was in a sling, my face was bruised and I had a nice batch of stitches. And in an odd way, I was glad because for once I felt like my physical appearance mirrored just how battered my brain felt.

The thing is, it shouldn’t have to be this way – to be glad that one’s invisible disability is visible in order to get the help one needs. So what can be done then? What do we do when we are faced with the “gift” of invisibility? How can we as students or workers get the help we need without putting ourselves at risk of discrimination? I believe the only way is to be more public about our invisible disabilities, and to take steps on educating the public exactly what that means, and how others can help. Below are a few steps I have found to be helpful in my own journey:

Tell your employer about your disability 

In my own life, I have had to deal with the question of whether or not to tell my employers about my epilepsy. When I was diagnosed I was working at a major consulting firm, and after a grueling few months of burning the candle at both ends, I had a seizure. I was told by my doctor that there was no way I could continue the hours I had without putting myself at risk for more seizures. But I was loathe to seem like I couldn’t do my job like everyone else. So what did I do? I used every resource that I had in hand, including a few friends who work within the disability world. They helped me recognize that epilepsy was covered by the ADA and that I had the right to “reasonable accommodations” to do my job.

In going in to talk to my bosses and my HR representative, I requested “reasonable accommodations” in the form of a regular (i.e. 40 hour) workweek and minimal travel. And due to the protections afforded by the ADA, my work was more than happy to comply. I also decided to tell the people I worked with, so that they knew how to help me if I had a seizure. But before I did any of this, I had to do my homework, understand the law, understand my job and ultimately become my own advocate.

Manage your life to have the balance you need and recognize your very real (though occasionally frustrating) limitations 

At my job, I mentioned that they were able to provide me reasonable accommodations in the form of reasonable hours, limited travel and so on. However, as I moved on and up in the firm, more came to be expected of me. The firm kept waiting for me to get “back to normal” and I was having a more difficult time explaining why I could not buy into the corporate culture. Ultimately, I recognized that while I could do my job well, given my very real limitations, I could not be as successful as I, or the firm, wanted me to be in the future. I decided to leave my job for one that was still challenging, but not nearly as stressful. It was one of the toughest choices I made to leave a lucrative career… but it was worth it!

Thus, finding the right job that will work with you, and not expect you to “return to normal,” is hard to find, but very much worthwhile. The world rewards workaholics, super moms and super dads and people who “stand up in the face of adversity.” And I am one of those type-A people who want to be the best. But I’ve had to learn to respect my body, and not just respect it, but embrace it. And though it is not easy to roll against the tide, I feel much more grounded and content than many people I meet.

Educating the broader public about your disability and how to help accomodate 

That brings me to my last point – that having good work-life balance necessary to manage invisible disabilities, and knowing how to *gasp* ask for help, makes us superheroes of a different kind. Those of us struggling with invisible disabilities (really any kind of disability) can do a lot to promote dialogue about what it means to be healthy. Whether we have epilepsy, MS, mental disorders, a learning disability, we all have something valuable to teach in a world that is becoming increasingly fixated on “how much a person is worth.” We have innate value in understanding ourselves, our minds, our bodies, and can teach others how to respect not just us, but themselves as well. But it takes courage. For me, it means no work email after hours, not being able to be as social after work as I would like, getting a solid 8 hours of sleep, eating well and giving myself plenty of down time to decompress. Not courageous in a big way, but I’d like to think in my own way I’m helping to change the conversation

In truth, being invisible isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be, and to that end, I am not afraid to stand up for myself and what I believe. There are many options out there, but you have to be willing to be patient with yourself and others, understand the law and what it does, or does not cover, as well as being willing to be courageous and stand up for what you believe. And part of me telling my story, I hope, helps others to feel comfortable telling theirs.

Beth is presently a Career Advisor at Georgetown University. She was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2008, and has spent much time counteracting today’s workaholic culture to be better accommodating to people with disabilities. Find her @beth_schill.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

I am ... fearless!

A number of years ago, when I worked at Deloitte, I had a cool experience that has helped to define my own personal battle with epilepsy.

I was a participant in a national meeting on diversity and inclusion - where I had the honor of being the national representative for those at the firm with disabilities. At the conclusion of the meeting, our sponsoring partner passed around a bowl of key-chains. We were told to pick, without looking, one of them, and then tell the group what it said. The thought, the partner told us, was that this key-chain was choosing us - not the other way around.

When it got to my turn, I lifted the key-chain up and it said, on one side, "I am..." and on the other, "...fearless." When I told this to my group, there were smiles all around and murmurs of approval from my co-workers. Yes, they all affirmed, you are fearless. Someone went on to explain that they thought that what I was doing - being public with my epilepsy, was truly courageous. At a firm where the culture, in part, measured success based on how many hours you could work, and had a frenetic pace, my epilepsy was often seen as an impediment to success. My epilepsy physically and mentally got in the way of how well I could complete my work duties. The belief of my coworkers that what I was doing in giving voice to others who had similar challenges facing them, gave me hope and sustained me.

Yet, that label of believing I am fearless has not always stood the test of time, or my epilepsy journey...

Not always brave

The truth is that I don't always feel brave. With every successive seizure I've had, I feel more an more crippled by fear. Fear of how long my recovery will take. Fear of how I will help support my husband and child. Fear of whether or not my work will accept me as I am. Fear of when and how the next one will strike. And fear, to be honest of death.

After my most recent seizure the last fear felt especially close. Part of that was due to the situation around my seizure. I fell to the street, hit my head, and was bleeding a lot. The EMS crew called was worried that I had fractured my skull, and so I was whisked to a hospital trauma center. I was slowly coming to as I remember being wheeled into the ER, where all of a sudden over a dozen medical professionals surrounded me, asking me questions, and even cutting off my clothes. I vaguely remember asking if I was dying, and if I could get a priest. While my injuries were no more serious than a concussion and some severe post-ictal symptoms, I've never been so fearful as a result of a seizure before. The fear stayed with me, and with those closest to me.

Dealing with the fear of others

Since the latest seizure six months ago, fear of another seizure has become a constant companion. It is never paralyzing... rather just always there besides me, like a shadow. Part of that was this past seizure was not predicated by my typical trigger of stress. In fact, my life since I changed career fields has been the healthiest (and happiest) I've been. The uncertainty has plagued me and those I love. In the months since, anytime I've felt odd, or any time I made a silly noise, or act even slightly odd (joking around with my toddler, for instance), those near me jump and come running to see if I am ok. Even my daughter, who witnessed the latest seizure will, out of the blue, ask me why I fell down in the street. Or, lovingly, when she hears my alarm for my medication, remind me to "Take your medicine, Mommy."

While I am so blessed to have people around me who love me, it does sometimes cause me to fear and to doubt myself. In past entries for this blog, I have written about how I haven't let epilepsy stop me - and the wonderful and amazing things I've done in the interim.

Yet, now, I have more to live for than myself. I have a loving partner, beautiful daughter, and God-willing, another one joining our family over the summer. They, quite literally, depend on me staying safe and healthy in order for their own well-being. That fear of leaving them - even not being able to participate in their lives as normal, can be a cause of fear.

But fear, I've learned, also has a cousin...

Determined not to let fear get the better of me

As I've been working through my fear (not alone - and sometimes with the help of many wonderful professionals, family and friends), I've come to recognize that fear actually has a cousin - the other side of the coin, if you will. Its name is determination. I think determination blossoms not in denying that fear exists, but that we recognize it, look it in the face, and get on with the business of living. Just writing this gives me strength, and hope (OK, I'll admit it - a Game of Thrones quote of "not today," comes to mind, as does Roosevelt's stirring line, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." I can't help it!). 

So what to do if you are fearful? The first is to name it for what it is. Write your fears down in a journal, share them with a friend, a minister, a therapist, or other person whom you trust. Sometimes saying the fear out loud makes it not so scary. 

Second is talk to your neurologist or doctor. Some of these meds we're all on can do a number on your emotions. Neurologists are used to this and could help you find ways to combat the side effects of medication, or can work with you on dosage or types of medication you are on. It doesn't hurt to at least ask. 

Third, I find that doing something small every day that helps you to regain courage is helpful. If you have more severe epilepsy - it could be as small as getting up and ready, or taking a walk around the block. For me, it means going on my first solo business trip in years. Am I scared and nervous? Yes - but I know that doing this will be a good step for me. 

Last, believe in yourself. A therapist a number of years ago really helped me put this all in perspective. That yes, I do have epilepsy, and yes there are things that could happen to me as a result of seizures that don't happen to others. Yet, life itself is a huge gamble. And life contains risks. That doesn't stop others from walking out their front door. Even on days when I am fearful, I remember this... fear doesn't mean you lack courage. It means you face the day with even more bravery than the average person. And so, I head out the door, my head held high, my hands on my key-chain that proclaims what is in my heart... that I am... fearless. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hope!

"Why do we spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if only we knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?"  -- Thomas Merton

At my job, we are definitely at the time of year when students, in addition to midterms, are really fretting about next steps. Will they get a “good” internship? Will they find a job? What will it mean for them to work in politics, or government in such a tense atmosphere? Are they ready?

These are all totally normal things to feel as a student, or even a professional making a new change. In addition, these are turbulent times. My colleagues and I were reflecting recently on Dr. Martin Luther King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech . There are so many parallels to the late 60s and today: a society torn apart by violence, hateful rhetoric and extreme viewpoints. It makes any professional or student looking for a job wonder: is it worth it? Is anything I do ever going to make a change? 

And just as Dr. King alluded to the idea of Moses looking on the promised land, and knowing he wouldn't necessarily enter it, I can tell you that there is. The young people I interact with every day are an inspiration to me. I left over a decade of consulting and researching federal policy, feeling worn out and jaded. In the year I’ve been at my new job, I am amazed at the young people's desire to fix injustices and to be men and women for others. Multiply this by the amount of young people out there - both in colleges and university, and those not, and it gives me hope for the future.

Part of the job of a career professional is to help students and other understand how to link their passions and desires to what employers need, and even more importantly what the world needs of them to do. As part of a Jesuit-Catholic institution, one of our values is to help educate the whole person, and encourage students to think introspectively about why they want to pursue one given career path over another. We listen to their dreams and concerns, and point them to next steps. We give them the tools to help them both as students, and as young professionals. Above all, we hope to instill in each student the certainty that they each have something wonderful to share with our world - a job, a career, a calling, a talent - that no one else has.

Being a part of another person's journey toward self-discovery is truly a privilege. It gives me joy and hope to see our future before us. 



Monday, October 16, 2017

The power of your story...

I am a bit late to the game, but I just recently started listening to a number of amazing podcasts. Most recently, I found myself nodding in agreement to This Anthro Life, where the podcasters spoke of the importance of storytelling in our day and age. I could not agree more. I find myself thinking of stories more and more, as I help advise students on how to get internships and jobs both during and after their undergraduate years. Doing so, I found myself asking this simple question: why me? What about my story is so special that I can help others discover theirs? In thinking about and writing my story, I began to understand the key question that has driven my career thus far... it is one much bigger than anything I can address in one blog, or even in a year or two. It is, in fact a question that drives much of our lives: how can organizations anywhere get the people they need, and keep them happy, and engaged at work?

I share my story here as a way of pivoting this blog - I hope to add to the information out there for  anthropologists, who are looking for new opportunities to use their anthropological skills for organizations of every kind.

So here is my story:
I attended the University of Michigan, where I had a dual major in cultural anthropology and social theory. Throughout much of my college career, I saw myself entering the Peace Corps or other volunteer service, and then entering the foreign service and maybe someday being Secretary of State. And while I haven’t ruled that last goal out completely, my life has taken me on a very different, but incredibly awesome path.

While an undergraduate I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Tibet, where I spent a summer and learned two important things. The first was that living far away from home in austere conditions was incredibly challenging both physically and mentally - and I wasn’t sure about three months, let alone a few years. I also saw abject poverty, and inequality the likes of which I’ve never seen, and wondered, “how did this happen?” This question led me to study the impact of corporations on issues of socio-cultural and political change while I then pursued a Masters of Philosophy in [International] Development Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Following my graduation, the desire to better understand corporate  institutions led me to seek a career in the consulting world. I figured there was no better way to gain exposure to the world of business than by advising other businesses. I got my feet wet at the Corporate Executive Board, and later at Deloitte Consulting’s Federal Practice - where I only intended to stay long enough to pay off my debts. But, as it happens,  life had other plans. I found out that I was good at consulting - good enough to get into a leadership and innovation fellowship called GovLab, where I was able to meet with brilliant thinkers in industry and learned how to apply their ideas to government issues. I co-authored a paper on the importance of diversity of thought - an issue I continue to research in my free time.

My appreciation of the complexity of how employers can get people who think differently, challenge assumptions, and ultimately lead to better organizational growth,  deepened when I was offered the chance to manage research at the Partnership for Public Service here in D.C. I led a team of researchers, and had the amazing experience to interview and present to Deputy Secretaries, CIOs, CTOs, CHCOs and other executive leadership of both federal agencies, public policy groups, consulting firms and members of Congress. I helped them re-examine ways to get good cybersecurity talent into government, increase innovation, and identify the major management challenges facing the new administration.

The research I’ve done throughout my career, and exposure to client’s human capital issues has led me to conclude that there is one key challenge facing industries around the world, and that is: how can I get the people I need, and keep them happy, and engaged at work?

This question is so fundamental to how life unfolds. Finding a meaningful job, a good boss, and a schedule that gives you the ability to live the life you desire to have is a constant learning process. Just when you think you have yourself figured out and your plan set - you learn a new fact that calls your assumptions into question. That continues throughout life. Constantly learning and seeing new possibilities should not be the full of stress and worry - but seen as an opportunity.

There is no silver bullet that can guarantee you the perfect job. A liberal arts education equips you all with the skills you will need for success, and it is now up to you to communicate that to employers.

I look forward to sharing what I discover, here, and hopefully helping to add to the story that This Anthro Life hopes to promote.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Job Hunting with Epilepsy

This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay which will run from June 1 through June 30. Follow along and add comments to posts that inspire you!

Since I last wrote for the Relay, my life has changed quite a bit. As many of you know, I was worn out from the whole working mom thing. I couldn't do my job well - the side effects of a grand-mal seizure, and increased medication levels messed with my memory and cognition. Which, when you are a manager at a DC think tank - does no good. I tried talking with my bosses to find reasonable accommodations - and they were really good about it. However, it was quickly becoming clear that something had to give... and it wasn't going to be my health. 

So I left in mid-March, without a new job lined up. But absolutely spent. That first week I was hit by the stomach flu and laid in bed for most of the week. I slept a lot and it took me a good month before I felt the veil of post-seizure depression started to lift. 

Slowly I started getting back out there, having informational interviews, dusting off my resume, and applying to dozens of jobs. But high in my list of job considerations is finding a place that respects my needs to have a calm working environment, that still provides meaningful work where I can grow, without the crazy expectations to be constantly going up the career ladder. 

It. Has. Been. Hard. I look fine on the outside, and my credentials on paper make it seem like I am a go-getter. And I am - until I have a seizure. In the months after one, my brain is like a giant pile of mush. Some days I am coherent and can kick butt. Most days, however, I am just kinda ... there .. struggling to remember bits of conversations, trying to get myself organized, but just wiped out. 

Ultimately I am looking for an employer who will accept me as I am, epilepsy and all. Where I don't have to try to explain away the days when I am foggy, or can't seem to concentrate, or sometimes cannot even answer questions in a coherent manner. Honesty has been my calling card as I interview. I have been pretty brutal in asking tough questions of employers about the nature of work, and hypothetical situations. I do it because I know that a work life that allows me to take care of my health and my family is of number one importance. That a 35-40 hour workweek is the maximum I can do. I have been dropped from interview processes for that reason, and I have turned down completely good job offers for that reason, as well. 

That part has been difficult for me - to pass on opportunities that I know could be exciting and lucrative - that would lead to a life that in many ways would be "easier" financially for my family. But, I am just not willing to take that risk with my health. And the fear of a job taking too much from me is something I don't want to admit gets in my way of pursuing my dreams, but it does. I get mad sometimes that it is a lot more difficult for me to do tasks that I used to take for granted, or that I cannot take some amazing opportunities because I know the hours will be long, or I will need to be available to answer emails at any hour of the day or night. To look a perfectly good offer in the face and say, "Yeah this isn't really going to work for me." 

On the upside, a lot of people I've been talking to admire my honesty in conversations. It helps us all see whether or not I would be a good fit for the organization and the job in question. Many people also respect my need to place myself and my family first - and in some cases I almost detect a longing in their eyes that say, "I wish I could do that!." 

In the meantime, I keep taking one day at a time. Hoping that we can figure this thing called life out. And I remain hopeful that in the long run, my honesty will pay off, and I will find a job that helps me to provide for my family, stay healthy, be a good mom, and also enables me to be the worker I know I can be. 

In the meantime, if anyone has any good leads - send 'em my way :)
Taking advantage of the time off work to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and scenery!


NEXT UP: Be sure to check out the next post tomorrow by Kristin Quinn and Sunovion  at livingwellwithepilepsy.com. For the full schedule of bloggers visit livingwellwithepilepsy.com
Don’t miss your chance to connect with bloggers on the #LivingWellChat on June 30 at 7PM ET.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A fun side venture

Hi friends! Over the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of blogging for GovLoop. Its a media organization dedicated to helping federal government workers learn more about what is going on in politics and policy that impact their jobs. I've been following GovLoop for years, and since I am in the space where I have time on my hands, I've decided to try out some blogging.

At any rate, please do check out my posts. They have to do a lot with finding and keeping a job, as well as tips on disabilities and jobs, and how to handle failure. Here are a few of my favorites. I hope you enjoy and please feel free to comment and add your thoughts, too.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An invitation to rest

I can hear the rain gently falling on the window. A calm, pitter patter that soothes the senses. The world looks grey, bleary and beckons us to stay inside. To rest a while. To take off your shoes, curl up with a good book while all the dust and pollen and pollutants are washed clean, and the earth made fresh and whole.

In my own life, I've recieved this same invitation to rest. No doubt many of you could tell in my last blog post how exhausted I was. It was true - I was at the end of my energy reserves. I knew that something was going to have to give. This time, I knew it would not be me, my health, or my family. That left one option: in mid-March I left my job.

It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I truly loved my job (or perhaps 85% of it). Unfortunately, that other 15% that I didn't like was starting to loom larger and larger - demanding more time and energy than I had to give. Since my seizure in December, I hadn't recovered fully. I had issues with high level cognition, memory, and concentration. The harder I tried to make things work at work the more that any modicum of success seemed to elude me. I was crying on a daily basis - exhausted from the moment I woke up to when I would crawl into bed. I had no energy for even the simple things of life - and that worried me. I became increasingly concerned that I was going to have a seizure, and that is never a good place to be.

I raised this with my boss and with HR - hoping, praying that something else in the organization could be found that would be a better match. But, alas, that was not to be. The pace of my organization was increasing across the board - and I knew that simply changing jobs internally wasn't really going to give me the balance I needed. So it was with heavy heart, but ultimately a lot of understanding and compassion from those at work, that I left.

It has been a wonderful choice. When I first left, I felt like a failure. So many other women can do the working mom thing, why couldn't I? What kind of example was I setting for my daughter? How was I helping my family by leaving this job that I so enjoyed? Well, for one, I feel more like myself than I have in years.

I recognized that in leaving my work, my life and body was calling me to come away, to rest a while. And it has been good. I have been more present to my family and friends in simple ways that I had forgotten. I have energy to call people in the evening, or to do little things around the house that have been bugging me forever. And since my seizure two years ago, and the birth of my child, for the first time in a long time I feel physically and emotionally healed. I don't feel like the edge of my soul is worn ragged - snagging on every little inconvenience life throws my way. Instead, I've been told by a few people that there is a light in my eyes that hasn't been there for some time.

Sure, as a mom, I am tired, but it is the good tired you feel when you know your day and life has been worth living. I haven't done anything in terms of worldly success - no published papers, no tasks at work checked off. But I have been there for myself and those I love - and that has made all the difference.

Now - onto the interesting quest of finding a job with a culture that is a better fit for me. Somewhere where my desire to have meaningful work - but work that is not overshadowed by my life - possible. Where I can help others recognize truths in themselves to be the people they are meant to be; sharing their gifts and talents with those around them.

Also for any moms who read this - feel free to comment about how you either succeed or fail at this whole working mom/work-life balance thing. I think the reality of this all is not something that is discussed nearly enough.