Friday, February 15, 2008

A New Challenge on the Job

I can't say that I ever look forward to going to work, but I look forward to it a lot less than usual today. For the past several weeks, I was beginning to get a little more comfortable because I was doing familiar things and was becoming a little faster at doing them. But yesterday I was introduced to a procedure on the computer that I didn't understand. For most, it's easy. They pick it right up. For me, it's a different story. I didn't know what I was doing or why I was doing it. That is, I kept needing to be reminded of what I was supposed to do, I kept messing up on it even after being told, and when I asked for explanations of why I was supposed to do what I was doing, in order to help me learn the logic behind the procedure so that I could learn that procedure better and apply the procedure to the various contingencies I might be faced with, I didn't understand the explanations.

I think I'm going to be back at that task again today, and I'm going to be expected to make significant progress in learning it. I anticipate a rough time of it. No doubt my pessimistic expectations make matters worse. Yet, how can I, based on a lifetime's experience, not expect things to go badly? They almost always do in cases like this.

I will go there today and do my best. I will also try to take notes if time and other conditions allow. But I feel apprehensive that rougher than usual times lie ahead, and I'm not sure what to do about it if they do. With my wife having quit her job, it's vital that at least one of us is bringing in at least a little money. But how long will I be able to keep the job I have now?

I'm trying to take these things less seriously and not worry so much about what others think of me when I have difficulty learning and performing tasks that come easily to them. I think I'm getting a little better at doing this. I tell myself I'm doing the best I can, and if others look down on me for struggling, their perceptions of me or feelings toward me don't change who I am.

One thing I've told myself more recently is that if I can find a way to handle my struggles gracefully, it might serve as a valuable lesson to others that there are people like me in the world who have these kinds of difficulties, but who nevertheless keep working hard and trying hard to do what's expected of us, and we're good people. Perhaps this understanding will increase empathy and tolerance not only for me but also for people with all kinds of disabilities.

Still, I think the time may be fast approaching when I'll need to sit down with my supervisor and explain to him what's going on with me. It's often said that if one does have an underlying disability or difficulty that isn't obvious but that does impact one's job, one shouldn't say any more about it to his bosses and co-workers than he needs to. In other words, if he's having trouble learning aspects of his job, he shouldn't explain the reason why he's having it. He should simply say something like, "I seem to be having difficulty with this. Could you take a little more time training me on it and allow me to take notes and do everything I can to pick it up?"

However, I'm thinking that, in my case, it might be better to tell my supervisor about the underlying difficulty than, each and every time I'm asked to learn something new, his wondering why I'm struggling so much. Maybe that way I won't need to ask him and my co-workers to allow me more time to learn each and every time I'm given a new duty to learn. They'll already know I'm "slow" and make allowances. Or they won't keep assigning me new tasks and will just let me do the things I've been doing and get better at them so that I still shoulder a respectable share of the workload. Or they'll decide, while I'm still on new employee probation, that I'm not a good fit for them and let me go.

In any case, I will stay on the job and do the best I can with it until they either let me go, I find something better, or my body breaks down from the strain.


Night Stranger said...

What bothers me most about this post is the assumption, at the end, that your body (and soul, perhaps) will "break down from the strain."

It seems to me that you have such a grasp of your own limitations that the strain you're enduring is based upon your fear that someone else will find you out. I know your problems are compounded at the moment with the very real need for an income, but the personal toll that is being taken can only be alleviated by a long personal talk with your superiors about your learning disability. It's the old story of "worst-case-scenario," which you're well aware of, against "best-case-scenario," which would be that they'll be understanding and give you a little more time or a task which you can already do. Another part of the "best case" is that your wife could find productive work that she's happy with.

There are all sorts of people reading your blog, and others in your orbit I'm sure, who wish you well and are praying for you to get through this very difficult period. Please believe that things will get better again.

Nagarjuna said...

Night Stranger,
My concern about my body is that the work I do is quite strenuous physically for even a young man, much less for a guy who is soon to turn 55. And a lot of it can't be done in "ergonomically correct" ways, given the layout of the file room and the tasks we have to perform there.

As far as my "soul" is concerned, I think I'm making some progress, as I tried to indicate in my message. That is, I'm getting a little better at not being so anxious about how I'm going to manage and what others will think of me if I don't manage as well as they do or as well as I'd like. I've also started seeing, at least on a short-term basis, a counselor as part of a free service that is offered to employees where I work, and I'd like to think it will be helpful to talk with someone like her.

But I think you're right. At some point, and probably soon, I will need to sit down and have a talk with my supervisor, whom I like and feel pretty comfortable with, and tell him more than the popular career books advise about my learning difficulties and see where things go from there.