Sunday, August 03, 2014

Letters To The Future

I've been doing what I do for a very long time. It's been 38 years since I first walked into Glendale, a small institution in Victoria, and, there, committed myself to working with and for people with intellectual disabilities. 38 years of learning and growing and being challenged to think differently, think bigger about services and to think radically about disability. It's been a real journey. I hope that, over that time, I have made at least a small contribution to the concepts we have in service delivery and to the lives of people with intellectual disabilities who I have been privileged to serve.

At this stage, the one I'm now at, I still have big goals for myself. I still have things I wish to do and accomplish. I am far from done yet. But my goals are more about 'things to do' than they are about my 'career path'. I am still engrossed by my work, I am still goal oriented, I am still engaged - I'm thrilled to be able to say that 38 years on.

One of the things I like best about this stage of my career is that I get to meet, and work with, young people who are also deeply passionate, and incredibly talented, about what they do and I get to hear their dreams for their future and their plans for making it happen. And, of course, I am often approached, sometimes by someone stepping nervously through my office door, sometimes by someone sending me a tentative email, sometimes by a quick and stumbling phone call, to write a letter of reference. Some to be attached to a University application and some to be attached to a resume.

I think because people generally have a good idea who to ask and who not to ask, I seldom have to turn this request down. It's nice to be able to say 'yes'. It's also an honour to be asked to be a really tiny part of someone's journey. And because it's an honour, I take it quite seriously. I just did one the other day and I booked time in my calendar to write it, made sure I had no distractions and then, when the time came I began. Typically I start by remembering. There's lots of remembering. As I'm older I like remembering and I take my time with it. In my mind's eye I watch the person in their interactions with people with disabilities, I replay conversations we've had together. I review the questions on the application, or think about what an employer would want to know, and then, I write.

I figured if the person reading is engaged with the material presented, there is a better chance that the letter will be successful. I strive, then, for it to be interesting as well as factual. When I'm done, I read it. Give it an hour. Edit it. Give it another hour. Edit it again. Then print it.

I don't know why this whole thing is so edifying for me but it is. Perhaps it's because I remember having to ask people for references, I remember applying for jobs and for school, I remember all the hoping and dreaming and fearing that goes into that process. Perhaps it's because I know what I needed then so I can be what someone needs now. But whatever, I'm glad to be at a point in my career where I get to be the letter writer.

Some complain about getting older, getting on in their careers, I'm pretty good with it all. I have had a good career. I still have a good career. My goals are still important. But I think the last time I used and really meant the term 'long term work goals' was about five years ago. For much of my life my 'long term goals' were ... 'in ten or fifteen years'. Even though retirement is still a long way off, 'long' has been redefined! So maybe by just by being part of someone's long term plan, I get to experience, again, the thrill and uncertainty that comes with being young and eager and full of wild dreams.


Maggie said...

Thanks for reminding me how much I have enjoyed writing the few letters of recommendation I've been asked to do.

That process of remembering how I've watched the person grow and step forward in their life and work is just delightful for me, too. I'm glad to see someone else for whom it is being a joy and not a chore.

I don't often have a lot to contribute to the conversation here, and I suspect I've been remiss in commenting so little.

What I most want you to know is that reading your blog daily brightens my day, usually, and enlightens my perspective almost always. Reading your blog and other things you've produced has made me a much better chaplain, community member, friend and advocate for accessibility on a much more level playing field than before.


Anonymous said...

It's nice to see the torch being picked up by others whose careers lie ahead of the, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I truly hope that you get to enjoy your career as long as you choose to. It is a blessing to be able to give, create and feel good at the end of the day, week, month and year. One of the hardest issues I've had to face is having an accident that changed me to the "disabled" category. Fighting the pain, mobility issues, prejudice, and having to change the way you do everything is "bad" enough. With determination some things can become your new normal. But, having to end your hard worked for career due to the accident is not something I can get use to. It fills me with great sadness.