Getting Back to Work After Disability – A Client’s Success Story

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley…”
- To A Mouse, by Robert Burns, 1785

That quote is better known as, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” (And those of women too, of course.) The quote also describes my time in the Ticket-to-Work program to a tee. Though despite the twists and turns during the 2 years since starting this process, I’ve successfully returned to work after 13 years on disability. It truly feels like I’ve come back to life! And I wish the same for you.

I can understand why the statistics are so low for disability recipients successfully returning to work. The process can be difficult to navigate. I first encountered a list of over 60 possible “employment networks,” using Social Security’s online search tool. Researching that list led me to slew of vague websites and unreturned phone calls. I was so grateful when I came across Human Solutions’ informational video. I followed their suggestions and continued my due diligence, even though I knew after viewing their video, I’d found the right provider. Lisa Jordan’s thoroughness was reassuring, while her optimism was contagious. I needed that kind of guidance after so many years isolated from the workplace.

I remember the day my first coach asked me about my career interests and how I responded. I told her the only thing I knew for sure, was what I didn’t want to do: I would never return to retail! The hours and stress nearly killed me. So, after many months of testing and discussions, I decided on a plan to pursue my lifelong interest in law. Feeling too old and broke to consider law school, I enrolled in Boston University’s online paralegal program. I proudly told everyone the news, and seized the opportunity for a second chance at my dream career.

I eventually completed the program with straight A’s, but felt like an alien when I first attended classes. I hadn’t interacted with others in a professional setting for over a decade. I shook from my nervousness trying to focus, take notes and ask my first question. I studied daily from morning until night to learn the material, complete my assignments and compose “casual” communications on the student threads. The fact that other students were accomplishing the same goals, while also working full time and/or raising families was not lost on me. I figured this was my career physical therapy, and I had to learn how to walk again.
Afterwards, I worked closely with my first career coach revising my resume and developing a LinkedIn profile. I also joined a national paralegal association to network. I signed up for continuing legal education courses and immersed myself in anything concerning law. Once again feeling nervous, I figured my excitement would outweigh any doubts or obstacles. I had no idea of the response awaiting me from potential employers. Or, lack of response, to be precise.

Not one of my resume submissions resulted in an interview, let alone a response. I remember stumbling upon a sobering blog about career changes. The writer explained that it’s not employers’ responsibility to help us discover or indulge our passions. They have a job to do and need to find the best help possible to achieve their goals. It was a rude awakening for me considering what I had to offer. Legal experience? No. A steady work history? No. At 58, many employees my age were preparing for retirement, or being let go from their jobs. I couldn’t even scrounge up enough work references to apply for a promising volunteer position.

That last revelation led to my tearful meltdown during a call with my second career coach. (The first coach had ironically left for a new job.) In addition to facing those obstacles – experience, career gap, age – I’d also felt paralyzed by the shame I felt all these years after being fired from my last job. Qualifying for disability confirmed my doubts about my ability to support myself, and distorted my perspective of the situation. I saw it as a type of permanent assessment, rather than temporary relief. I once again succumbed to my self-doubt and hopelessness, in addition to new added pressures. My savings were now running out, and further disability reviews would most likely be denied. I hit the wall.

Luckily, my new coach Jenn, was fierce in her determination not to let me fail. She offered me the space and encouragement to speak honestly about my thoughts and feelings, while sharing her own journey and struggles. Our weekly calls empowered me. After several heart-to-hearts, we agreed it was time to pivot.

With that pivot, I soon ate my earlier words. Because not only had my “best laid plans gone awry,” but now I was also being reminded to “never say never.” I was going back to retail, and fast.

Now that my job search parameters changed, I decided to google “cash office associate.” During my last 4 years of work in retail management, I found the cash office to be my main source of sanity and success. A local part-time position popped up, for which I immediately applied. The next day the hiring manager called to schedule an interview. The following week I was hired. Ironically, the topic of why I left my last position never even came up.

This is only the first, necessary step of my long journey off of disability, but I couldn’t have designed a better scenario. The familiarity and schedule made for a smooth adjustment period. I love the daily routine, responsibilities and interactions. I get to contribute my experience and expertise, while essentially working in my own office. It’s truly a win-win situation, for which I’m extremely grateful.

I also have aways to go before I reach financial independence again. My 90-day review came with a 10 cent-an-hour raise, and no chance at full time hours in the cash office. So, I’m back revising my resume and LinkedIn page. I don’t know whether or not I’ll return to my original plan, but no one can take away my passion for law or my certificate in paralegal studies, of which I’m very proud. I’m also extremely proud of the work I do every day at my part-time, minimum wage job.

I’ll leave you with the quote from a card I bought while I was in school. I still keep it propped up on my coffee table as a daily reminder to, “proceed as if success is inevitable.” I hope you will too.

Human Solutions Ticket Client – Anonymous
August, 2023