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Want to Enhance Your Professional Skills and Gain a Dash of Holiday Cheer? Volunteer!

I don’t know your specific story—whether you’re desperately seeking employment or eagerly seeking advancement in your career field—but I firmly believe this counsel applies to us all, regardless of current employment status.

The majority of us will have extra time in our schedules come mid to late December, and I think it’s important to decide beforehand how this time will be spent. Of course, plan a few days of rest (self-care and stress management are imperative), visit family and friends (heed these holiday travel tips), and my hope is that you’ll also consider and begin planning for a volunteer opportunity.

Here’s why I think we should take advantage of the holiday season to volunteer:

  • Take a head-on look at depression and suicidal thoughts in persons with visual impairments. To combat the increased likelihood of depression in individuals who are blind or visually impaired, it’s important to get out of the home when more likely to feel lonely, make connections within the community, and take the focus off of self by serving others. Talk about acquiring some holiday cheer!
  • I did just mention taking the focus off of ourselves, but the funny thing is volunteering also gives us an edge in self-awareness, especially so in the context of work. As we volunteer, we receive the benefit of recognizing job duty interests, personal weaknesses or limitations, strengths, work values, and personal work-related boundaries.
  • We have the opportunity to wrestle with job accommodation questions or issues in a low-risk environment. As we’re not getting paid for the job, it’s a bit more comfortable to take the time to determine necessary accommodations and practice their use.
  • While many people utilize LinkedIn to seek employment, I suggest we use it to find local or even virtual volunteer work. We’re practicing networking skills and use of LinkedIn, and who knows, these skills may lead to a future job.
  • Whether or not you’re currently employed, you may be asking yourself, "What even is the right career for me?" Volunteering can give insight and experience into different career fields, which helps answer the looming question.
  • We previously discussed "Rethinking Leadership: You Already Are a Leader", and we learned a leader is one who makes an impact on others. If you’re looking to rehearse those leadership skills, volunteer work can be an ideal place to gain confidence.
  • If you’re looking to improve your resume, pursue volunteer work that prepares you for specific job roles or tasks.
  • We are building relationships—obviously, friendships are valuable but keep in mind the possibility of making potential connections that lead to work.

There you have it. I think it’s easy to see volunteering is mutually beneficial and well worth the investment in time. Remember, it’s important to begin searching for a volunteer position well before the holiday season.

Volunteer Resources for Individuals with Vision Loss

Work-Related Benefits of Volunteering for Job-Seekers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Finding Volunteer Positions as an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

The Secrets to Turning Your Volunteer Job Into Paid Work for Job Seekers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Volunteering: Lesson Plan for Teachers and Transition Specialists

Low Vision
Planning for the Future
Social Skills

Vision Rehabilitation Services Available to Veterans Desiring to Re-Enter the Workforce

A chalk board with Thank You, Veterans in white chalk in front of an American flag

Veterans, we salute you and thank you for your service to our great country.

You are here because you have lost all or a significant portion of your eyesight, and you recognize there is work to be done and skills to be gained before you will re-enter the workforce. We at CareerConnect want you to know what this road to rehabilitation can look like and what vision rehabilitation services you are entitled to receive.

Emotionally Coping

The first step of successful rehabilitation after vision loss is emotionally coping with your loss of vision. Coping may feel alien and unattainable and might seem to gloss over the depth and complexity of your loss, weariness, disappointment, fear, resentment, and rage.

We don’t want you to gloss over those feelings—alternatively, we want you to identify and press into them. The road to emotional coping begins with permitting oneself to grieve. And please, please, don’t run from the grieving process. Go there, even though it’s temporarily easier to avoid. Recognize and sit with those dark emotions, those visitors; otherwise, they’ll become permanent house guests.

To help you identify your emotions, it would be wise to utilize counseling at a Blind Veterans Association and to engage with others who are visually impaired by finding a local service provider who hosts support groups. Additionally, to give you confidence in your future, it would be wise to meet well-adjusted individuals who happen to be blind or visually impaired and to acknowledge the success stories of blind veterans who are confidently and competently working.

Gaining Skills

The second step of successful rehabilitation involves moving forward with vision rehabilitation services—mastering independent living skills, reading/writing, travel skills, and career tasks with the use of your remaining senses and accommodations. And just what vision rehabilitation services are offered for our US veterans?

You’ll want to learn available services by reading the document, Veterans Health Administration Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which address the following topics:

Overview of Blind Rehabilitation Service
Blind Rehabilitation Service and Centers
Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialists
Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinators
Nationwide Vision Rehabilitation System
Intermediate Low Vision Clinics
Advanced Low Vision Clinics
Visual Impairment Services Outpatient Program
Eligibility for Health Services
Applying for Health Benefits
Does Vision Loss Have to Be Service-Related
Veterans Administration Resources

This tour is a marathon and not a sprint, and we’re here for you along the way.

Low Vision
Planning for the Future

Turning a "Can’t" Into a "Can" As an Individual with Vision Loss

There have been many times in my life where I had to tell myself, "Steve, you are your own worst enemy!" Simply put, I made excuses for myself. Whether justified or not, I was my own worst enemy. I prevented myself from making timely progress. Timely is the operative word.

No doubt, from time to time, I chose to say, "I can’t," rather than, "I can!" Fear, anxiety, and despair crept into my mind, clouding what I knew was the right course of action for myself and my career.

Early on, my skills for living with visual impairment were insufficient. I told myself I didn’t need any training. I had a lot of vision left, so no need for me to bother with basic skills, right?

My vocational rehabilitation counselor gave me options, but I declined them. Instead of preparing myself, I made excuses.

Here’s the good news. I found ways to stop making excuses and to start saying, "I can!"

Close up of a man in a suit holding a silver award

Having the Right Mindset

First thing I had to do was put everything in perspective.

  • Yes, I was losing my eyesight.
  • Yes, challenges would await me at every turn.
  • Yes, I could develop myself and my skills to combat those challenges.

These three, simple statements helped me with my mindset. It set the course for things to come.

Master the Skills

My new mindset helped me accept the challenge of learning to live and work with vision loss. I learned to use low vision optical devices, screen magnification and screen reader systems, and other handy, low vision and blindness tools. I accepted orientation and mobility training too. I needed those basic skills and made every effort to be successful.

Eventually, I refined my social skills and got over my fear of asking for and declining help. When I discovered I had a strength for speaking and writing, I developed those skills to enhance my marketability.

I’ll be honest. I’ve come a long way with my skills, but I’ve got to stay competitive. It’s a continuous process of development and improvement.

Kick Out the Excuses

Excuses seem to materialize when fear, uncertainty, and despair nagged me. But, I can remember when anger and embarrassment caused me to make excuses too.

Here’s the danger with making excuses: they can and will lead to missed opportunities. Here is an example from my past.

Several years ago, I was asked to join the board of directors of a nonprofit organization. It was an exciting opportunity. Yet, I felt so out of place that I tried to convince myself to get out of it after participating in my first board meeting.

Nothing bad happened. No one mistreated me. No one was mean to me. But, I made excuses why I didn’t belong there. Not smart enough. Not enough experience. No knowledge of nonprofit management.

It was terrible. Lucky for me, I have good family and friends who convinced me otherwise. In fact, my wife straight up challenged me to stop making excuses. Guess what? I did.

It was a true turning point in my life and my career. If the excuses had prevailed, I would have missed a huge opportunity. Most likely, I wouldn’t be writing these posts for CareerConnect either.

Do yourself a favor, kick out those excuses when you feel them coming on!

If you need to learn or enhance your skill set, get it done. Yes, making changes, getting better, and improving your situation is hard. Shift your mindset. Relish the struggle, come out stronger on the other side, and take advantage of your opportunities.

Have you turned a "can’t" into a "can"?

Setting Yourself Up for Employment Success

Setting the Table for Success: What Visually Impaired Job Seekers and Employers Can Do to Improve Disability Employment

Job Seekers with Vision Loss Should Have No Limits to Employment Opportunities

Pounding the Rock for Blind and Visually Impaired Job Seekers

Advancing Your Career Depends on Your Next Step

Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future

Reducing Work-Related Stress for Blind and Visually Impaired Workers

I handled work-related stress poorly early on in my career. The mix of failing vision, ambition, and despair about my future created a hard to handle emotional state.

After a bad first full-time job experience, I landed in a much better situation. Although it was better, it had its stresses too.

Learning a new job, coping with vision loss, and pushing for perfection put a ton of pressure on me. I wasn’t prepared to handle all that stress. Frankly, I didn’t anticipate it becoming such a burden though.

After a tough day at the office, I'd pour myself a drink and repeat that process one, two, or more times during the evening. That was my method for dealing with stress for three, four, maybe five nights a week.

Simply put, I had to numb myself. The emotional storm engulfing me was overwhelming. Anger with losing my vision. Frustration with less reliable eyesight. Despair with the long-term outlook with my life and my career. Still, I had to go to work and deal with additional stresses. Paperwork, customer complaints, interoffice politics, rotating schedules, and on and on.

Thankfully, I was mentally strong enough to put on the brakes before it all got out of hand. That was 16 years ago. Today, I’ve learned how to handle work-related stress much better. Let me share some of what works for me.

Tips for Handling Work-Related Stress

#1 Exercise

exercise room with stationary bikes

Deadlines are always looming for my projects. So, I spend a lot of time sitting down at the computer. When my day is over, I change my clothes, head to my garage, and do some kind of exercise. I use barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, resistance band, and body weight movements to build muscle and to maintain strength. With all the sitting I do, I emphasize flexibility and mobility too. I stretch and do full range of motion movements with light resistance.

Walking with my dog guide, Cody is great exercise too. Especially, when we are out for a leisurely walk with no specific destination. We may walk for 45 minutes to an hour. A great way to clear my mind.

Exercise keeps my body and mind strong. I don’t exercise to get ripped, as they say, I do it for health and longevity. It’s more relaxing that way.

#2 Nutrition

fruit and vegetables in horn of plenty by george grimmhowell

I do my best to eat nutritious food throughout the week. Nothing special or exotic. My doctor told me I had to lower my blood pressure, so I began eating more vegetables. I never thought I would like Brussels sprouts, but they are delicious with bacon. Hey, I’m trying.

I have a sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is always in my cupboard. If I want an ice cream kind of treat, I add berries and nuts to fat-free yogurt and freeze it. It takes care of my sweet cravings.

I also like to make some chamomile tea to reduce my stress. My palate has adjusted to its flavor fairly well. I drink about three to four cups of it daily.

Like I said, it’s nothing too fancy. I feel better when I eat cleanly. I take a cheat day or two once in a while. But, food is fuel, so I reach for good stuff as often as possible.

#3 Leisure

A neatly-stacked group of books set between a pair of headphones.

My brain needs a distraction on a daily basis. I write a lot of grant proposals, so when my work is done for the day, I indulge in reading audiobooks or talking books, especially at this time of year. My favorite genre is horror, supernatural horror that is. Reading fiction helps me use my imagination. It helps me unlock my own creativity too.

Another way I decompress after a long work week is going to the movies. My wife is always up for a movie too. Our local theater offers descriptive video on all 16 screens. It’s a fantastic way for me to get rid of some stress.

#4 Rest and Relaxation

Sleep is another important element for my stress levels. I try to get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly. I’m refreshed and ready to go each morning. On rare occasions, I may take an afternoon nap, especially if I feel very stressed with work on that particular day. Of course, do remember, I have the benefit of working from home too.

So there it is. My "go to" methods and tactics for reducing work-related stress. Nothing too fancy or too exotic. Stay fit, eat well, distract my brain, and get quality sleep. But, I have heard about these things called float tanks. I may need to try that out.

November 1st is National Stress Awareness Day. Are you going to celebrate? Hit the comment button and tell me about your stress reducing methods too!

Additional Tips for Reducing Work-Related Stress

6 Ways to Relieve or Manage Work-Related Stress As a Worker Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

How to Beat Work-Related Stress When You Are Blind or Visually Impaired

A Lesson in Stress Management

Get Pumped Up: The Work-Related Benefits of Exercise for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Better Sleep Means Better Job Performance and Job Satisfaction: Improving Sleep Disorders in People Who Are Blind

Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future

Striving for Financial Independence As a Blind or Visually Impaired Worker

Piggy bank overflow

Earning an income is the first step on the path to financial independence. But, earning income is dependent on securing employment. For those of us living with blindness or visual impairment, financial independence may feel out of reach.

My vision began declining before I landed my first full-time job. Of course, it was a bummer. The uncertainty of the situation made my head spin a bit because I worried obtaining employment might elude me. Thereby, throwing my ability to earn income into chaos.

Let me be honest. I had goals. Goals that depended on making money. I wanted to marry my girlfriend, buy a house, start investing for retirement, and start a family. As far as I knew, those things were difficult to do without an income.

So, as the dark clouds of blindness gathered around me, I had to choose what path to take. A path towards financial independence or a path towards, well, financial struggle.

If you have followed my posts, you probably know what path I chose. For everyone else, I chose to take the path of financial independence.

Tips for Developing Financial Independence

Here are some tips to get going in the right direction.

Develop Your Knowledge and Skills

No surprises here. Graduate from high school. If you can afford to go to college afterward, do it. Ideally, college is the place to develop and to increase your competencies in the fields you wish to work. Again, if it is affordable, pursue an advanced degree if necessary.

If college is out of reach financially, take advantage of other methods for gaining education. Books, blogs, podcasts, and seminars are less expensive ways to build knowledge and skills about subjects that interest you.

Finally, soft skills, like time management, leadership, and communication, enhance your marketability.

Prepare for Your Next Move

CareerConnect is jam-packed with resources to help you conduct a job search, prepare for a job interview, and learn about job accommodations. And that’s just scratching the surface!

What I want to say is this. It is very rare, these days, for someone to work for one company until retirement. Sometimes opportunities to advance don’t materialize. Sometimes employees get downsized. Sometimes companies merge with each other, and jobs are eliminated altogether.

Never stop looking for opportunities to advance your career and your earning potential. Even if you are comfortable in a job position, keep your job search on a low simmer. If you find yourself in a tough spot, then you can flip that job search to high when necessary.

Manage Your Income

putting money in wallet

Getting paid is a great feeling. Finding your wallet empty before the next pay day is not. It is definitely not the way to achieve financial independence.

Again, CareerConnect’s Money Management Lessons are great resources. Budgeting, saving, minimizing debt, and investing for retirement are important factors for financial independence.

Importance of Planning for Retirement Early

I key in on investing for retirement. Years ago, I counseled employees about their employer-sponsored 401K plans. I discovered the majority of people I helped knew little to nothing about retirement plans and the long-term benefits of investing in them. When you land that first job, or when you move on to new employers, ask about their retirement plans. Learn how the plan works and start investing. The sooner the better.

Consistency is a key element. When you sign up for your employer’s 401K plan, a percentage of your salary is contributed to the plan every time you get paid. Consistency is built right in. It removes the human emotion from the situation because it is automated.

Second, start early. Maybe you are 22 years old and just landed your job. Get enrolled into the 401K plan as soon as you are eligible for it. If you retire at the age of 67, you are looking at 45 years of growth in your 401k account. Account values rise due to capital appreciation, dividends, and interest compounding over time.

If you leave your employer, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to rollover your retirement accounts to protect the tax-deferred status. In other words, you can roll it to a new employer's plan without any penalty.

Okay, before this gets too detailed, let me just say this. Start investing for your retirement early. Your employer’s 401K plan is an excellent way to do this. Consistently invest during your working years. Of course, seek resources to learn about investing or get advice from a professional.

Employment Leads to Financial Independence

Employment makes the most significant difference in the financial lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Earning an income puts us on the path towards financial independence. Tough situations will come and go in work and life, but by generating income, we can strive to better our situations despite the adversity posed by blindness or visual impairment.

As National Disability Employment Awareness Month continues, share your thoughts or concerns by clicking the comment button.

Money Management Resources for Individuals with Visual Impairment

Pay Periods, Withholdings, and Deductions, Oh My! A Tool for Teaching Basic Tax Information to Teens with Visual Impairments

Money Management: How Do You Teach It to Teens Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?

Money Management Lessons

Identifying Money with Vision Loss

Banking Services and Credit Cards

Paying Bills

Low Vision
Planning for the Future