I get requests for advice from students or new practitioners every now and then via email. One thing I would like to say is "Don't be like me." Don't take this as self-depreciating, I know I have lots of good qualities. I tried hard in school and am a hard worker, I try to keep learning whenever possible and be creative and respectful with all my clients. But there are a lot of job-related decisions that I've made that I would hope other people could learn from.
- Don't think you need tunnel vision focus in school Though I am proud to say that I no longer get confused with a high school student, people are still often shocked when we have talked about my schooling in relation to my age. They can't understand how I got a masters degree and did x,y,z before n age. The short answer is that I was very driven and focused during school. My mom does career counseling and when I was tossing up architecture and OT she knew nothing would transfer between the degrees and that no university near us offered both. So she pushed me to do a lot of job shadowing and research to figure out which I wanted to do. I became one of the few people in the world who didn't ever change majors in college, and by the nature of a 2+3 program got my BA and MOT in 5 years. But there are things I didn't do in that process. I only got to play softball one year in college. I didn't get to do any study abroad or really awesome summer programs. I went in with blinders and finished on time, and while I excelled at that, I think that people should act on the opportunities that they really want (within reason), especially while they're in college. So while this method will definitely get you through school on time, it certainly doesn't have to be the only way.
- Don't apply for only one job When I started applying for jobs out of school I figured that people would take a little time to get back to me and I'd have time to put in several applications, go on a few interviews, and choose the best from that group. Things moved much faster than I anticipated after I put in that first application and while I felt it would have been acceptable to ask for a couple days to consider the offer, I couldn't very well ask for a week or two to put in other applications.
- Don't allow work to overshadow everything else When we moved to Baltimore for the sole reason of me working in a big place and experiencing that kind of environment, work (and travel to work) started dominating my life. I wound up (as many salaried workers do) working more than a standard 8 hour day, working through lunch to catch up, and even working at home in the evenings to stay caught up. While we made time for a lot of fun things, the day to day life was exhausting and completely unbalanced. We ate out all the time and hardly ever got any time outdoors to exercise or even exist. We barely had time for each other during the week. We very rarely saw our families. It was not a sustainable situation and reflected very poor occupational balance.
- Don't work for free Along the same line as above, if you value yourself, you can't work for free. Don't write evals after hours. Don't stick around and do extra notes. If you have work that needs to get done, find a way to get it done during your workday and get reimbursed for your time. Also, don't bankrupt yourself buying fun treatment materials.
- Don't interview or work burned out Burn out is a real thing, especially in the "caring" fields. Being stressed and emotionally overloaded doesn't make for a good worker and that can get reflected while interviewing for a new job too. Take steps to prevent burn out to start with, but make sure that you take time for yourself before you begin representing yourself to new people. It will also help you give fresher answers.
- Don't take a job that is a major stretch from your interests Sometimes, though you could imagine a way to make a situation work, it's just not a good fit. And if you know it's not a good fit, or there's red flags to indicate that it isn't going to work long term, just don't take that job.
- Don't change jobs while buying a house This is a major life lesson that I had no idea about. There were a lot of tears when we realized this was going to cause a problem, despite the fact that I was changing to a job with more hours and higher hourly pay. I ended up having to hold onto an unpleasant job longer than I wanted to, but fortunately didn't lose the other opportunity.
- Don't be afraid to try something new It can be a scary world out there and breaking out of your comfort zone into a new field is tough. There's a lot of work to catch yourself up into a new practice area. But it can be very worthwhile and you shouldn't let fear hold you back as long as you're willing to do the work and think that it will align well with your interests. OT Practice and OT Connections have had resources for changing practice settings, and it can be done successfully.
- Don't expect the worst This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Be optimistic and positive when starting something new instead of constantly worrying about the end game.
- Don't get desperate during a search Last fall, I started to get really depressed at the length and lack of results with my job search. I had offers after that and could have had a full-time placement but it very clearly wouldn't have been a good fit long-term. By sticking with my other work, finances remained stable, and I was able to wait on a better offer instead of jumping at the first life raft.
- Don't start a new job late in pregnancy You can totally interview for a job and get a new job while pregnant, there's no rule that says you have to disclose a pregnancy to a potential employer and there are a number of discrimination protections. But in the same way that being your best person is difficult when you're burnt out, I've found it difficult to really hit the ground running in a new environment when I am not physically capable of running. I didn't have to worry about the effect this change would have on insurance or FMLA eligibility due to the nature of this job, but that could be another factor for you to consider. And while my prn jobs have coworkers who have known me a long time and are very accommodating and helpful, starting in a new place means starting relationships from the beginning, and people will be less likely to offer their assistance for the little things.
- Don't be afraid to ask for what you want Sometimes, I am too quick to write off a situation. But you always have the ability to ask for different hours, pay, or other flexibility. The worst that can happen is that your boss or potential employer can say no. But if you don't ask for what you want, you won't know what can happen. One small (but frequently occurring) example is naming your salary. Sometimes women have a tendency to be too nice and want to meet an employer in the middle instead of standing up and saying what you want. By forcing myself to have a bit of a backbone, my salary requests were usually exceeded, not just met.
- Don't neglect your life plan This is where I am at right now. I don't have a five year plan at the moment. I have never had a fully articulated plan anyway, I've had multiple possibilities that could work and also had new doors open that weren't part of my original considerations. But in general, I think it is admirable to have a plan (if only a vague one) and make sure that the opportunities that you accept align with it.
Obviously you can make these mistakes and still survive or even thrive in the OT workforce. There's clearly varying degrees of how much of a mistake the different things have been, and learning from them is essential. I wouldn't be who I am as a practitioner or a person without my mistakes. Do you have a mistake to share?