Come Out at Work: As Losing Your Eyesight

If you’re reading this, you probably take your eyesight for granted. Imagine what it would be like to lose your vision, after relying on your eyes all your life. It feels nearly impossible to fathom, yet this is what happened several years ago to Ashish Goyal, a trader at JPMorgan in London.

A happy child at age 9, he realized he couldn’t see all the lines in his school notebooks, and he was having difficulty recognizing faces. Afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that leads to blindness, he struggled to deal with this newfound physical challenge. “What was I to tell people? ‘Sometimes I can see you, sometimes not?'”  By the time he was 22, he could make out only light and shadows, which remains true today.

Because of his blindness, as a young adult he considered working for his father, a real estate developer. With encouragement from his mother, however, he pursued formal education in business. After earning his degree, many employers turned him away once they learned he was blind. At one point, frustrated, he told a recruiter “I’m blind. Do you still want to talk to me or not?” Exposing his truth near the beginning of the recruiting process may have been a turning point. “They asked whether I could do the job. I said I think I can, and I was hired.”

While he likely didn’t define himself by his blindness, if others were going to, they would be better off knowing of Goyal’s vision impairment as soon as possible. The freedom to open up about the complexities of his abilities in part led him to JPMorgan, where he helps manage billions of dollars exposed to market risk.

At the financial services firm he uses screen-reading software to read e-mail, reports, and presentations. The audio speed is so fast it would sound like gibberish to the uninitiated. When he needs to read graphs, a regular occurence, Goyal pores over the data and works to imagine the graph — an asset when it comes to analyzing risk. A colleague has said “Ashish looks at where things are now and just follows the news flow. He’s not blinded by the graphs.”

Coming out at work as one who is losing her eyesight takes a significant amount of self-awareness, and strength. The more you’re grounded in the reality of your diminishing vision, the better you can communicate what you’re experiencing, and what sort of accomodation you need to continue doing your work. Your transition from identifying as sighted to your new identity as one who’s blind may be  full of uncertainty, confusion, and fear, and the conversations you have with colleagues on the subject may be awkward, at first. Yet just think: if you can work through this challenge, what obstacle can’t you overcome? Right, we can’t think of any either.

There are other conditions that cause gradual and irreversible loss of eyesight, with many corresponding online resources. The Birdshot Uveitis Society is one such support network for folks with, well, birdshot uveitis.

Beyond his professional work, Goyal takes tango lessons and plays cricket, albeit with a bigger ball that makes sound. We’re reminded of the concept of hedonic adaptation, which postulates that people can return to a stable level of happiness after a setback in their lives. More than stably happy, Goyal seems to be thriving fully.

Have you lost any of your abilities at work? How have you managed?

Image via

What Does an Animal Trainer Think About in Bed?

Jennifer Vidbel, the animal trainer for the Big Apple Circus, recently sat down with us to talk about her work life on “Career Talk Live.”

Jenny revealed what happens backstage, who’s on top at the circus, and what she thinks about in bed.

Because the master tape is marred by a loud tone–our fault, boo!–we’ve transcribed the interview, with very few minor edits.

Part I:
Haig Chahinian: Hello, welcome to Career Talk Live. I’m your host Haig Chahinian and I’m here today with an extremely special guest: Jennifer Vidbel of the Big Apple Circus. She is the animal trainer for the whole circus. Welcome back to the show, Jennifer. We appreciate that you’re making the time to come talk with us about your work and your life, because the two, we’re learning, are so intertwined. Your life is your work, and your work is your life, it seems to be.

Jennifer Vidbel: Absolutely.

HC: OK, you agree with that. Again, welcome back to the show. We were talking in the previous segment about letting go: of a strategy, of a “plan” I heard you call it, sort of a pre-conceived notion of where you would like to end, and what that takes.  Thinking about this after the show, it seems it takes a lot of patience.

JV: That’s key.

HC: Where do you get that from?

JV: It’s just here. And I think it comes with the love. You’re doing what you love to do. Patience is just there.  Because you’re doing what you love, the animals are happy, I’m happy, so it’s absolutely going to be an amazing result.  So patience is just there.

HC: We were talking about the audience in the last segment, and for example, you’re not thinking about what the audience may have been promised, or something like this?

JV: No, I think that they know, and that the animals and I are showing that we’re just having fun. And I’m only human, they’re only animals, and of course it might not be perfect. No one’s perfect.  The important message is that we’re having fun, and we’re here to have fun with you.  But it’s not always going to go as planned. “As planned,” there’s that word again. So don’t plan!

HC: Is this the case for each performance itself?

JV:  Sure. It’s live entertainment. And whether it’s the animal act or the aerialists or the acrobats, it’s live entertainment. The aerialists are risking their life, the acrobats are doing really crazy, amazing things. They’re also doing what they love, and this is their passion. It’s not a movie, it’s not scripted, and I think that’s what’s so exciting about the circus. You never know what’s going to happen.

HC: Jennifer, I should say: I get the benefit of sitting directly across from you, however our viewers are only seeing your profile. So would you sit at a diagonal? I should have been clear about this earlier, so our viewers have the benefit of seeing you as well. OK, very nice. Thank you.

I’m struck again, I’m struck by everything that you’re sharing, in this case – how the animals bring out the humanity in your work.

JV: Yeah, they’ve taught me simplicity, they really have. And they’ve taught me to have fun, because they’re just fun to be around. They want to have fun, they want to eat, they want to sleep, they want simplicity. That’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned from being around animals.

HC: You talked about fun last time. Something that we’re learning about work today is, in Jenny’s case, and I think in many examples, it’s so important to be able to have fun in the work you’re doing. How did you learn this? Because it’s not a common lesson.

JV:  It’s not something to learn, I think it’s something inside of you. You have a passion, and you go for it. It can be fun, it is fun for me loading horses in the middle of the night in the pouring rain to get to the next city — I’ll have a story to tell the next morning. Setting up our tents, because we have portable stables for all the animals. Watching out during a storm all night, making sure the animals are safe and well cared for. It’s all fun, because I’m doing what is my passion, what I love to do. So it’s a great story in the morning. I have lots of war stories.

HC: Sounds like it. As you’re describing what’s fun, you’re also relating something very serious about the work: protecting the animals.

JV: Protecting the animals. And this is what’s interesting—that’s what’s so great about this business.  You never know what’s coming down the road; you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But it’s definitely not this 9 to 5, where you walk into the office. That’s what I love to do, of course the animals are my family, and I’m very happy to stay up in the middle of the night to make sure they’re OK, as any parent would do for their child. It’s protecting them, it’s part of what we do.

HC: I remember in the program that I saw, you shared how you wake up thinking about the animals.

JV: Yes

HC: Like they’re the first thing on your mind?

JV: They’re the first thing on my mind.

HC: Every day? Read more

Come Out at Work: With Dyslexia

We’re feeling momentum as we continue to feature parts of our selves which at first blush are easy to disparage. Then upon closer examination, we see the value of bringing the full spectrum of who we are to the workplace, with glorious results.  Next up: the senior vice president and chief brand officer for media company The Elle Group.

Robin Domeniconi is a well-regarded executive of ELLE, ELLE Decor and Ellegirl, and oversees content, strategy, sales and marketing for all three publications. She’s held prominent roles in other prestigious organizations, serving as vice president of U.S. advertising at Microsoft, and president of Time Inc. where she launched Real Simple magazine.

And she’s dyslexic. In an interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, she spoke about being the boss in a corner office, and what she looks for in hiring new employees. Job seekers take note! She described the influence of her dyslexia on building relationships:

I also have dyslexia. A lot of times, people will say things that I don’t understand. I am never embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they’ve said. It’s a vulnerability that you show. I once had an editor say to me, “You’re the best publisher I’ve ever had because you’re not afraid to show your vulnerability.” … I have enough confidence to do that. I would like you to have enough confidence, too.

By exposing her dyslexic self to her employees, she authorizes her staff to bring their whole selves to work, breeding increased self-confidence, and she leads by example.  How invigorating to see a chief executive admit that there are things she doesn’t understand, and freely ask her colleagues to repeat themselves so she’s sure to comprehend everything. This attribute can be rare to find in a manager; must one have a learning disability to be this transparent at work?

In another segment of the interview, she described how she promotes an open work environment, enumerating the qualifications she seeks in interviewees:

I want someone who’s candid, who’s very willing to be open. To me, the willingness to be open takes a lot of courage, because you’re displaying your vulnerability. I find that if you’re willing to be open, to expose your vulnerability, you’re going to succeed with me. Because I don’t have all the answers, and you shouldn’t think that you have all the answers. So we need to be open with each other.

Is her openness a function of being a woman in the executive suite? It’s hard to know for sure. What is certain is the amount of love she has within her. Love for herself, in the most productive way, and love for the world around her.

Her invisible disability translates to amazing ability, wouldn’t you say? In the comments below:

Image via

Come Out at Work: With Lyme Disease

Debbi Morgan is one of those actors who seems to be in every show you watch, from “What’s Happening!!” back in the 70s to “All My Children” today. While she spends most of her energy acting as someone else, the Emmy Award-winner revealed a personal attribute on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show.” She opened up about battling Lyme Disease, and said:

It’s nothing fatal. Lyme disease is an infection caused by the borrelia bacteria from a tick. It’s a chronic condition, and I’ve had it in my system for over 15 years.

In divulging this aspect of herself, she helped fans understand why she’s been absent from “All My Children” since December, helped us see more of who she is, and educated those who may not be familiar with the nature of Lyme Disease.

Along with other public figures who’ve come out with the disease, she implicitly gave Lyme sufferers permission to be candid with coworkers on the subject. To be sure, if you have Lyme Disease, taking care of yourself typically involves taking time off of work. 

As a bonus, of late her name and image have been featured in numerous media outlets, helping increase her popularity. In fact, IMDB lists her STARmeter as up 18% this week. It feels callous to mention this fact, yet her profession is show business, where publicity matters.

We expect that number to keep rising.

If you live with Lyme, what has your experience been at work?

Image via

Your Whole Self and Profit: A Perfect Pair

We find winter to be mostly miserable, and to add insult to injury we’re striving to shed the inches we’ve accumulated around our waistline over the last five years. The point of wearing a big coat is to cover up the effects of pizza we eat during these gray days and long, cold nights, right?

We’re feeling cynical, and hopeful, and we’re doing it via  It got us thinking about the genius of business when integrated with your whole self.

Weight Watchers (NYSE: WTW) offers a service to individuals who want to develop healthier eating habits. They provide a frame of reference by which to look at and measure your consumption of food, provide social support to keep you moving toward your weight goal, and less helpfully, produce packaged processed foods. For more sedentary folks like us–do you know bloggers who DON’T sit all day?–there’s the online interface.

How did all this start? In the early 1960s, Jean Nidetch of Queens, New York wanted to curtail the effects of her penchant for cookies, which brought her to 200+ pounds. She needed encouragement to stick with her new nutrition plan, so she recruited some heavier friends who could benefit from group support, and the first “weight watchers” meeting was born. Fast forward to 2001 when the company went public, and ten years later, today’s stock price fluctuates around $37.

So where does bringing your whole self to work fit into the picture?

Jean Nidetch looked inside and tapped into her wish to find help in losing weight. Momentum grew around Nidetch’s success, and in time financiers at Artal Luxembourg and the H. J. Heinz Company identified the remarkable business potential of WTW. With the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities, they’ve made many people wealthy, and healthy.

How does one monetize an internal, invisible feeling?  We have alot to learn from WTW. In the end (couldn’t help it), it behooves your pocketbook for you to stay connected to your internal world. Pay attention to your own desire, dreams, and fleeting thoughts; this is a large part of what constitutes the treasure trove within you, waiting to become a worldwide multimillion dollar business.

Image by author, because we couldn’t find a picture of Jean Nidetch that was legal to use.

Come Out at Work: With Depression

With depression? It might seem totally natural to hide this aspect of your internal world from coworkers.  That is, until The New York Times Magazine featured the complexities of depression in a cover story early in 2010 and called it “Depression’s Upside.” Yes, there are positive aspects to depression, including how it can affect your work.

According to the story, “every year, approximately 7 percent of us will be afflicted to some degree by [depression].” Moreover, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins found that “successful individuals were eight times as likely as people in the general population to suffer from major depressive illness.”

So if you look around at work, there’s a certain probability that someone is depressed, regardless of their level of success. And it’s not impossible for that somebody to be you. How’re you feeling today? We ask so as to stir some self-reflection on the matter.

What’s so great about being depressed? To be sure, to live with depression is to suffer, badly. Still, when you accept this state of being, and work with it rather than fight it, the few bright spots become increasingly visible. Let’s look at 6 perks of being depressed at work, directly from the Times article:

1. You’re able to concentrate entirely on your work as you withdraw from the world. We’ve experienced this first-hand during these dark days of winter, and so did Charles Darwin. We’re in pretty good company, right?

2. You may understand interpersonal relationships better. Ruminating as a function of being depressed can help you realize you need to be more gentle with people around you, for example, or that listening more attentively to friends helps everyone involved feel better. You’re also less likely to stereotype strangers.

3. You’re not so sidetracked by irrelevant stimuli around you. Being pinged by colleagues throughout the day, terrible news headlines flashing across screens everywhere, and even the pressure to multi-task won’t distract you from what you’re intent on doing. This type of zen energy is otherwise very difficult to come by.

4. An extremely analytical style of thinking can result from increased activity in a certain part of the brain of depressed patients.  The tendency for the depressed is to think in a more deliberate fashion, breaking down a complex problem into its simpler parts. The bad news is that this thought process is really slow.

5. You have a more accurate view of reality and are better at predicting future outcomes. As well, you’re better at judging the accuracy of rumors and recalling past events. So if you feel up to attending that meeting, you’re primed to make significant contributions.

6. Your writing may improve.  According to a social psychologist at the University of South Wales in Australia:

Negative moods “promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style.” Because we’re more critical of what we’re writing, we produce more refined prose, the sentences polished by our angst. As Roland Barthes observed, “A creative writer is one for whom writing is a problem.”

Detractors of the upside of depression argue that people with significant depression usually ignore daily hygiene and can neglect giving people around them immediate attention. True, this may be a recipe for greater hardships at work, and which increased ability to focus and problem-solving skills won’t necessarily help.

Ultimately, knowing the benefits of your depressed episodes at work can help you embrace these natural occurences, and even open up to your workmates about them. In turn, you may find yourself more relaxed in the workplace, and more productive. Now why would you want to hide that?

Yes, to be depressed at work may be a messy experience, and yet  upon closer inspection, what part of being human in the workplace isn’t? It’s a rhetorical question; still, if you’d like to answer it in the comments below, we welcome it.

When It’s OK not to Talk About It

Superstar race car driver Danica Patrick shuns talking about bringing her whole self to work. And we’re OK with that.

We know that many benefits come from learning about how our reference groups–meaning our gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and physical ability–influence the way we work. Sometimes, however, talking about these ideas can distract us from our primary job.

Patrick has many achievements, including  winning the 2008 Indy Japan 300, and placing 3rd in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. She’s making a successful go of NASCAR racing in addition to IndyCar.  And at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she has raced faster, and finished higher, than any other woman.

Yet she seems uninterested in focusing on the feminist themes of her rise in the race car ranks. Or she may simply prefer to dedicate her energy to becoming a better racer, as her male compatriots do, although without the typical haranguing about how their gender impacts their sport. From her New Yorker profile:

When reporters asked Patrick if [her win] had made a point about women in racing, her answer suggested that the burden of history did not weigh heavily upon her. “I made a hell of a point for anybody, are you kidding me?” she said.

And then, in reference to steamy photos of her widely broadcast:

Patrick says, “It helped me get the ride. The bottom line is, it takes money to go racing. If there’s money there, and it puts me in a really good car, then I can go show what I can do.” Regarding the objectification of women, she said, “I think people say that it takes away from what I do, it takes away from the driving, because people see that side of things, and it kind of overpowers what I’m doing. So, yeah. I catch flak. And I totally don’t care.”

Her unwillingness to dialogue and accept the mantle for women pioneers is surprisingly refreshing. She would much rather talk about the races. “I had so much fun in a race car today,” she recently told the press. “I can’t wait to do it again.”

Sometimes it’s critical to explore how our reference groups and our internal life affect the work we do. That’s what this blog is all about. And then, sometimes, perhaps because many are already examining the dynamics of personal identity in the workplace, we all don’t have to talk about it ad infinitum. We can just get in our cars and race.

Have you been asked at work to talk about your race or gender, for example, and effectively been seduced away from your primary task? How did you deal with this?

Image via