When meeting new people I try to go in with an open mind. So do many people. But all humans are imperfect, and old habits die hard. We instinctively are always looking for clues to show us a persons true colours. Most likely it’s part of our survival instinct as we try to establish friend from foe. We are trying to predict, analyse, understand, judge (the word you use to describe it is irrelevant) how their behaviour will affect us. Then we decide if that is something we think as good, nice, useful or bad, unattractive, disruptive to name a few.
Pigeon holing people
In the western world we have developed one particular shortcut to this process. Ones’ career. For example you might be more trusting of a Nurse or Teacher than a Motor trader. We think of the Nurse and Teacher as people who work for the good of others. Where as the Motor trader we think of wanting to profit out of others. But someones career doesn’t really tell you much about the individual, it just gives you a chance to stereotype them.
I always struggled with this because there was no short and simple answer to this question in my last job. My role at a Hairdressing academy for apprentices could not be explained in a sentence. Being acutely aware that people do a whole range of subconscious calculations I did my best to keep it short. Essentially I recruited students to the programme, helped them find a job in a hairdressing salon and maintained a working relationship with both the employer and student. It was a mix of business development, coaching, trouble shooting and agony aunt. So not so easy to judge, but perhaps I liked that. It was like a cliff hanger to a TV programme, you had to stay with it to find out what happens next.
Feeling like I’m trying to appeal to the Jury
Following my car accident my career ended. So now how do I answer the question about my career? I haven’t got a career, and my last one takes more than a job title to explain it. (Even that was complicated – Student Liaison and Employer Engagement Manager.) Instead I’m unemployed. Well that’s a conversation killer in itself. I try to defend this by explaining I was in a bad car accident. As I look fine I feel the need to go on and explain about my brain injury. This is all in an effort to avoid the conclusion that they judge me as lazy or useless.
I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just trying to stop myself being written off. But now they have to decide how this new, and unexpected information makes them feel.
(A) Really, surely you could do something? Still judge you as lazy.
(B) Oh I thought you were intelligent? Well I better dumb everything down now I know that.
(C) Oh wow! I would never have guessed! Amazing!
(D) I was just trying to make polite conversation, now I’ve got to pretend I care. Wish I’d never asked.
The only solution I can think of is to raise awareness
Brain injuries happen much more than many people would imagine. Most of us will at some point know someone who has suffered a brain injury. What we need to help people realise is that it doesn’t mean the end, but you can’t judge someone for it. Every person will have a unique experience and in most cases that means good days and bad days. So trying to judge someone by their career doesn’t really help. Their bad days might make their career options limited. But their good days might leave you for dust.
Do you feel we put too much weight on someones career/ Do you think people judge you badly after your brain injury?