I went to university fresh out of high school and intended to become an English teacher. I actually wanted to be a writer, but I believed that my only career option was to teach English literature. Nearly every time I told someone that I’d chosen English and history as my two teachable subjects, they would say, ‘Do math or science instead because you’ll never get a job as an English teacher.’ It was discouraging and disheartening (people said similar things about being a novelist), but I didn’t let it deter me. I was, however, miserable in my teacher training. I hated it and I knew that I did not want to be a teacher and I was not a teacher. I fell into publishing during my third year of my undergraduate degree and found another way to use all of the things I am best at: reading, writing, editing, and research. I want to be a commissioning editor for literary fiction.
I spent the weekend in Oxford at a conference. When I told people I wanted to work in editorial and aspired to be a commissioning editor, I was met with the same responses that I was when I told people about being a novelist or English teacher: that the market was competitive and that I stood no chance of getting into editorial – in any capacity – because it’s the job everyone wants. They spoke to me as though I were unaware of the odds stacked against me, and I felt the need to defend myself and express that I am aware of the competition that exists to break into not only editorial, but publishing. I am aware that it doesn’t help that I am foreign, either.
I have compromised my dignity and integrity and ‘played the disability card’ in hopes that it would help me secure a job that I really wanted (editor for fiction) but it didn’t work. Using my disability was not advantageous in that situation and – while I understand why I was rejected – I feel very ashamed that the card I did not want to play did not better my chances or opportunities with regards to that job. It was of no help to me when I thought it might be (and had previously been encouraged to play that card).
I think I have to do what everyone does: network well, find the right people, promote my most useable skills, and have some confidence in what I’ve already accomplished and achieved. I have to treat this the way any other person would, put my disability aside, and make myself indispensable on the basis of my own talent, competency, intelligence, and worth as a person. I have spent so much time stressing over everything that works against me – student status, foreignness, and disability – that I have forgotten to use and focus on the positive things that could land me a really good job. I’m a strong writer, meticulous editor, and accurate researcher. I should be able to get a job based on those aptitudes and qualities if someone likes and values me enough.
I spoke with my mum this afternoon and we agreed that, while I do have a lot of odds stacked against me, I can’t let it stop me. I’ve been in situations many times before where I have had a lot more odds stacked against me and I’ve not only come through them and survived them, but ultimately excelled. I had odds stacked against me from the moment I was born – the team that cared for me in the hospital didn’t even know if I would survive – and I’ve accomplished more than even I ever dreamed I could.
Around this time a couple of years ago, I was in a prolonged challenging and horrible situation for several months, and someone told me that I wouldn’t succeed and wasn’t capable of doing well. I told her, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong,’ and I did. She later told me that she honestly did not believe me capable of coming through that very difficult experience, but I did. She respected me more for it and I respected myself more for it. This is a situation for which I have to do the same. I have to believe that I am not only capable, but unstoppable.