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It’s the climb…

If you are on social media–specifically Facebook, you know that Facebook will show you “memories” from past posts on a given day. Recently, it’s been showing me posts and photos from what I think was very much a breakthrough day in the start of my career–spending 36 hours in Portland, OR at LavaCon 2012. I had done a webinar in about four months prior for Adobe, as someone who used to be in their marketing team discovered me, and had me participate in their webinar series at the time. But it was Adobe’s invitation to “cover” Adobe Day the day before the big start of LavaCon for this blog that was my first real introduction into the tech comm universe–I guess you can say my “debut to” tech comm society (like a debutante of sorts). There, I met many people that I had only known through social media, and remain friends with them to this day. Seven months or so from this writing will mark the 10th anniversary of the first STC Summit that I attended in Atlanta (which ironically will be in Atlanta again this year), and met a whole bunch more people similarly.

What’s hanging on in my mind is the journey I’ve had to take from that point at LavaCon 2012 to now…how many job changes I’ve had, how many dry spells of unemployment I’ve had, how many jobs that were good or bad, my adventures with STC and other tech comm outlets, and finally, all the people. I mean, some people that I met at LavaCon in that very short spell there are still friends who I rely on, and who I consider mentors. Same with those I met at my first Summit. Some of them gave me exposure and breaks to help me find jobs along the way and foster my writing. Sometimes, I’ve learned things that were not tech comm related that have either been set by example or were a good life skill. I think the point is that–WOW! Over the last 10 years, I’ve met SO many people in the tech comm field that have supported me along the rough road I’ve had to take along the way to get to where I am now, who didn’t give up on me when I had given up on myself. Hence, to get to where I am now, it’s been “a climb”.

These days, I’m in a good place professionally. For the moment, I like being a full-time employee, which I really haven’t been for more than 22 years (since before my son was born). I’m fortunate in that I get to work remotely, as this has always been important so I could be flexible and available for my family. I get to flex my tech comm muscles, and I feel like I do my job well, and have gained the trust of those I work with. I reflect on both the good contracts and not-so-good contracts I had, and how they’ve all helped me focus on what I do best, learn skills along the way, and figure out what I really want from my career. I’ve also advanced to being elected as a board director for the STC with some hard work, a lot of support, and some luck thrown in there, too. All the tech comm friends I’ve had along the way have supported me both professionally and with my STC endeavors, and that’s been a big help.

The one area that is suffering right now, however, is my sanity as a parent. I’ve written often about my son over the years. You would think that as a young adult with Asperger’s Syndrome who’s had so much support over many years, he’d be in a good spot. However, we’ve hit a big snag. He’s SO close to being done with his degree, but his program requires working at FOUR internships (basically, working for about 18 months as an apprentice) during his participation in the program. He’s made two attempts at working, and he never gets past working a full week. For him, working three eight-hour days plus two days of classes is just too much. He’s also putting a lot of pressure on himself because he feels he needs to be “perfect” or at least better than any other newbies there so that he can stand out, but he can’t keep up with the pace. He’s spent more time in a dealership bathroom crying than I think most people ever have! He’s just not ready for that. So far, the director of the program is allowing him to continue to take classes, but he’s not so flexible with this internship thing. He’s also not helpful, as it’s obvious that my son needs to be in an environment where accuracy of the work supersedes speed, which is not the environment of your average car dealership. The program director insists that the students need to find jobs on their own–which my son has done twice now, but he won’t help give us any leads for someone who might be a better fit for my kid so that he can gain some confidence and experience. We’re expected to figure out how to do this on our own. We’re all frustrated with this situation, to say the least. It’s actually giving me PTSD.

My husband and I have been looking for alternative programs where my son could transfer his credits. We’re also at a point where we’re trying to find alternative majors or training for my son, because his interest and confidence in his current major is waning. With his very, VERY narrow set of interests and a huge lack of motivation, this is proving very difficult.

I’ve been suffering from burnout syndrome for a long time, and I’m just so used to it that I truly don’t know how to full relax. I recently read that parents of special needs children that are higher functioning often have more stress than those who are much more dependent. So right now, my stress is so bad that I’m starting to not only do the usual of losing sleep and being grumpy and have the occasional eye twitching, but now my body is throwing in the occasional heart palpitations when I’m not even doing anything that stresses me out. That can’t be good.

So, while I’ve come so far because of the professional support I’ve gotten towards an important part of my life–establishing a solid career, now I have to figure out how to find the support to keep parenting and help my kid so that he can find some success himself.

It’s still a climb to balance this work/life thing. I’ve got the work thing down now, thankfully, and hopefully it stays this way for a long while. But this life thing…UGH.

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Pandemic re-emergence? What’s new with TechCommGeekMom…so far.

Exit Darkness, Enter Light” by Fr@ηk is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually updated things. The last few years with this pandemic haven’t actually been that inspiring. And the last year or so has been a whirlwind. As I write this, I just finished giving my husband all my documentation for our 2021 taxes. Wait–it’s 2022 already? There are times my head feels scrambled because there’s just so much going on, and just in 2022 alone, there have been some big changes in my life–or at least how I’m doing things. Let me explain.

First, let’s look at things on the STC front. I’ve worked very hard over the last few years as a chapter leader for my local chapter–doing everything from communications to membership to programming to executive operations (if you want to call it that), and while I still have to do one more transition training after the spring (Easter/Passover) holidays, I’m essentially out of chapter/community leadership for a while. I knew the day would eventually come. I’m still a chapter member, just not in leadership. It was a good run, because the chapter is still going despite a lot of things that went wrong due to the pandemic and just the state of the world right now, and I’ve left it in the hands of people that I trust, so that helps. But this doesn’t mean that I’ve left the STC volunteer schema in any way. If anything, I got lucky as I was elected as a Board Director for the STC Board Director. I will tell you, the process to be a candidate was more intense than any job interview process I’ve ever been in! And I was lucky because there were two spaces and I was one of two candidates…so…you do the math. I really went into it not expecting to be elected at all, and lucky if I got to be on the slate. So, there’s a lot of changes that are coming up this month where I’ll be initiated into the Board. I sat in on an orientation/onboarding meeting this past week, and just had to breathe through it…it’s different, and it’s a lot to take in. I’ve been assured by my friends who’ve been on the STC board that I’ll be fine. I hope they are right. In the meantime, I’m still active on the Community Affairs Committee (CAC) for the Board, so that keeps me busy as well on that front for the rest of the program year. Between Board stuff and CAC stuff, I’m going to especially busy for the next month or so. I’m also presenting at the STC Summit this year, so I have to finish out the slides and such for that. Busy, busy, busy.

The other big thing that’s happened this year is that something that I’ve been seeking since this blog was started was finally achieved. I finally got a permanent placement position that’s remote. While I still had to interview for the position as if I was coming from the outside, I was able to convert my contract position into a permanent full-time employee position. I’m still doing the same job, except now I have the security that my contract isn’t ending at the end of October 2022, so unless there’s a big layoff or I really screw up, I have some job security. That’s taken a huge weight off my shoulders. I finally have employee benefits–better than what my husband had at his long-term position, that we switched it to me taking over medical, dental, vision, etc. Some things that I’m working on, though, is getting out of a contractor mentality. I’m still the biggest advocate for contractors–believe me–but I’m still adjusting to a full-time employee mentality. I haven’t been a full-time employee since 2000–before my son was born! So, it’s a bit of an adjustment in that respect. I also am part of progress checks and performance evaluations, which I’m not used to, and that gives me anxiety. I went through my first one the other day, and so far, so good.

Nonetheless, I’m glad that I’ve found a work “home”, and I generally like the work that we’re doing. Right now, it’s a little stressful as we have a big project going on that is launching at the end of June, and the intensity of getting everything done and doing the due diligence with the content is…challenging. Part of the challenge is me learning to go with the flow of things, and while I know what’s planned for after this project, I can’t think past that project launch. Just so much going on. I will say, at least, that where I’ve landed encourages that I have the opportunity to learn and grow, and I know my manager is happy with my STC involvement, so, that helps.

Some of these things spill over into my personal life, of course. While I haven’t been needing to look for a new position, I had to help my son look for his first apprenticeship/internship for school as he continues his studies to be an auto mechanic. He still struggles with his studies, but I can’t always help him because I don’t know the first thing about auto mechanical-related stuff. But I could help him with his apprenticeship search, and I’m helping him with his onboarding. It’s his first job, and his autistic anxiety is getting the best of him in some respects. I think he’ll do fine. We lucked out because we pushed him to look before the other students did, and he is starting in two weeks where he works once a week for about 3-4 weeks, and then he’ll be almost full-time (32 hours per week) while he continues his studies during the next 16 months. But, he got something, and he’s going to be one tired guy once he starts, but hopefully it’ll go well. He seems to get along with the service manager he’ll be working for, so that’s a good start. When I started this blog, he was still a little boy, an early “tween”. Now, he’s a young adult, and while in some ways he’s still a teenager even though he’s actually in his early 20s, so much is changing for him, too. Oh, and the hubby is fine, too. Readjusting to working hybrid, and he’s wishing he could work remotely permanently.

So, that’s the update. Kind of hard to write about much more at the moment. Oh, I will be on the Content Wrangler podcast this week as well! The podcast is A Decade of Observations From TechCommGeekMom: Danielle Villegas on April 20, 2022 1:00 pm ET. I look forward to talking to Paul Perrotta! He and I already just gab and gab when we do get together to talk, so it should be an interesting chat!

How have you started to emerge from the pandemic? Any big changes for you? Share in the comments.

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Happy 10th birthday, TechCommGeekMom.com!

On March 9, 2012, I was in my last semester of getting my master’s degree in professional and technical communications at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). One of the two last main courses I was taking was “Theory and Practice of Social Media”, a course I would later teach a few years later. In the class, we were instructed that we had to create a blog/website. So, I took some blog posts I had created for another class to start, added a few more, and well…the rest is history.

The idea behind this blog was–and still remains–one to express my ideas and issues that deal with various technical communications topics. When I was getting out of grad school, by ambition was to be an instructional designer. Here I am a decade later…someone who has used instructional design, but is not an instructional designer. But between my pre-grad school background skills, plus all the enhanced ones from my studies, I began a journey that continues today to try to find my “calling”. It feels like I’ve done a little bit of everything, but in the last decade, between continuing education through the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and getting some more continuing education certificates in digital marketing and UX Design, I’ve continued to expand and grow to get to where I am today.

There are over 1300 articles in this blog over the years. Often, it would be me sharing an article with some commentary, and sometimes it was baring my soul as I’ve gone through my journey to now. Sometimes, it was good; sometimes, it wasn’t so good. It’s been a rough decade! But I’m at a point where I feel like I might finally be coming out on top.

Anyway, I digress…this is still a space for exploration and learning. I’ve always invited constructive comments because social media (and yes, blogging is a form of social media still) is meant to be a means of a two-way communication, much more than just a one-way conversation, even if it ends up being that way most of the time. It has been a space where I could express myself and show what I know…this was initially a “marketing” tool for myself in helping me find work. Sometimes this has paid off! People get to know me beyond the resume or CV, and get to know me a little better, and understand what I’m learning to grow in my career.

While I don’t write as often as I used to, most of that is due to just being burned out and busy. The last two years, with a pandemic, have been trying on everyone, and my focus has been elsewhere. But I’ve come a long way in a decade.

You know that question that interviewers ask often–that lame question that goes along the lines of, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Where I am not is not where I thought I’d be. I’ve learned not to give an answer to that. I can say, “This is my goal,” but do I always reach those goals? No. But I persevere. And this blog is a testament to my perseverance.

I’ll try to stop in more often when I can. I think things are changing enough in my life that I can start to share articles and add commentary again, or try to post original content like this. But there’s over 1300 articles in this blog. I’m sure you’ll find something worthwhile to read in there. 😉 I’ve updated the layout theme a little bit so that it’s fresh for a new decade, so enjoy!

Happy 10th birthday, TechCommGeekMom.com!

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Not all personas are alike!

Had to share this out–got this from Kirk St. Amant, who got it from Maks Giordano and Hilary Marsh. This is why personas can help a little, but not always a lot, and why understanding your audience’s needs–not who they actually are–makes a difference. This is a GREAT example!

May be an image of 2 people and text that says 'Prince Charles Male Born in 1948 Raised in the UK Married twice Lives in a castle Wealthy & amous Ozzy Osbourne Male Born in 1948 Raised in the UK Married twice Lives in a castle Wealthy & famous Personas shouldn't be about demographics. Personas should be about the problems challenges people face.'

Can you think of other examples? Share in the comments below!

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An invisible disability is still a disability–even at work.

Photo by Ola Dapo on Pexels.com

Today was a typical day for me, in that I had to deal with my son’s frustration with his schoolwork. For those who haven’t read this blog for very long, he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. And I have it too, but we are different in how we display it. (I’m older and more experienced in trying to work with it or around it.) He’s having difficulty with keeping up and understanding what he needs to do with his class, and he texted me today to say that his instructors were claiming that they had never received his accommodations form at the beginning of the year. I remembered when that came in, and I was sure that he had sent it to the head of the department at least (he’s only taking classes in one department). Since my son has given me permission to go into his school email, I was able to find the accommodation form as well as the original email, and so I emails the professors on his behalf, forwarding the information to them, and saying that if he needs to get more accommodations that will help him succeed added to his form, he’ll work with the school office that helps with that stuff to make it happen.

It made me think about everything that I’ve had to do in my life, not knowing that I was autistic as well for most of my life. I can definitely sympathize with my son, and I didn’t have the same kind of encouragement and help that he gets. One of the things that we have in common–which is definitely a sign of our autism–is that when we get overwhelmed, we shut down. We won’t be able to move forward or back or any direction until we get help. This is often misinterpreted as being lazy. Now, this is not to say that we can’t be procrastinators or lazy like others in the world. We absolutely can. But we need to differentiate what’s being overwhelmed and what’s being lazy. Sometimes the difference is razor thin.

One of my son’s fears in speaking up for himself is that he doesn’t want to look stupid in front of the class–or his instructors, for that matter. He’s afraid to say, “Hey, I’m confused, and I’m not sure what I’m doing,” even if the instructor just gave him the instructions. You can imagine his frustration that with the topic he’s learning, he knows he has to learn it as part of the curriculum and certification process that he’s going through because it’s going to be an important part of what he’ll be doing for his career, so he does need to understand how to do it. I’m the first to say my son is not an academic, but he IS smart, but is learning-different. And being learning-different is invisible. He’s still learning how to speak up for himself and advocate for himself, and this is when Mom (me), his dad, and people in the disabilities office at school try to advocate for him or teach him how to advocate for himself. When he’s frustrated, he gets overwhelmed and it’s hard to separate what he needs to do to advocate for himself and his anger and frustration. It’s tough.

But I understand it. It wasn’t until I was much older–twice his age–until I understand how to do it for myself. Now I’m a little TOO fierce when I advocate for myself sometimes! LOL But the difference is that accommodations at school and having your parents intervene is not the same at work. There are those in the workforce who think that accommodations is solely for needing wheelchair access, visual readers, closed-captioning, and ergonomic chairs and wrist rests. What’s often ignored in the workplace is the invisible disabilities–autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory integration, anxiety, and things like that. When someone is in school, there are support systems put in place to help people with these kinds of invisible disabilities. Sometimes, at the college level, they’ll have it, depending on the college, but it’s limited (this is what we’ve tried to take advantage of at my son’s college when possible). But at work…nope. Nothing.

For me personally, I’ve usually divulged my autism after I’m hired and settled in, because most of my career has been done without that knowledge, and I want to be hired on my accomplishments and merits without that information. But once I’m in, I try to make sure that my manager and my teammates understand some of my limitations. For example, I can listen and take notes, but I can’t process the information at the same time. I can’t condense it quickly to take down the notes, and move on. The person giving me the directions or talking about something might have moved onto the next thing before my brain actually can process whatever’s being talked about. So I find I have to tell people to SLOW DOWN, and I have been taught to review my instructions back to the person to make sure that I understand them. The last thing I need to do, which is a natural reflex for most people, is to say, “Sure, I understand,” when I don’t, and then mess up the entire situation. This used to get me in trouble–a lot more than anyone else who was around me either at school or work. So, I had to learn to do this so that I didn’t mess anything up. Other times, I’ve had to learn how to step up and say I’m overwhelmed, especially if everything–meaning many tasks assigned–all became a “priority” or “urgent” at the same time. I have learned how to gauge my own bandwidth, and call out if something is unrealistic, and ask my manager to prioritize the priorities as well, because I can only do so many things at once without feeling overwhelmed and having a meltdown. I will even have to make sure that I say something that I’m on the verge of feeling overwhelmed, and ask for help to navigate, because I do want to do a good job and do well. Some of this is the sort of thing that my son is still learning how to navigate, and I can only teach him so much about this without being with him at all times.

One of the big things that the pandemic and the last four to five years has been about is people trying to encourage each other to be kind, patient, and flexible with each other. There’s no better place–outside of your own home–than your workplace, where people spend almost as much–and sometimes more–time with co-workers than with family. So many practices came into play a century ago that are still used today that don’t work. This isn’t “feel good” talk, but rather common sense and decency towards each other. We don’t all work the same way. We don’t learn the same way. Heck, even I get frustrated with other people when they don’t understand something that I do! But, having an invisible disability or not, we all need to figure out the best way to work with each other and make compromises. Sometimes that starts with someone who’s at a natural disadvantage that they can’t help.

What do you think? Do you think corporate society does enough to accommodate invisible disabilities? Include your comments below.