About 25 years ago I interviewed for a vocational rehabilitation counsellor position at for an insurance company. The owner of the company had a PhD in Psychology while my undergraduate degree was in Archaeology. I thought that put me a decided advantage. His first, and as it turned out, last question in the interview was, “Why would anyone who is being paid disability  benefits, which can be quite generous, be interested in giving It all up and go to work?”

“They have a need to improve their economic situation.” I answered. “They want to pay more taxes and contribute to their RRSPs. With each embellishment of this theme I dug myself deeper and deeper into my self-excavated hole of despair. Finally, he ended the interview. Come back when you find the answer.

The bastard never gave me the satisfaction of answering the question. What a show off.

Over the next 25 years I developed a career for myself as a vocational rehabilitation counsellor. Luckily, no one ever asked that question again. Nevertheless, it haunted me. It was a riddle that demanded an answer.

That’s why last fall I was thrilled to be asked to speak to a group of people in Burnaby to try out some of the answers I thought might at least open a discussion on why a person with a disability might want to work a part of their recovery. I was also asked to do it again this Wednesday for Mental  Health Week

My original answer still stands. It’s good to have money. Money lets you do things beyond survival. But there is more to it than that. The good doctor was right after all.

Here are some other reasons for work that I have ferreted upt over the past decades:

  1. Workplace Comradery:

When you find a job, you’re thrust into a position  of relating to strangers. You begin to form relationships with them. You may even find yourself socializing with them, which is probably better for your wellbeing than hanging around the house watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes on the cable network. Having relationships means gaining support, expanding your network, and generally getting yourself into trouble.

  1. Identity:

The holidays are coming, and holidays  means parties. One of the first questions peole get asked. “What do you do for work? If you aren’t working, it might be kinder to ask, “What do you eat for breakfast?”

But they don’t.

They ask you to justify your existence  by talking about work. “I don’t work because I have depression,” You might think of saying, but that’s a show stopper. Wouldn’t it be better to say.”I’m helping deliver the mail. That may lead to some serious dog talk.


  1. Workplace Language:

I once had a job as a longshoreman on the docks of New Westminster. A foreman told me. Bring that lazy guy and attach him to that cleat. I spotted a guy leaning on a bulkhead. “If he looked any lazier he would br growing moss on his north side,”  I thought.  As I dragged him to the cleat, I looked for something to attach him with.

The foreman could barely control his mirth as he explained that  guy was a rope that helped hold a mast. A lazy guy isa rope that is just hanging there not supporting anything

  1. Teamwork

During the height of the last Ice Age, there was a whole collection of critters that we sometime called mega fauna because they were big. There were sabre-toothed tigers and American lions to contend with. The short-faced bear that was roughly the size of an elementary school that could rip apart bison the size of box cars, and gigantic camels, ground sloths woolly mammoths and, of course, horses.

All of these animals became extinct during the last  Ice Age about 15.000 years ago. These included the horse and camel who may have migrated across the Bering Land Bridge into Asia and Europe. Some of the camels went to South America to be llamas. There were no horses in North America after the ice age until the arrival of the Spaniards – Particularly Columbas who brought them on his second voyage in 1494

Horses kept heading West just as the First Nations people headed East. Apparently their paths never crossed. In any event, it took 5 – 10 thousand years for the horse to become domesticated. The date for this was learned when traces of mare’s milk was recovered from a flask. The date of 5000 years has to be the early date for this because you can’t milk a wild horse.

First Nations people on the Great Plains developed a tradition of hunting bison using teamwork. The would find a herd and dress up a team member in bison skins and have him mingle with the heard. Other members would make piles of rocks and hide behind them. The piles of rocks would outline a passageway that would decrease in breadth – ultimately leading to the edge of a cliff.

When everything was in place, the guy in the skins would begin to overact, causing a small stampede, As the heard headed for the rock piles, team members would pop up and focus the herd to their ultimate demise at the bottom of the cliff.

When the Spanish came, the horse made this operation easier. In fact, the team skills they developed hunting translated to the teamwork they developed to defeat Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Another example of team work may come from some of the nursing homes. A Care Aid spots a resident on the floor and deduces that something has to be done. She notices that the resident outweighs her by a significant amount. If she does it herself, she will hurt herself, and likely drop the resident again. She assembles a team, “You two take the knees, you two take the hips, and I’ll take the shoulders.” She says. “Okay, one, two three lift.” The problem is solved, and everyone got to feel they were a contributing team member.

I believe there are three skills that let one become a member of a team: listening (for the bison hooves and for the count in the care home), problem solving (applying the team) and negotiation. (You wear the bison skins this time).

You can only learn this stuff at work, but once you have, put it on your resume.

  • Possess the communication skills (listening, problem solving and negotiation) to be an effective team member

5: Leadership

Leadership is the final skill is attainable through employment – if you want it. The problem is you have to want it. If one wants a management job, one generally has to apply for it. By contrast, leaders grow into the job by taking on responsibility and inspiring others to do so as well.

My old man was a tug boat captain. He was responsible for the command of a ship that was all engine. There was only room aboard for five crewmembers.  He never applied for the position. He came up through the ranks. He began as a deck hand, then a second mate, then a first mate, then a captain.

“I could never figure out how he did it.” said his first mate at the old man’s funeral. He was talking about his skill at docking the boat regarded as a critical part of seamanship.  A mistake could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in dock and hull repair. “He took the walkie-talkie and scampered to the stern.” The mate continued.  “Then he started telling us to increase or decrease the RPS of either the port or starboard engines. We would just walk the boat in then tie her up. It was like our hands became extensions of his brain.”

“I never could figure out how he did it.” He said.

“You mean he didn’t tell you?” I asked.

“Tell me what?” The mate asked. “You mean there was a trick to it?”

“You could call it that,” I said. “Do you want me to tell you?

“Sure.” He said. “I might want to be a skipper some day.”

As I told the mate, the old man came up through the ranks, just like you did. That means he learned how the boat ‘felt’ when it was running smoothly under command. That means that he knew what the crew felt like when running smoothly under his command. That’s 90% of the work. The 10 % comes from a problem – such as docking.

He could have had all the controls moved to the stern and conducted the whole operation by himself, but he didn’t want to do that. He wanted the crew to be active participants.  “After all,” he used to think to himself, “If the company finds out that the first and second mates were redundant, they wouldn’t have jobs, and if they didn’t have jobs, where on earth would the supply of skippers come from?”

The fact was that he really didn’t have a clue what the changes in RPMs of the engines would do, but he had to do something. He used to start off far enough from the wharf that if he didn’t like the direction the boat was going after he gave his first order; he had time to change it. He just had to do it in such a way that it didn’t appear he made a mistake, because the captain is never wrong. He might be misinformed, but he’s never wrong.

Therefore, there are three rules of leadership:

  1. If there is a problem, you have the distance from to the wharf to make a remedial decision
  2. You need to involve the crew – not so much to help, but so they can witness leadership
  3. You have to be prepared to take responsibility for your action. If the ship sinks, you need to go down with it.


Mike Broderick , a one- time archaeologist, is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor with the Fraser Health Authority in Port Coquitlam where he helps people with mental health disabilities find and keep full or part time employment .

 He WAS the Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he found employment for people with physical disabilities, A Supported Employment Coordinator at THEO BC (now the Open Door Group), and a case manager at Community Fisheries Development Centre where he helped people move from the fishing industry to something else because there, “Aint no fish.” This means he is VERY familiar with how a modern day resume should look.

 He is a newly retired ambassador with the Vancouver Board of Trade and a former member of the Labour Task Force of the Burnaby Board of Trade He does some work as a field Archaeologist, is a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to Alive Magazine. He is always saying, “If you can’t be fit, you can at least be funny.”

 He lives in Port Coquitlam with his spouse Cecelia. You can reach him at home at michael_broderick@telus.net  or at 604-464-4105. If you’re looking for a career change, he is the Spin Doctor and can give you a resume makeover at competitive rates.






3 Responses to “WHY WORK IN 2017”

  1. energywriter Says:

    Interesting. You bring up some points I had not considered, though I’ve done most of them. I avoid supervising at all costs. sd

    • mikebroderick Says:

      Thanks for your comments David and Sharon. I have been quite passive about the digital revolution, and, for the most part, view it as something to cope with. This gives some of the younger members of my team something to mentor me on. This provides a leadership opportunity for them. They need to make sure I get all the relevant information, though. Here.s a case in point. As a job developer, I meet a lot of business people, and as a result I collect a lot of business cards. I thought technology could help. so I bought a card scanner. Better than that. someone volunteered to scan the cards. That task took 3 months, At the end of that time, my faithful worker found another job. Now, somewhere on my mainframe is all my information, but I haven’t a clue how to get it.

  2. David E. Best Says:

    Excellent article with wise advice. The shift from the labour based economy to the digital knowledge based economy has steadily marginalized persons with disabilities, because for the most part business and government leaders have become self-absorbed with success and have allowed the gap of understanding human abilities to widen. A rapidly increasing digital economy has forced leaders to depend upon “experts” in making quick decisions, and have little time to engage those outside of the professional realm. Perception of good will and best intentions, is not necessarily a success factor in corporate culture. A good leader will recognize talent despite a disability.

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