A. WORK*2023 update

My advice

You need money so you need a job. To get half as far, you will need to be twice as good. This means you need a lot of education/skills, more than your peers/competitors. So no matter how much education/skills you have now you need more, and you need to work at it and succeed at it. Pick something you enjoy, preferably that you love and have a passion for, because its healthier to enjoy what you do, and its easier to succeed when you care about what you do.

Failure requires no preparation. So work hard, set high standards, and try to do something extra to demonstrate that not only are you as good everyone else, you are better. You have to be better to even have a chance at being considered equal.

My experience up to 2014

I’ve had over 20 years in the workforce. During the first 10 years I was in and out of the workforce from one short term thing to another. For the next 10 plus years I was constantly employed and my salary went from 50k to 180k.

Initially after my accident my top priority was to finish my first degree. However it was not in a field well suited to quads (agriculture). As a result I spent a year applying for jobs, doing volunteer work and various work experience roles, until I finally decided I had to retrain by getting a higher degree.

I then did a masters, which was in a closely related field to my first degree, but one in which I hoped being a quad would be less of a problem (natural resource policy). My thinking was this would keep me close to my interests, and build on my previous training, rather doing something in which I would have had to start all over from the beginning.

This has turned out to be good thinking but it did not get me a job straight away. It took six or 12 months during which time I did some university teaching and research and a few contracts. However, after a year I did get a job in that field and have largely worked in the same field ever since.

The path I took to gaining more skills was education through a university. There are many other ways of gaining skills depending on your field. The lesson from my experience is not necessarily that to be an independent C6 you have to go to university, just that you need more skills than everyone else to be competitive. Therefore, take whichever training path is available to you to get as many skills as possible, because that path will lead you towards independence.

For the first 10 years I was in a relatively small university town. While I got fairly constant work it was changeable and the opportunities for advancement were limited. So I decided to move from the country into the city where there was a much bigger pool of jobs in my line of work. From a career perspective that was a very good decision.

My line of work is natural resource policy. That is I advise the State Government where I live on how to manage things, mainly things like water, soil, energy and vegetation. My government, like most others, is based in my capital city, so that is where my kind of work is. That was one reason my pay and my job satisfaction started to rise quickly.

The other reason was that after 2 years in the city I made two decisions:

  • always deliver, no excuses; and
  • when I wanted a job higher up the ladder I became the type of person who has that job, even if the job is not available and I have no opportunity to go for it. For example I started wearing suits a couple of years before I had a job that justified it.

However, I think it is important to note that I have never been selected for a job at a higher level than my existing level through a so-called competitive interview process. Instead, I have been promoted through direct appointment processes every two years or so. It seems that every time there is a big restructure in whichever organisation I am in, other people lose their jobs but I get promoted by whoever is now the new boss.

I think this means there is still serious discrimination in the interview phase of the recruitment process, but much less once you are actually on the job. That is, people are still less likely to choose someone in a chair that they do not know, over someone similar who is not in a chair. However, once they know you, or they know people who know you, it seems to be a different story. Its as if they have to see you on the job, or know someone who has seen you perform,  to believe that the chair really won’t be an issue. This theory is supported by my experience in that I have been successful in quite a few recruitment processes at the same level that I was at the time. That is when the interview panel could see I was already performing at that level, they could see the chair was not a problem so they were happy to appoint me.

This means that you may find you have to do some volunteer work somewhere before you succeed in winning your first few jobs. Volunteer work can provide proof to prospective employers that you can function in a workplace. It can also get you good contacts. A very high percentage of jobs are never advertised, employers just pick up someone they have come across one way or another. It also means that once you are in the workforce proper, you need to focus on building a reputation amongst your network. For example, whenever you get an opportunity to do a project or go to a meeting at a higher level take it. That way people higher up get to see that you can fit in and can function at those levels. Finally make sure to make a good impression whenever a new boss arrives in town.

In addition to performing in the job and maintaining my networks I did reach a point where I felt I needed more qualifications. This was the point in my career when the next step meant moving in to management. When I reached that point I found that I kept missing out on roles due to lack of management experience. So I did another post grad qualification and shortly thereafter got various acting opportunities in management roles. Once I had demonstrated I could manage a small team in an acting capacity, bosses then seemed happy to give me bigger and bigger teams, and teams of teams.

It was another case of both me becoming the type of person who has the job before I got the job, and also having to be acting in a similar job for the bosses to be confident to actually appoint me to a job.

Finally, I have found that while rising through the ranks was great for my self esteem, making friends, paying off my mortgage, and feeling good for quite a few years, after a long while was not necessarily enough. In my case I found that once I got above a certain level it started to take me away from what I am most passionate about, and that made me unhappy and unhealthy.

So my next step is to get back to my real interests and passions.

2023 update

I retired in 2020 at the age of 55. That’s at least five years earlier than most of my peers, my able-bodied peers. I did that because it just got too hard. In particular the time it was taking me to get through my bathroom routine in the mornings; and my ongoing battles with health, mainly bladder related and low blood pressure. Plus after 20 years in the work force, and being mid 50s, and having done pretty well, my motivation was a lot less. In other words, like lots of my able-bodied peers, I had become a grumpy old man. But while my able bodied grumpy peers could carry on taking the money despite being grumpy, for me it was a lot harder.

Luckily, I did have enough money that I could retire at that point, nevertheless I went into retirement with a lot less money than all of my able bodied peers because those last few years are when you can really bank a lot.

That I had enough money to retire at 55 was not entirely luck. My health started to decline after turning 50 and I became more and more convinced that I would not be able to keep working until 60, the usual age of retirement for my peers. So I got some advice and started doing calculations and trying to work out how I could get enough money together to retire earlier. Luckily for me an opportunity came up to get a package which allowed me to reach the numbers I had calculated that would allow me to quit at that age.

So I would recommend people getting some financial advice that assumes you’ll probably need to retire earlier than your able-bodied peers; then structure your savings and mortgages and things like that accordingly.


Pics of my graduations – degree (’80s), masters (’90s), and grad dip (2000s) – having as much of more skills and/or education than everyone else is step 1.

degree masters2 - P1000171

Here’s what the experts say

Not surprisingly studies find that employment is good for quads

CLICK HERE for an article that gives detail on the alternative to employment

CLICK HERE for a site that has lots of other quads’ opinions and experiences with employment

CLICK HERE – for spinalistips which has lots of practical adaptations to workplaces

My rule number 1 – To get half as far, you need to be twice as good

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