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A New Lens: Finding Success by Asking the Hard Questions and Giving Yourself Grace

By Jamie Fox, Manager, Talent Acquisition

As a continuation in a Mental Health Series around balancing mental health in the workplace during the pandemic, I had the chance to sit down with Sean C., Senior Manager of Schwab Social Media. Sean shared his journey of being diagnosed with ADHD within the last year and how that has enlightened, enhanced, and altered his life, both personally and professionally. As a member of the Charles Schwab Abilities Network Employee Resource Group, Sean also shares the deep benefit of having an engaged community of support to help navigate neurodiversity in the workplace, particularly in our current remote environment.

How long have you been with Schwab and what is your current role?

I’ve been with Schwab for about two and a half years and my current role is Sr. Manager within the Social Media organization, so I’m the program manager for our Employee Advocacy Program which is Share Your Schwab; this is open to anyone at Schwab to go and share about Schwab experiences such as our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). I also touch on other social areas as well, but Share Your Schwab is the primary one. I am a member of the Austin chapter for the Charles Schwab Abilities Network (CSAN).

How did you get involved in Charles Schwab Abilities Network?

I became a member when I discovered I was neurodiverse myself, and that happened a little over a year ago—I think it was June last year that I was finally diagnosed as ADHD.

At that point I started to realize I wanted to dive in more and learn more about how this is being approached in the workplace, what is Schwab’s perspective on all of this, and how had other people at Schwab developed and coped—what are their experiences? And that’s been powerful to have access to that.

The resource has been the emotional and social support. There hasn’t been a specific event or a specific website or article—and I think those things are amazing and people should take advantage of them—but for me, just knowing there’s a group of people there where these conversations are being had openly and there’s a sense of belonging for each of these groups—whatever your background and whatever it is you want to talk about—there’s a group of people there that understands that, is involved in that, and can point you in the right direction. I really appreciate what CSAN and the other ERGs do to allow people to surface their stories because that can be the impetus for someone to reach out to say, ‘Hey, me too. I’ve had these experiences as well and it feels good to know that there are other people that I respect and like who are dealing with that as well.’ 

What did the process look like of discovering you have ADHD?

The role I took when I came to Schwab was expanding what I had done in the past. There was a great deal more work in the areas of operations, reporting, communication, documentation—a lot of details and moving parts that really needed to be taken care of in order for everything to work in the way it needed to work—in order to get these groups to work together in the way they needed to work together. And I found myself really struggling in a way I hadn’t in the past.

I had a long history of experience with training and development, with employee advocacy programs. So working with programs like Share Your Schwab, at a high level, should have been right in my wheelhouse. But I found myself working evenings, working weekends just to keep up with all these different little details. I was really having a lot of negative self-talk around all of this; my quality of life was suffering. My wife was very understanding about it and supported me trying to grow professionally, but it meant less time to spend nurturing our relationship as well. So there were a lot of challenges that went along with it and I think I first started with a lot of negative self-talk like, ‘Oh, if you’d just apply yourself and stop being lazy…’ and all of those things that go along with it; I think that’s a very common experience for ADHD people in particular, but also other neurodiverse people, including autistic people, people with dyslexia, and so forth.   

I started to look online for resources around procrastination and efficiency. That’s when, both internally at Schwab and externally online, I started to find people who were sharing stories around those topics that had to do with ADHD. And that kind of shattered my preconceptions of what ADHD was, which I think for many people who haven’t been exposed to it or haven’t learned about it, looks like the stereotypical young, male child who is extremely hyper-active and disruptive in the classroom. That’s kind of the stereotype or the model that most people have in their heads. Because some people with ADHD present hyper-actively, other people with ADHD present inattentively and have that difficulty with focus and executive function and task completion. And I was a part of the latter and so did not find out until I was in this work situation that was forcing me to exercise those portions of my mind and those portions of my skillset. From there, seeing that there were support groups internally, seeing people share experiences both internally and externally, kind of gave me the courage and was also the impetus to me reaching out and finally talking to someone professionally about it to see, okay, am I making this up, is this the real deal, and if so—what do we do about it? And to really get that external perspective and validation on it as opposed to just spinning around in that space with it. And that’s really when everything changed for me.

What was that moment like when there was a name that you could put to your experience—was that relieving or freeing or how would you describe that?

You’re looking for a reason not to feel bad about your personal failings, your lack of moral character, and so forth. But I still went forward and decided to let someone who knows what they’re talking about make that determination. And I think that was the leap of faith. And after having that conversation and receiving that diagnosis, the floodgates opened and there is a ton of both mental and emotional work that’s happened. There’s been this process of looking back at my entire personal and professional life with an entirely new lens—providing a reframing of both my struggles and successes in that light. But then there’s also been the realization of what it’s like not to have those weights on my ankles, this is what it’s like not to have to swim against the current. It’s still hard—we still must work, we still have to swim, but we’re not swimming against the current now. And that was an extremely liberating experience.

How has the pandemic affected the way your approach your work?   

I don’t know if this is particular to me or particular to others with ADHD—because I haven’t had this conversation with them—but communication… You and I are talking on camera right now so I can see your facial expression, your posture. And those things add so much nuance and information to what you’re saying. We can tell if the other person cares, if they’re being sarcastic—there’s so much that comes from those cues that we don’t get as much of working remotely. We must balance—sometimes for my own social, emotional, mental well-being, I have to be off the camera. I just need to be able to get the information, provide the information, and move on. This is true to both neurotypical and neurodiverse, but I think particularly in a neurodiverse environment it helps to ask those clarifying questions and I feel very fortunate that the people who don’t share the same background and struggle as me are open to, and have been understanding of, having that additional conversation and providing that additional clarity. And it’s helped me produce better work.

What advice do you have for neurodiverse individuals considering joining Schwab?  

Honestly the barriers are less informational and more emotional and social than anything else. And so the message I think that’s most important to get out is that there are understanding, compassionate, and professional, accomplished, successful people at Schwab who are involved in all of these groups who are not only willing but want to engage with you and connect with you and share experiences and hear from you. And also, to acknowledge that just because we both might have a similar condition, that doesn’t mean that I understand your individual experience and there’s no one-size-fits-all that comes from this. But there’s a space where you can have the conversation freely and not be judged for it and that’s powerful. And I think that when you can get yourself into that space, then the ability to participate, the ability to learn, the ability to take advantage of more of those concrete resources becomes stronger.

Whether you are in one of these groups and deal with these issues, or whether you’re working with people who deal with these issues, that information will help you; knowing, for instance, how the ADHD brain works means that you can communicate with me in a way that enables me to get you what you need better, faster, more of it. And vice versa, it makes me feel more empowered to engage and to interact and to do those things. So, educating ourselves about all of these things regardless of the group, regardless of the ERG, regardless of the background, helps each and every one of us. And I think that’s a powerful thing.

Schwab’s Employee Resource Groups are employee-driven and provide support, leadership development opportunities, and connection to our diverse marketplace. Learn more about the ERGs you can be a part of as a Schwabbie here.