Sharing Stories of Successes and Failures in My OT Career Journey With Bill Wong, OTD, OTR/L
Bill is an occupational therapist from California. He has been practicing since 2012. Currently, he practices in skilled nursing facilities setting. He also is an adjunct faculty at Stanbridge University. Bill is finishing up his first term as the California #2 rep for the AOTA Representative Assembly. Bill was a speaker for TEDxGrandForks in 2015 and TEDxYouth@AlamitosBay in 2017. He was also the curator for TEDxAlmansorPark in 2019. Bill is passionate about autism, leadership, and social media in occupational therapy.
Successes and failures and what I got out of the experiences.
1. During my time as a student for my masters, I was amongst the bottom dwellers of my class. I barely got by kinesiology and neuroscience. Phys dys was my worst subject. I was able to get through this part because I generally built pretty strong rapport with my classmates. They encouraged me to keep fighting and reminded me that finishing up the degree is what matters. Now I am passing on this advice to students I come across on social media. Of course, these experiences were also assets as a faculty, too. I have students told me that because I experienced these struggles, I am able to relate to them better while giving them hope in the process.
2. I found out I have Asperger's in the middle of year 1 and year 2 of OT school. At that time, I was able to put a name to my struggles. But, it was not easy to figure out what accommodations I needed, let alone quickly. I contemplated a leave of absence even though I tried what I can to find hope and support. Turning point of this happened when I was attending the NBCOT/AOTA Student Conclave in 2010. I met Jaclyn Schwartz, who was the ASD Steering Committee chair at the time in person for the first time. We got to know each other because we ran against each other for that position a few months before that. Long story short, Jaclyn gave me a pep talk when we were waiting for our flights to return home from the conference. After she left, even though I still was searching for hope, Jaclyn's words rekindled my passion for OT again. Soon after, we started our unofficial friendly rivalry, as we try to challenge one another to do great things in OT. (I have been joking that our relationship has become one of the best friendly rivalries of all time in OT.)
3. My first year of working clinically was a struggle. I thought my first job was a good fit- location reasonably close to home, having some familiarity with my supervisor, having past successes in school based level 2 fieldwork, and I have a reasonable strong foundation of autism knowledge. However, it ended up exposing many of my weaknesses instead- weaknesses in behavior management, poor play and executive functioning skills. On top of that, I ended up having a relapse after I managed my anxiety well prior to that. So, I abruptly left that job 3 months into it. I then had an unsuccessful attempt at private practice for a year. When I decided to go for a paycheck-to-paycheck job again, I ended up taking a leap of faith to try skilled nursing facilities setting. Instead of taking a full time position right away, I chose to do per diem and started at 20-25 hours a week. My rationale was that I wanted to learn about the setting in my own terms and pace. This strategy turned out to be successful as I was able to become a full time therapist 1.5 years later.
4. I applied for the then AOTA Emerging Leaders Development Program 3 times and got rejected for all 3. I knew I needed some seasoning and mentorship even though many of my contemporaries thought that I was further along than them. Rather than giving up, I decided to build my own mentoring team. This has turned out well for my career. Meanwhile, these rejections gave me swagger to do my best in every OT leadership position I get to have. Of course, how my career is turning out also is motivating for OT students/practitioners who are passionate but got rejected of the opportunities they feel they deserve.
1. After I got rejected from AOTA's Emerging Leaders Development Program for the third time, I received an opportunity from AOTA to be part of its Community of Leaders committee, which is a subcommittee under the Volunteer Leadership Development committee. At that time, it was mostly consisted of alumni from the AOTA's Emerging Leaders Program. I have been told that the reason I was picked was because the decision makers felt knew that I am passionate about making a difference in the OT profession. They also knew that I was heartbroken from getting rejected by the Emerging Leaders Development Program 3 times. So, they extended an opportunity to me to see what I can do. Over time, I have proven these people right because I showed my dedication to the role. Also, my confidence from serving in the committee led me to run for the Representative Assembly in 2017 AOTA elections.
2. (sorry for a long one) I long aspired to be a leader in the OT profession since I started OT school. I always have grand goals, but I had no idea on how to put things together during my student days. So, I had been trying to do some homework on what successful leaders in OT do. One thing I noticed was how good their public speaking skills were. At that time, I felt there was a huge gap to make up. After all, I always asked for the easiest parts during group OT presentations in fear of affecting the grades for everyone else. When I saw Jaclyn Schwartz in action during the 2010 NBCOT/AOTA Student Conclave, I told myself, "I need to get better at public speaking. I can't let public speaking holding me back on my potential professionally." So, I created baby steps for me give me the necessary practice my public speaking skills under the gun. I started from doing a shared presentation at my state association conference. I then progressed to AOTA and international conferences a few years later. A key step of my progression happened in 2014 AOTA conference. I originally had 2 partners for my presentation. But, one of them, Terry De La O, passed away and the other, Lissa Bell, left OT school. Rather than canceling, I decided to go solo in honor of Terry's memory. I got additional pressure that week when I learned that Ginny Stoffel and Amy Lamb, the AOTA President and Vice-President at the time, would be there at the presentation for the only one they would hear that conference. I was quite nervous, knowing that the two of them would constantly give me tough questions for me to answer. When the presentation was over, Ginny told me that I gracefully answered all the questions from Amy and her. I felt so relieved because it was still the toughest OT conference presentation I have to this day.
Six months later, I received a random Facebook message from an OT student at the time, Hana Eichele. As she introduced herself to me, she was asking for my permission to nominate me for TEDxGrandForks, as she was a planning team member there. After I understood what might entail, I gave her permission to do so. Three weeks later, the TEDxGrandForks team interviewed me. Later that evening, I was notified I got in. Fast forward to the eve before TEDxGrandForks in 2015, I met planning team members from nearby TEDx events who were there to support TEDxGrandForks. They told me that they also would have wanted to invite me to speak at their events after knowing my story, but since TEDxGrandForks invited me already, the plan went out the window. This was significant because I thought being invited to speak at TEDx events were supposed to be one-and-done deals.
In December 2016, I attended TEDxLA out of curiosity. After all, I never attended a TEDx event locally. I had low expectations of the event because of it. When I found out the event would be at the Dolby Theatre, I decided to get there by public transportation rather than drive, as LA traffic can be horrible in that area. When I returned home from the event, I was joined by some other TEDxLA attendees. As we debriefed about how the event went, the curator for TEDxYouth@AlamitosBay, Loyalty, introduced herself by her mom. As I found out what Loyalty's event was about, she was trying to recruit speaker for her event. I felt I was like a basketball player who has the ball in his hands but with little time to decide to shoot or pass the ball in crunch time. So, as the 11-year old kid who was with us began to spoke about his idea to be potentially shared on the TEDx stage, I was thinking about whether I should go for the opportunity or pass the opportunity to somebody else with 2 weeks of turnaround time. As the kid finished his pitch, I took a deep breath and told myself, "This is a potentially history making opportunity for you in your OT career. Yes, some people might say that you are selfish. But, there will be more people saying that you are stupid for letting this kind of opportunity slip away. Many people will dream to be in your shoes because these opportunities don't come often. Bottom line, give it your best shot!" So, I gave my elevator speech and found out that I had a spot a week later.
After that history making moment happened, I began to change my attitude on how I perceived my career. I told myself, "I don't care about the past or future OT related rejections or setbacks any more. I don't care if I don't receive any awards from AOTA or my state association. I got to make history in OT. That already makes my career special. Anything else after that is gravy."
3. When I was in OT school, being an online influencer was very far in my mind. I considered social media as a survival tool so that I could get timely help from my classmates. I did not take it seriously until I met an autistic OT from the UK named Ryan Cowan online in 2011. He told me that I was the boldest autistic person in OT he had ever known. When I asked what he mean by that, he told me it was because not many people were so open about being autistic as somebody in OT. Indirectly, I also understood that my work could have a lot of value if I were able to obtain a license to practice occupational therapy.
Since that online meeting, I began to grow into my duo identity as an autistic individual and a person calling occupational therapy as my career. There were some struggles blending in the two perspectives in my first few years of coming out. In retrospect, it wasn't a surprise because I was growing into both identities at the same time. But as I became better at blending the perspectives, I began to be more comfortable sharing that at different OT conferences. In turn, my online presence also grew. Moreover, I constantly get recruited to attend the British, Canadian, and Australian OT conferences by their executive directors.
Fortunately, I watched a lot of Shark Tank's early seasons. I noticed a common pitfall of these businesses- they get stagnant too soon when their businesses are taking off. In order to avoid that, I chose to focus on social media platforms that can reach my audience the most efficiently. I would rather grow on the platforms that I have the potential to expand my reach optimally over versatility of being on as many social media platforms as I can. This decision paid off as I continued to grow professionally and in the online space as well. A side benefit of that- my classroom students have been saying that I bring a different dimension in comparison to their other faculty.