Monday, December 22, 2014

My Niche will be like a Boulder in that Puddle, not just a Pebble,

Lucky finds a comfortable spot amid the mess.
How do people find their niche?

The word and concept of "niche" have long fascinated me.  To me, the actual word seems odd.  In my ignorant youth I pronounced it "nitch" and it rhymed with ditch.  Later I learned that it is closer to "neesh" and stumbled over its pronunciation for years.  I now understand the word is French in origin and "ch" is pronounced "sh" like in "Michigan" and "Chicago".

The actual definition proper use of the word "niche" has taken longer for me to grasp.  At first glance it is simple.  A niche is the place a species occupies in an ecosystem, how it interacts with others and the resources it exploits.  Simple.

The problem came when I learned more about niches.  What happens when a species is removed from an area?  Does that make a "vacant niche"?  According to the definition- no.  There is no such thing as a vacant niche.

Think of a shallow puddle of water with a large stone in the middle.  If the water is the ecosystem and the stone is a species occupying a niche, what happens when the stone is removed?  The puddle immediately spreads into the empty space.

Our world of work is not that different from the ecosystem and niches.

Millions of people are fortunate to have found their niches.  They have stable jobs that pay a living wage.  They know their place in the world.  Most of these people followed the traditional paths of college to work and have not suffered from unexpected job losses or other tragedies.  I hear many talking about the unemployed and underemployed with no concept of how difficult it is to break into the workforce for nontraditional people.

I could have been one of those people.  I went to college, graduated with honors, and started working.  When my son was born, I made the choice to focus on him instead of a job.  He would only be little for a such a short time and I didn't want to miss a minute of it.  After his brother was born, I had my hands full.  A decade passed before I could even think about going back to work.

I had always assumed I would be able to find a job.  I was educated, hard working, reliable, respectful, honest, and never had any encounters with the law.  I applied to all types of jobs at all and truly thought I would get some of them.  I was wrong.

For years, I was only able to find work as a substitute teacher making $80 per day.  That sounds somewhat reasonable until you consider I would only make $14,800 if I worked every single day of the school year.  In reality, my income was never more than $7,000 a year.  In eight years, I never once had an increase in pay.  Instead, I listened to teachers complain that their cost of living pay raise wasn't enough.  Not only didn't I get a pay raise, I wasn't even considered when positions became available.

My niche would not be created in the schools.  

I will create my niche.  I will be recognized as a valuable and contributing member of society.  I do not fit into any category.  Therefore, I will make my own.

I will be an author, an artisan, an advocate, and a motivation to millions.  I will share all I have learned raising my son with autism to become self-reliant and my struggles finding work.  I may never have a steady salary, 401K and benefits but I will make a difference in the world.

My niche will be like a boulder in that puddle, not a just pebble,