Rise Up Hummingbird OTs

Dear OT,

Let me tell you a story. A true story of a girl who hated math and how she ended up a successful OT in spite of herself.

If I got $1 for every time I heard, “you are so smart. Why don’t you just apply yourself to math?” I would be a multi-millionaire.

I applied myself to the occupation of hating math at a very young age – pretty well as soon as I learned numbers, I realised they were useless to me. Teachers, tutors, parents and anyone my parents could convince into cajoling me all preached the message that math was good for my future.

But with the drive and determination usually discussed only in true crime novels, I applied myself to the occupation of not doing math.

Fast forward to high school where because of my low math scores, the guidance counsellor told me I was best suited to the “secretarial arts” or “factory trades”. Eeeks! Bleep just got real.

So I entered university under the “fine arts” umbrella, but found myself drawn to Psychology and eventually got an Honours Degree in Psych.

I was confident that I would be the best damned counselling psychologist (despite my dismal stats grades).

I was so confident that I took an OT class just so I would know what the therapists working with me would be assisting me with. Ah the hubris.

Then I received a nasty blow. My Graduate Record Exam results were high 90th percentile for Psychology and English – and I was functioning at a grade 3 level in math. I was told in no uncertain terms that no university would offer me a place.

Devastated. Absolutely devastated.

I studied Communications the next year and after that held a variety of writing-based roles.

But I was bored. Making heaps of money, but bored.

So I spent a lot of money on travel.

I would look at the ‘Occupations in Demand’ lists for jobs that would enable me to travel for free. And OT was usually at the top of the list.

So I took the OT 101/102 courses at night school and sat beside the fabulous Theresa (who is still one of my best friends) and we aced them and were both admitted into OT school. Yay.

But it was not clear sailing. OTs had to study stats, biomechanics, splinting and wheelchairs. All of which involved math. Grr.

My fellow students loved these classes and felt energised.

I also noticed that most of my fellow students knew from a young age that they wanted to be an OT, whereas I wanted to help people and to travel.

Maybe I made a career mistake?

Then came the placements:
1. Budgeting. Yuck
2. Splinting. Double yuck

I was ready to quit.

And I had good reason to quit because I was still working part-time in Communications and earning about 10X more than my OT student friends in their student jobs (and even a lot of the fully trained OTs I met).

But I realised that none of my OT student friends had these kind of awful placements. They didn’t dread every single day of placement.

My final placement was in occupational rehab (with a focus on chronic pain and brain injuries) that gushy mushy field that mixes physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual aspects of humans. Ah.

Just like Goldilocks, I found my groove. Finally.

And about five years into my OT career, winter was pretty horrible, and I was said to myself, “wouldn’t it be nice if I could spend a year without shovelling snow or driving a car without a block heater”.

Along came a letter which said, “What’s the temperature where you are? It’s 25 above in Australia. Live and work in Australia”.

I filled in the form and about nine months later was living and working in Melbourne.

But chronic pain OT in Australia was quite different than in Canada, with a greater focus on return to work rather than on managing the underlying physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual aspects of humans.

I endured that job for two years (as per the recruitment contract). Then I got jobs with regulatory bodies reviewing OT reports, managing projects to prevent work-related injuries, and psychosocial health and safety.

Life was pretty good. Then along came a pandemic.

I was working in a work-related wellbeing role (my dream job) and during the pandemic, I was doing everything that I had ever dreamed of doing for an organisation that I loved.

But one day I received a phone call, “You are the only OT within my 5 km bubble. Will you assess me for the NDIS. If you don’t assess me, I will have to wait six or more months for another OT to assess me”.

I didn’t have a full dance card given the movement restrictions of the pandemic so I said yes.

Then within the week I got several similar phone calls and said yes to all of them.

I was no longer COVID-bored.

Within two months I was cutting hours at my “real job” and working full-time at my “little business”.

Within four months I decided to quit my “real job” and focus on my “little business”.

My parents told me not to go fully private practice.

But I was enjoying my “little business” more than my dream “real job”.

The hardest bit of the transition from employee to private practice owner was changing my mindset from “little business” to “private practice”.

But I did this and then ran up against my old nemesis. Math. Yup. Invoicing.

NDIS Plan Managers correcting my math – insinuating that I was rorting the system when the fact was I was doing as best I could.

Trying to find a bookkeeper lead to the adventure with the “Criminal-Bookkeeper” which I realised pretty quickly was gonna go really bad really quickly. I blocked her number and moved on.

So more months of math chaos.

After 18 months of strife and chaos I found a good bookkeeper and I would pay him 1000% more for all the help he gives me. (BTW – he repeatedly says “How can you be so smart and be so bad with numbers?)

Being in private practice gives me the opportunity to only help those people whom I know that I can help. I am completely up front that I don’t do mobility aid prescription or home modifications (which was a terrifying decision at first).

I frequently watch a YouTube video by writer Elizabeth Gilbert where she says that there are two kinds of people:

• Jackhammers

• Hummingbirds

Jackhammers are celebrated by their unwavering commitment to a career. Like the child who wants to be an author at age five and becomes a best selling author at age 10 and pumps out literary masterpieces until their death at age 110.

Hummingbirds are usually not celebrated because they flitter between many interests, never stopping for long. But they fertilise the jackhammers and make the world a more varied and interesting place. And it is usually at the end of their lives, in retrospect, that they can see the trajectory and impact they made.

I am a hummingbird, combining my love of writing and helping people.
So rise up hummingbird OTs.
Show off your varied paths. Fertilise the field and the world with your creativity and beauty.

And damn the math. Outsource it to another jackhammer or hummingbird that has a passion for numbers.

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I'm Rhiannon Crispe

Occupational therapist, personal trainer and mindset coach here to help you live out your OT dream. Let’s do it!