Love your job and never work a day in your life…
MEET MARY BARROS-BAILEY
Yes, retired. Often people say they cannot wait to retire to do the things they really like to do. I, on the other hand, say I’ve always been retired and just happen to get paid for it. That has been the case for nearly my entire work life, and certainly for my 24+-year career as a rehabilitation counselor.
How did I get into this field? I had never heard of a rehabilitation counselor until one showed up in my office when I was the executive director of California’s Volunteer Center of Monterey County in 1990. The counselor was attempting to place her client, a monolingual Spanish speaker, into a volunteer position because the woman had sustained severe injuries and had not worked in three years. Often volunteer work is a great way to transition someone into work-like activities without the employer-employee contractual commitments and expectations.
Because I’m trilingual (Portuguese/English/Spanish) the counselor tried to recruit me for her firm given the number of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants in the surrounding region. I listened to her description of what rehabilitation counselors do, thought to myself, “Oh, that’s nice,” and blew her off. She was persistent, a quality all good rehabilitation counselors possess. So when I ran into her in the community two months later, she again asked me to send her boss a résumé. I listened to her this time because I missed front-line contact with people. My job was becoming overly administrative and less enjoyable.
Around the same time I had become a war bride because my fiancée’s reserve unit was called to Desert Storm. The military doesn’t do girlfriends, and we quickly got married before he left, knowing that he would not be back in time for our scheduled wedding. During our weekly call when he was in Saudi Arabia, we talked about the counselor’s persistence and concluded that sending in my résumé couldn’t hurt.
I sent it to Dan on a Thursday, and he called me on a Saturday asking for an immediate interview. When we met on Tuesday he offered me a job on the spot at a starting wage 20 percent higher than what I earned as an executive director! It all sounded too new and too good to be true. And what was this about dealing with insurance companies and attorneys? I was in my late 20s and had always held the impression I should steer away from both.
I told Dan that I would think about it and get back to him within the week. I then called my cousin, Simão Ávila, an employment law attorney and a partner with the Littler Mendelson firm in San José. He knew something about what rehabilitation counselors do because of his exposure to them in the forensics setting. He suggested I contact an old mutual friend, Jorge, who had his license in marriage and family therapy and was working as a rehabilitation counselor. Jorge gave me an overview of the profession and said thought that the firm offering me the job was the best on the peninsula.
I took a leap of faith, accepted the position and “became retired” in a new profession in 1990. I loved the field and quickly determined that my master’s -- in international public administration with a focus on the economic development of Latin America -- was insufficient to understand medical aspects of disabilities or the nuances of things like the crushing Dictionary of Occupational Titles that we lugged around with us.
Six months into the job I entered the newly formed master’s program in rehabilitation counseling at San José State University. Although I worked 50-60 hours per week and went to school full time, I so loved what I did that the degree came easily. Beyond all the required school reading, I got the Pro•Ed publications catalog and bought every textbook published in the field. I consumed them all.
One of the books was Insurance Rehabilitation by Ralph Matkin who taught at California State University (CSU), Long Beach. Two years into the field I realized that the workers’ compensation system of California was due for a major overhaul, and as a recent entrant into rehabilitation counseling, I would become a casualty of the fallout if I didn’t become proactive.
Matkin’s book was invaluable and carried appendices about the vocational rehabilitation systems in all states. We decided to look for a place to live outside of California. Bob’s only restriction was a state without humidity, and that was fine with me. The short list included Idaho and Wyoming. After the first night of research Wyoming fell off the list.
We visited Idaho half way through our graduate programs and decided we would move there when we finished a year later. Since the move 22 years ago I have opened a private practice, earned my doctorate, expanded my individual scope of practice into forensics and life care planning and become very involved in our field professionally, academically and emotionally. One of the best things about rehabilitation counseling is the variety of work and settings to choose from.
I am and have been retired for nearly 25 years and will likely continue to be retired in this capacity for another 25 or so, taking on the next wave. I am thankful for taking on the new challenge so many years ago and for all those who have opened doors and mentored me through the most excellent joy ride of life.