We are Tableau Visionaries and Tableau Ambassadors. It has not been an easy journey for either of us, but we never gave up as we found our extended (data) family who loves the tool and supports like-minded people in the community.
We were informed by the past yet stubbornly refused to settle. We are not perfect by any stretch and have significant and sometimes debilitating limitations; however, with the right surroundings, the opportunity to give back, and the continued motivation for self-improvement, we have found unexpected success with the community and tool that changed our lives.
Please read our conversation below and share it with those that need encouragement. Even if public-facing networks or Tableau may not work for you — there is always the potential to find your place and succeed on your terms.
1. What was your background on how mental health impacted you and your career before the datafam?
My career before the datafam was quite winding: I started as a psychology major working in Human Resources before going back to school to get my Master’s in Psychology and worked for a bit in program evaluations. I unknowingly stumbled into a data analyst job (to be fair, the title was “Research Associate,” how was I to know??), and it was the best thing to happen to me. I was in over my head, but I loved it. Tableau was a huge part of my falling in love with data; not having a coding background, I really struggled with picking up the ETL side, but Tableau was so easy to get started in, which motivated me to keep learning.
Before the #DataFam, I worked for the same employer for 20+ years and reached a career ceiling before joining the community. My career was likely limited due to my anxiety related to autism, and I did not know the anxiety was related to that until I had already worked for the employer for over a decade . My anxiety was so severe I was getting panic attacks and headed to the hospital many times, fearing for my life. Getting diagnosed in my later 30s helped me significantly know what I was dealing with and to work on myself. Regardless, I was far removed from a career-happy place as I had little in common with my team except for history. I was literally counting down until retirement.
The long and short of it, I did not have many promotional opportunities and was “stuck.”I went for roles with my former employer that I was passed over for because I lacked and did not value soft skills. I believed even if I worked on being personable, which I did later on, it would have been all for naught. Near the end of my time with that employer, even though I was a valued employee (although they did not truly understand what I brought), I knew I would likely remain a senior data analyst/business automation specialist until I retired.
2. How has being transparent about your mental health helped you?
My high school guidance counselor was the first to suspect I had depression, but I didn’t tell a soul. Dealing with depression and anxiety alone is overwhelming and can lead to some nasty coping mechanisms. When I went to college, the depression and anxiety became too much, so I started seeing a therapist. It took almost 15 years before I was comfortable telling others of my diagnosis, and now here I am, openly giving TUG talks and vizzing about it!
I can identify with that, Nicole. I had to be my authentic self and push myself into spaces that weren’t at all comfortable. The community acted as a soft trust fall. In the past, I never felt comfortable. However, with our community, I learned quickly they are there to support you — even when you are not at your best. There were many times I didn’t have an “A” game to give, but everyone was so encouraging and supportive. That support system allowed me to grow, believe more in myself, and change my life personally and professionally. If I hadn’t put myself out there, I would not have had as many fantastic opportunities to collaborate, enhance soft skills, become better at visualizing data aesthetically, amplify others, make friends, share knowledge, grow as a leader, and mentor — not to mention landing two dream jobs.
3. Can you balance life, career, community, and mental health? What tips do you have for those that struggle to get started?
You can, but it’s a lot, and you need to be very self-aware and flexible. It’s important to make sure your mental health is your priority; otherwise, poor mental health will negatively affect every other aspect of your life as well as your loved ones around you. So make a list of what is most important to you in life, career, community, and mental health, and ensure you monitor that balance. Don’t be afraid to start saying “no” or “not now” to people to protect your health and career. And remember: the community will always be here to welcome you back if you need to take a break to keep the balance going.
It is tough, and I press up to the precipice of burnout many times. As an autistic, burnout usually means I’m tired, have more significant anxiety, back away as much as I can from the public, and lose my ability to ‘mask’ (or better said, from something I read before… make my autism other people’s problem too).
When you do more and great things happen, you always want to say “Yes.” However, saying “Yes,” can put you in mental health jeopardy because you can be too quickly overwhelmed. I must remind myself it’s okay to say, “Not Now.”
4. Who was the person in the #datafam that you felt was a groundbreaker regarding your representation?
Two people that come to mind are Adam Mico and Shazeera Zawawi (Twitter | LinkedIn | Blog). Adam was and still is so authentic and doesn’t hide his mental health, which encouraged me to be myself. Then Shazeera Zawawi came onto the scene. I saw her viz, “My State of Mind,” and immediately reached out to her. Seeing someone visualize their mental health so openly was powerful. Seeing it as Tableau Public's “Viz of the Day” for World Mental Health Day showed me that the community embraced everyone, even those with mental health diagnoses. Her work has helped me viz about my mental health and talk openly about it on social media and in TUG talks.
Thanks, Nicole. That means so much to me.
Hunter Hansen, without a doubt. Before I joined the community, I only told a few people about my autism diagnosis. This would include management I could trust at work and with family. Nobody else needed to know. The one thing I saw with Hunter’s blogs (as he was yet on YouTube) is that he was open about it and still accepted and embraced by the #DataFam. I saw his work right when I began the community. I decided right then that I would be open about my truth too. I really wanted to be my most authentic self, and sharing this, and talking openly about it, helped me grow quicker and commit more.
5. So you received official recognition from Tableau — how has that attention impacted your mental health?
I know this probably won’t make sense to many people, but being named a Visionary simultaneously made me feel indescribably amazing and sent me into a mini-depression spiral. Being in the spotlight is very anxiety provoking, and this is a huge spotlight. When the announcement went out, I actually kept my phone away from me because I was feeling so anxious about dealing with the attention. Our community is so wonderful, and everyone was so kind, but having all the attention was just too much. I could tell that the depression was coming, so I took a couple of steps back from social media to focus on myself and my family. Self-care is so important, and the whole community gave me the space and grace to take the time to myself I needed. Now I’m back and ready to kick my community involvement back into gear!
In the beginning, it was a bit overwhelming. I shied away from PDA (public displays of admiration) my entire adult life. It was always awkward, and I didn’t know how to respond or what any of it meant. However, I learned via Sarah Bartlett (linktr.ee) that I’m an extrovert with my people and learned how to accept things I would have never dreamed of several years ago.
The best way for me to handle all of the recognition over the last few years is that I think of it as a way to turn it around and use my platform to help and amplify others who are still seeking their breakthrough and voice.
6. How can we, as a community, best support each other’s mental health
The fact that this community talks about mental health is vital to supporting each other’s mental health. I have done a TUG talk twice now on visualizing mental health; my viz on depression was VOTD, and Data plus Diversity did a whole TUG on mental health. Our community accepts everyone where they are, and that acceptance means those who have mental health diagnoses are free and open to be their authentic selves. One place I’ve seen this so beautifully done in the community is around feedback. When individuals share their vizzes on Twitter, they are met with praise. The community generally is great at praising in public and only giving feedback when asked. That is an excellent way of protecting individuals’ mental health and giving them a space to continue to share their work.
When people share something that can be stigmatizing, it’s a gift. Research what they share to help you understand how to support them best; if in doubt, ask them if the situation is unclear before acting. They often want someone to listen or give them space, but they know you are there as needed.
As an autistic person, thinking or saying, “be empathetic " is challenging.” As many know, empathy does not come naturally in that state to autistic people. My experience is that I have a muted or dulled innate empathy. I have reduced those gaps with logic, time, and a desire to help.
Even with people who have not shared mental health issues, our public words and actions with people can trigger something impacting their mental health. We need to be careful about what we say and share publicly. It is difficult to see intent when the words are read as hostile or insulting to other people. We must address issues and challenges in certain situations, but how they are presented can negatively impact others. Rather than criticizing, be constructive and look for solutions — taking a breath to consider this can be the difference in maintaining a safe mental health space for all.
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Note: My book, “Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification,” is available for order here.