You need to seek out the opportunities that will give you the chance to establish a track record. You don't always get them handed to you as a part of your job description. Your supervisor is also probably so busy that sometimes it may seem easier to just perform a task herself than to delegate that task to you and shepherd you through it. Given that scenario, you should be on the lookout for the opportunities, and ask your supervisor if you can get involved in them. Sometimes a project may not even exist; you need to create it.
Often there are a few tasks that have to be done but that do not attract volunteers. These may include organizing the office holiday party, the United Way or charitable giving drive, or even the annual inventory effort. These can be great projects to sink your teeth into. You can quickly establish yourself as a well known quantity throughout the company by adding a bit of pizzazz to these projects. Create a theme for the office party. Dress up like Dracula and pass out plastic fangs to all blood donors. Have a dunk tank or pie throw with senior staff members to raise funds for the charitable campaign. Bring in a live band or a disc jockey for an after inventory party. If you put some creativity into these events, you can be sure that everyone will be talking about the fun they had, and your name will be on everyone's lips and minds for weeks.
If you are given a project that is more directly related to your job description, give it the same level of energy and creativity, and even more! If possible, seek out team members whom you don't normally work with. When you contact them, feel them out to see if they would be enthusiastic members of your team. If you can bring them on board, you will strengthen your relationship with them as individuals, as well as with their work units.
Once you have an energetic team in place, the sky is the limit. You will find that you can achieve amazing things if you have several people with energy who also share a common vision. If you make the goals challenging but attainable, and if you foster an environment where everyone feels like they are genuinely part of a team, it will mean a memorable and successful project for everyone.
The most highly valued employees are the ones who show some leadership and initiative. The most highly valued leaders are the ones who are also excellent followers. Sometimes it is going to be someone who approaches you and asks if you would be willing to come on board their team for a special project. If you join them, give it everything you've got. Give it the same energy and creativity that you would give the projects that you lead. In a true team environment, different people step up at different times and exert their leadership in a given situation, and then revert to a team member mentality when another leader steps up during another phase of the project.
Knowing when to follow and when to lead is a skill that comes in time, and with experience. The strongest leaders are those who lead by example. Anyone can be a leader by virtue of the position they hold. Usually that person is regarded more as a "boss" than as a leader. You will be far more successful, far more quickly, if you quietly lead by example, yet keep an eye out for opportunities where you can step up and use your leadership skills for a project over which you have some level of responsibility.
Fitting In and Succeeding with a Disability
It would be nice if once you had succeeded in getting hired, you no longer had to worry about the way your disability impacts your work. Unfortunately, that's not the case. You will need to remain cognizant of the ways in which your disability affects the way you do your job, as well as the way in which people perceive that your disability affects the way you do your job.
There are several aspects to this concern. First of all, you need to make sure that you have the necessary tools to perform your job effectively. Second, you need to be attentive to the perceptions and attitudes of those around you. You alone will never change their attitudes about people with disabilities, but you can be successful in changing their attitudes about you.
Normalizing Your Disability for Your Peers and Coworkers
It's not just the disabled employee who wants to appear "normal." It's true for the child in the schoolyard who wants to be asked to play kickball, and it is true for the new worker who wants to be asked to join the bowling league. Too often for people with disabilities, these invitations do not come right away.
With the support of the people in the human resources office, as well as from your hiring manager, you may want to take some proactive steps to educate your coworkers about your disability.
People who have AIDS or are HIV positive have been almost universally feared in the workplace. Workers have raised concerns about catching the virus by using the same phone, by sharing a computer, or by using the same copy machine. With a little education (and assuming that everyone is using this equipment as intended), those fears dissipate quickly.