Being young and living with a chronic illness – – whether it’s multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, cancer, you name it — means that you can have a lot more in common with your grandparents than your friends. At age 30, I could relate too easily to my 80 year old grandmother’s complaints about her health and her life.
The thing is that being sick and disabled also gives you valuable insight into what older people experience, if you let it. (Who said all life lessons are fun?)
I find that most people my age (57) grew up expecting to stop work at age 65 and they think they deserve this benefit. Even if they’re not sure they can afford it.
But I don’t see “retirement” as something to strive for. I know (and so might you?) what it’s like to be unemployed. I also know it’s even worse when your body isn’t well and declining.
Sure there’s the yoga class, the adult learning on the civil war, and the travel you haven’t had time for. Not working will give you all the time you could ever need to do all of this. And that’s the problem.
I’ve seen that work is where most of us feel we have value. Family and friends do that,too, of course, but it’s a different part of ourselves that we use in those relationships. Work creates a social structure and feedback loop that’s hard to replicate. It keeps our minds active and our skills current. Of course, if you’re working in a toxic environment or hate what you do, it’s always better not to work at that job, if you have the choice.
But for most of us, losing structure and a sense that what we do matters to someone else, is critical to our well being. I learned this lesson in my early40’s when I couldn’t keep the job I had because I was too sick and I didn’t have a clue what else I could do. I decided then that I’d never be in that position again.
I’ve learned from watching my parents and their cohorts and from my clients with chronic illness that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Like it or not, work can keep us healthier.
Now here’s your challenge, no matter what your age or your state of health. Create your long term plan for how you can keep working for as long as you are physically and mentally able. Start conversations with your boss about flexible hours or look for organizations that foster this. Maybe this means re-designing your “career” or job path.
Ask yourself: Are there new skills that will help me be valuable in a different way? Don’t wait until you’re 65 to think about the next state. Do it now. Share it here — or email me and tell me what you’re thinking. (Or you can always twitter me @WorkWithIllness!)
Wondering about maintaining career with illness? Here are some of my thoughts in this article, ” Sick and Succeding” at National Association of Female Executives website.