This post first appeared last week on Big Tent Jobs – Don’t know it? It’s a value laden site created by 2 people who are mission driven! My thanks to Adam for giving me the chance to speak to his readers.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Did you get that question when you were still in nursery school? In high school, more likely you were asked, “What college do you want to go to?” And once in college, maybe you turned that question inward, asking, “What ‘s next?”
We’re supposed to be thinking about big stuff from a young age – – make your dreams, plan ahead. But if you’re looking at the career landscape and feeling really confused about what this means to you and what you should do about it, you’re not alone.
And, if you live with a chronic health challenge, this can be daunting. You know unpredictable health can make even the simplest planning complicated. Do you ask yourself, “How can I plan my future when I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow?”
When you’re feeling stuck or unsure about what you’re doing, a good place to start is to acknowledge your thoughts because they have a direct impact on your actions.
Are you thinking:
I’m no different from any of my friends and I’m going to approach my career plans just like they do – probably take the first job that comes up.
I’m totally different from anyone I know and there’s no point in trying to figure out a career plan with my health.
How’s that going? What’s that thinking doing for you?
There is a third option. You can approach your career path by setting a clearly defined intention as you consider options, take action and make decisions. For example, you might say: I will take care of myself, physically, emotionally and mentally, as best I can as I do the best I can. With that as your your guidepost, you’re ready to lay down the foundational Building Blocks that allow you to maximize your strengths, create choices based on who you are (not what you aren’t) and influence your life where you can.
Building Block: Your career plan starts with a Strategy, your approach. Everyone, healthy or not, should consider how to acquire the skills, competencies and experiences that are needed to be a valuable asset. This is especially true when unpredictable and debilitating health symptoms impact your performance and could put you at a disadvantage. When you think about your strategic approach, think big picture, rather than specific jobs.
- Ask yourself and write down the following: What kind of career do I see myself in? Just brainstorm about this this – whatever comes up is fine.
- Now write down: What do I know? What do I need to know? How will I get the information I need? Include any time frames that might be important.
Building Block: Identify the Adaptive Skills you’re developed thus far. Living with chronic health problems teaches you that just wanting the pain to go away doesn’t make it go away. On the other hand, what actions can you take to try to lessen the pain, or, at least allow you to do what you want to do? When you think about it, your successes occur when you’ve figured out how to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
- Identify and write down at least one time that you were able to work within the limits of symptoms an/or illness to achieve a goal or something you desired, not necessarily work related.
- Write down the health challenges and what you did do to work around them. This is your own reminder that you can work with what you’ve got to achieve both small and big successes.
Building Block: Know yourself. Below is a simplified version of a career assessment designed to put you at an advantage when you’re networking, researching opportunities, and talking to potential employers. These questions can be helpful when you’re choosing a job but they’re most valuable when you’re preparing to invest your time and energy in developing a career for the long term. They are the key components of your strategic picture.
- What do I like to do? (Interests, hobbies, skills – let this be wide ranging.
- What do I dislike doing? Be honest.
- What do I want from employment? (e.g., am I just looking for a paycheck, do I want a situation in which I can learn new things, do I want to feel responsible without answering to anyone else, etc ?
- What kind of organizational culture do I want to work in? (e.g.,large or small organization, family friendly or driven to produce, mission driven, etc.)
- What kind of work life do I want? (e.g., self employment, contract work, work for others on a permanent and full time basis, etc.)
- What are my symptoms and how do they typically impact me? (e.g., do they vary, are there triggers or adaptive measures that help)
- What kind of tasks, schedule, or environment would be more difficult for my health?
When you start with a Strategy, identify your Adaptive Skills and learn enough to Know Yourself, you’re prepared to create what’s ahead. In all likelihood, the course of your health, your personal life and your livelihood will shift over time. Obviously, none of us can predict the future and health is only one factor in the picture. But why not be prepared where you can? A strategic approach gives you the tools you need to respond to inevitable changes with resilience, buoyancy and hope so you can keep going, even when you hit the inevitable roadblocks.
For a much more detailed exploration for career change, Susan Strayer’s book, The Right Job, Right Now, has some very useful models for finding a new career path. My own workbook, Keep Working With Chronic Illness Workbook, is designed specifically around the issues people with illness face, and it offers concrete ideas and systems you can use.