Living with chronic illnesses for 30 years has taught me how critical work can be to health and well being. That's why I am committed to giving people who live with chronic illness the tools they need to be employed.
Even when the economy was thriving and there were more jobs than workers (remember those days?), most people described work as stressful. It meant fewer people doing more work with tighter deadlines. And worst of all, blurry lines between time at work and personal life.
The demands have only gotten worse in this recession.
A young woman in her early 30's recently expressed to me her deep resistance to returning to work. After 6 months on disability leave, she said that she believes that working will make her sick again. She's afraid that she won't be able to stop tasks when the pain gets bad and that the inevitable pressure and unreasonable deadlines will aggravate her overall condition. She finished by saying that all of the people she knows are unhappy from the stress of their jobs.
I was surprised by her deep rooted fear and negative outlook, especially since there was much she enjoyed about her last job. Yet she doesn't believe it's possible to control her sense of stress or influence her workload. I was also struck that she doesn't know anyone who is relatively happy in their jobs.
If her experience is that relatively young and healthy people feel stressed and unhappy at their jobs, how can someone who lives with unpredictable health find happiness at work? I don't have an "answer". But let's explore it.
In Does Work Have You In A Stranglehold, Maggie Mistral offers 3 tips for breaking the stranglehold of work. This is useful because it challenges the way we view working. But her tips assume that a person can take charge of her time. What if you don't think this is possible?
If you believe that you can't influence how you work or how much you work, how will you survive of decades of working? If you agree with me that this doesn't seem like a useful outlook, consider how you can develop your capacity to:
Manage difficult situations before they blow out of control. It's much easier to set limits and persuade a manager that you need breaks or hard stops in the day while you're still a valued worker, rather than after you've messed up.
Identify your limits. Even if illness means you're more limited in some ways, know what those limits are and be able to explain them - without anger or remorse.
Create empathic relationships with others so they want to support you and work with you around your needs. But don't stop there. Look beyond yourself and notice what others need as well, including your boss. You might be surprised by how healing this can be.
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