Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a post where I confessed that the
smaller daily challenges of being employed with chronic illness were more challenging than normal this year. In Life Disrupted, I devoted several chapters to the larger, macro issues that are part of any discussion of work and chronic illness: disclosure, flexibility, health insurance, compromises, optimal career paths, etc. I also interviewed the incredibly wise Rosalind Joffe about her thoughts for younger employees who have CI.
What the past few months have shown me is that even after the supposed “hard part,” the discussions we have and decisions we make to try and balance our ambitions with our health, still there is a tenuous push and pull between the ideal and reality. It is an evolving process, and while I have worked out a fairly successful balance right now, I know my career will continue to change as my professional and health needs demand. That is what makes it both exciting and a bit scary.
I can honestly say that when I graduated from college a few years ago (okay, seven years ago, I fully admit I am getting old!) I would never have predicted I’d be doing what I am doing now, but I definitely knew I had some tough choices to make. At the time, I was still working through accurate diagnoses for my immune and lung problems and spent anywhere from 4-10 weeks a year in the hospital. I had to be realistic about what I could expect from my body, but I was also unwilling to abandon the career path I was most passionate about. I just had to figure out a more creative way to get the writing and publishing experience I needed.
Anyway, I’m thinking a lot about those early career days right now as I prepare to speak at DePaul University next week. My topic? You guessed it: career considerations for young adults leaving college. There are so many threads to this discussion, and many of these points were raised by patients I interviewed for my book:
Our careers are often a huge part of our identity, especially when we are in our twenties. Think about a typical night out—how often do people ask you what you do? What are you if you are young and not working?
Many companies and institutions are not equipped to deal with (and do not understand) the fluctuating nature of chronic illness.
Young people are often the most likely to be uninsured or underinsured, so many young people with CI must choose between benefits and deteriorating health.
We often have to make choices very early on in our careers—when our healthy peers are building a name for themselves—that put us at a disadvantage in terms of trajectory.
Of course these are just a few different points relevant to young people entering the workforce. As I gather my thoughts, I’d love to hear from any of you out there who are in the midst of these decisions, or remember what it was like to face the working world as a young adult with chronic illness. What wisdom, advice, or hindsight can you offer this next generation of employees with CI?